Web design is important but not that importantWhen was the last time you lingered over a site that looked rubbish? Similarly, when was the last time you spent ages working your way through a beautifully designed website that was rather like a wallflower – looked pretty, but did nothing? Great design that looks good, but does nothing is largely a failure. There are plenty of sites online which are wonderful in design terms, but fail to make a penny. Equally, there are loads of rubbish-looking sites which appear to be thrown up without a care in the world and also don’t make the owner any money. Getting the balance right between design and functionality is a difficult one. As the Amazon site shows us, you don’t need to win design awards to make money – but you do have to provide ease-of-use and high levels of functionality.

Now, a new study by the web hosting company 1&1 adds further information to this dilemma between spending money on design or functionality. The research found that a poorly designed website reduces the amount of money people are prepared to spend. Indeed, in the study of 2,000 British consumers 37% of people said they would walk away from a rubbish website, rather than spend any money there.

The study suggests the tide is turning in favour of design over functionality. But peer inside the details of this study and you find that even though people expect good design the real issue is “tiredness”. People are fed up with the “online high street” looking the same. Customers say they want to carry on spending online but find the websites they visit looking out-dated. Meanwhile, the research found that two thirds of British businesses say they struggle to maintain their websites or even update them.

That’s the heart of the issue – not design itself. The real problem is businesses are seeing their websites as additional to their business activities, whereas their customers are seeing the site as central to the company. When businesses make that mental switch, guess what? They find time to update their sites, which would include design alterations to make them look up-to-date.

Rather than spending money on a fresh “wallflower” kind of website, this research confirms that what you really need to do is place the web at the heart of your business, not on the sidelines. In that way you will organically change the site, its functions and design over time, bit by bit. This allows your site to grow and develop over time, avoiding the “tired” looking feeling. In fact, this is the Amazon approach – they make subtle changes almost every day to their site. The result is the Amazon site now is vastly different to what it was a year ago and dramatically different to what you will have experienced a couple of years back. But we hardly notice the change because the site is constantly developing since it is the heart of the business.

At first sight, this study from 1&1 suggests you need a website redesign. But what it actually shows is that many businesses need to constantly refresh their website and this can only happen if the web IS your business, rather than being a way of advertising your business.

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