Design is Marketing

design is marketing

Everywhere you turn, people are talking about design. It’s been hailed as the core ingredient to the success of everything from ad campaigns to products to entire companies. In this post, we’ll look at how to design for the success of your website or your web app. Examples like Jack Dorsey calling every employee at Square a designer to Airbnb fixing an inefficient market through design make it clear that design makes a difference.

We can thank Steve Jobs (among many others) for this design-focused renaissance. He trained consumers to expect things that not only look great but are also designed to “make sense.” He strived to create experiences that are, in his words, “magical.” Great design makes products more useful, allowing the user to be more effective, leading to greater satisfaction and, frankly, happiness.

This market expectation means that design is no longer optional; it is required for success. Take a look at Airbnb and compare it to VRBO. In today’s design-minded culture, your product can be easily disrupted or ignored without a thoughtful design.

When it comes to designing for the web, there are core actions you want users to take. You may want them to sign up, download something, buy something, subscribe or share your site with their friends. Each action can be optimized through design that meets the user’s needs. Here’s how:

1. Get More Clicks

lean startup

If you’re trying to convert visitors to customers, you’re interested in maximizing the clicks on primary calls to action that turn those visitors into subscribers, fans, or purchasers. More clicks in the right spot means more potential customers.

Here are techniques that have proven to generate greater click-through rates (CTRs) on all kinds of sites.

  • Lead with your benefitsScoreBig does a great job with this on its sign-up page. Its headline is “Members save up to 60% on sports, concert, and theater tickets.” It’s clear and compelling.
  • Clear call to action – Make your call to action clear, prominent and enticing. Use tempting buttons with visual styles, such as arrows that signify forward movement, compelling users to keep going.
  • Visual hierarchy – What is the information priority on the page? What do you want people to see and absorb? Use typography, font sizes and emphasis and visual cues like in-line iconography to draw the user through the page.
  • Remember AIDA – Awareness, interest, decision, action. Conquer the first three and you get the click, the action. Create awareness and interest, then provide information to allow for a decision.

An Example – Retargeter

We worked with ReTargeter to redesign the banners they use to drive customer acquisition. Their original ads had click-through rates on par with display advertising benchmarks, but the company was not satisfied. The goal was to use enhanced design and messaging to really move the needle. Below are the before and after for the banners. You can see, there was intentional emphasis on messaging, clear call to action, and smart design that stood out and communicated the benefits of ReTargeter to the viewer.

design retargeter

The result? The new banners performed nearly five times better than the original ads, significantly lowering company’s customer acquisition cost.

2. Get More Sign-Ups

viral loop

If you’re launching a new web application or a service, you likely don’t have a huge marketing budget. Therefore, the performance of your friend referral program is critical. It’s imperative that companies design viral loops to leverage new customer referrals from their existing customer base.

Here are some techniques to drive the viral loop:

  • Optimize landing pages – Ask only for information that is absolutely necessary. The fewer form fields, the higher the conversion to sign-ups.
  • Use Facebook Connect – Not only does it making signing up that much easier, it allows you to employ some sophisticated referral techniques as well as provide social credibility that drives sign-ups. RockMelt used Facebook to show users which Facebook friends were waiting for an invite, driving invitations and user sign-ups.
  • Create Exclusivity – The more scarce the invite, the more valuable it becomes. Create exclusivity through messaging and design and keep invites to a level that makes them worth something, while still giving your loop room to grow. Google+ used limited invites to drive excitement and value, creating a frenzy of people clamoring to get in.
  • Reward Existing Users – Can you reward your existing users for facilitating the viral loop? Dropbox gives customers extra storage; Groupon gives users Groupon Bucks for each friend who buys; and Appsumo rewards members who help promote its deals.

An Example – Hello Bar

We designed a viral loop to launch Hello Bar, our notification bar plugin for websites and Web apps. The entire user experience, from the first invite to the activation email to the refer-a-friend loop was designed to drive referred users. Thoughtful design and optimization can make your referral program go like wildfire or fizzle out before it even gets started.

hello bar

The Hello Bar launch site was invite only, creating a sense of exclusivity. This created anticipation and value for the invite. Once Hello Bar users were invited in, they had a limited number of invites to send to friends. This keeps perceived value high and ensures that invites are sent to people who will likely enjoy the service. This creates a stronger feedback loop than just letting people blast their entire address book. Once those people were in, design kept the viral loop going by providing the new user with limited invites and encouraging the referral behavior through the messaging and user experience.

3. Get More Likes and Follows

Social proof is an important part of building customer trust and confidence. Not only do Likes and follows build first-time visitor confidence, they also help extend your reach to the social web and help energize word-of-mouth. Like everything else, you can design your use of social badges like the Facebook’s Like button and the Twitter’s Tweet This button to maximize your conversion and exposure on the web.

There are a handful of best practices to consider when implementing social sharing on your site.

  • Add popular sharing buttons to your site – More than 700 million people are on Facebook. What other sites do your customers use regularly?
  • Pick buttons that work for your site – Ensure that they don’t take away from the key purpose of the page. ModCloth has Facebook’s Like buttons on product pages, but they are custom-designed, so they don’t distract the user from the clear call to action to buy.
  • Less is more – You don’t need every button for every service on your site. Pick the ones that a) drive the most traffic, b) are relevant to your audience, and c) that you yourself are active on and can support. Two is a good rule of thumb.
  • Design the share – Too often people add Facebook’s Like or Tweet This buttons and don’t customize the message. Make sure every element is crafted to drive new visitors back to your site.
  • Integrate shares where users are most likely to leverage them – What are the points in your user flows where you can maximize this social activity?
  • Fix a spot in the design – Buttons shouldn’t just be randomly affixed to the site. They should live in a consistent location.
  • Communicate the benefits – Why should someone Like or follow you? What’s in it for them?
  • Add social destinations to your contact page – Have a Facebook Page, Twitter account or Foursquare Page? Put them on your contact page so people can find you easily on the social web.

An Example – ModCloth

mod cloth

ModCloth does a great job of integrating Facebook’s Like buttons right into the product pages. Their benefit here is three-fold:

  1. They act as social bookmarks, publishing the users’ likes of the product to their Facebook walls.
  2. They drive new visitors directly to the product page.
  3. They act as social proof: an item with a lot of Likes is popular and increases conversion by validating the user’s purchase.

An Example – Tiny Prints

tiny prints

Tiny Prints integrates the Facebook Like Box on to the order confirmation page. It’s a smart choice. Moments after you complete a successful purchase, you’re asked to Like Tiny Prints on Facebook. Your successful shopping experience combined with overwhelming social proof makes you more likely to click “Like”.

This is a viral loop in it’s own right and has two main benefits to Tiny Prints:

  1. They easily acquire new fans on Facebook, which allows them to stay top of mind and market to customers.
  2. They get more viral spread across Facebook as the Like shows up in the friends’ feeds of the user who just liked Tiny Prints.

4. Get More Sales

Designing for sales means two things: clarity and reduced friction. Use design to make it easy for people to understand what you’re selling and the benefits of what you’re selling, and then get out of their way. Let’s come back to Airbnb and look at how they’ve used design to make their product the market front-runner over the much older VRBO.

Let’s look at the techniques they used to get more sales with design:

  • Let users experience the product – As much as possible, let users experience what they’re buying before they buy it. Use a content slider to house a product tour. It lets people see and interact with the product and its features without them bouncing between pages in order to learn more.
  • Lead with the benefits, not the features – Customers don’t buy features, they buy benefits… it doesn’t matter what the product does, they need to know why they should care. Start with the benefits and drive the sales process through those key benefits.

An Example – Airbnb

design airbnb

  • Prominent and simple search – Compare Airbnb’s homepage to VRBO’s homepage. One is clean, easy to understand with one core call to action. The other is cluttered, confusing with multiple calls to action with little perceptible hierarchy.
  • Minimizing clicks – You can get to booking a place on Airbnb in two or three clicks. On VRBO, it can take five. Reduce friction. Drive more sales.

An Example: Zappos

design vip zappos

Zappos does a great job designing for sales by providing loads of customer confidence. They’ve also spent a lot of time designing the VIP experience. They even went as far as creating a whole new instance of the site, vip to make VIP shoppers feel extra special.

  • Create customer confidence – Zappos’ legendary customer service, free shipping, no-hassle returns and highly publicized corporate values give customers tons of confidence in buying.
  • Make customers feel special – Providing VIPs with a special site makes them feel like they’re part of an exclusive club, driving loyalty, repeat purchases and increasing their likelihood to refer other customers.

An Example: Crazy Egg

design crazyegg

By using the techniques above, Crazy Egg was able to increase its conversions by 21.6%. Crazy Egg used a custom SlideDeck to create a product tour that explained the benefits of its service to website owners, while explaining it in a clear and concise manner.

5. Get More Leads

Converting a website visitor into a new subscriber, member or account holder is one of the most important conversions there is. In fact, a whole field of analytics – conversion rate optimization (CRO), is solely focused on improving sign-up conversions through improved landing page design. Let’s look at a few examples of the sign-up process and at how design makes a difference in maximizing conversion.

  • Tell a story – Show how your product or service solves your customers’ problem to the point where the only logical step is for them to sign up.
  • Use clear hierarchy – Walk users through from beginning to end and make it easy for them to grasp the main benefits and identify the calls to action.
  • Be concise – Don’t clutter your pages with lots of extraneous information. Be ruthless about what makes it into your story.
  • Choose compelling imagery – Your story isn’t communicated through words alone. Make sure your images are communicating just as well as your text.
  • Limit the amount of information required – Keep the information you ask from a potential customer to the absolute necessary minimum.
  • Provide limited-time discounts – Can you provide a discount or other incentives to make signing up worth-while on the first visit?

An Example – Monsoon Company

design monsoon

Monsoon Company’s service required a high amount of contact and exchange; therefore, they needed a method of driving sign-ups in order to start an initial conversation. Right off the bat, they have a clear message paired with straight-to-the-point imagery. Following that, they have brief supporting copy to tell a little more about what they do. Their main desired point of contact, a phone number, is then listed right below, with a prominent lead form (for users less inclined to use phone as a method of contact).

Putting it All Together

Being conscientious about design and user experience can create exceptional returns for your business. Be thoughtful, test your assumptions and designs, measure which ones perform better, and then constantly iterate to improve all aspects of your website, product, and service. When an experience is well-designed, it is the only thing your user sees. The design just works and is at the heart of the product.

By being design-oriented in your thinking, you’ll achieve a greater level of success not only in sales but in customer satisfaction. And by driving toward even better results for you and your customer, you’ll create an experience that really does make a difference.

About the author: Chuck Longanecker is the CEO and co-founder of digital-telepathy, a user-experience design company passionate about creating products, like SlideDeckHello Bar and Impress, that make the Web more intuitive and compelling.

P.S. If you want help with design click here.


  1. EntrepreneursKorner :

    Awesome post, I agree mostly with the social proof, due to first time users wanting an authoritative site that a lot of people visit and talk about. It’s like being the cool kid in school for example, you have lots of friends, everyone wants to be your friend.


  2. Eric - TangoSource :

    As a supplement, I suggest people look at the principles of design ( If you know all the major tools in the toolkit, it’s easier to create teh right kind of emphasis and harmony for your content.

  3. A. Kasin @ Melting Posts :

    Yep, I put a lot of emphasis on the design on my website.

  4. Anshul @Nichesense Niche Marketing :

    This one of my favourite topics Neil. Implementing call to action using clever design elements is a great way to get your prospects engaged.

  5. Chuck Longanecker :

    Thanks for the comments guys. Glad you liked the post.

    I am curious, how has design made a difference for you? Do you have any personal examples of how improving your design has lead to greater results?

  6. David | Opportunities Frontiers :

    Hi Chuck,

    Great post. Design is definitely core to success. Heck! the world’s most valuable company in 2012 is a design company, Apple.
    Definitely in the process of a complete redesign of my customer experience.

  7. Mark Horoszowski :

    Probably the best write-up I’ve seen related to conversion-centered design. Only hole I saw is that you should have the cursor prepopulated in information boxes when the page loads – another great conversion booster.

  8. Gregory Ciotti :

    Totally agree with your philosophy Chuck, excellent insight and two great products in HelloBar and SlideDeck, I’m a huge fan of both.

    Thanks for your thoughts, again, killer post.

  9. This is a great post Chuck. I clearly agree that design makes a very important impact. A poor design might lead to poor sales. So a design has to be made giving thorough considerations. Apple has really revolutionized the concept of design the best example being iPhone. Thumbs up!

    • Chuck Longanecker :

      Absolutely. We like to think that design gives products a bit of soul, personality and pizzaz. Why buy or use something boring if you can use something great!

      • Yaa this is absolutely right but I wonder sometimes how much time and investment it takes to bring a great design.

        • I feel it takes a continuous amount of time and effort because design is never really complete. Once you have something that works you have to consistently update and tweak it as the years go on.

  10. Great Post Neil, Like always you bring together best examples and advice succinctly, i can see u have embraced Pinterest, hoping a post soon on your Pinterest Experience 🙂

    BTW can u shoot me an invite for Pinterest ???

  11. The Young Bigmouth :

    I guess the keyword here is user experience. The days of broadsheet designs are long gone. Today, when we say site architecture, it means architecture in a very real sense. So, building a site has become a lot like building an apartment.

    The same way that the main door does not open into the bedroom; you move the sofa out of the way and into a corner if the room is small; the switches are on the right hand side when you enter a room… you will see that a lot of these can be seen as analogies for site design, Just that design now means architecture too.

    • Chuck Longanecker :

      Good point. Every aspect of the process must be thought through. If a button is round, there should be a reason for that, same goes with color, typography, flow and more. The last thing you want is a toilet in the middle of your living room!

    • Yep, experience is just what is needed in order to make something work. I like your comparison of a site to a building/apartment. Thanks for your insight.

  12. Brilliant post. If anybody needs convincing of the impact good design can have on a business then they need to be referred here.

  13. Neil, truth be told, this is not my first time of reading your blog, but the fact remains every post you write, either here or on other blogs remains informative. Churning out new ideas, and inspiring, that’s what you do. 3 words: i love you. Believe it Neil. Thanks for this awesome dissection.
    every drop of paragraph as something to contribute. You’re among the few people I’ve never had a cause to regret dropping my email to. Thanks.

  14. Web Design Resource :

    To do online marketing for something like any product, service, business etc., designing is very needy because now a day, designing is becoming very needy in the market because of the large use of the Internet around the world.

  15. Great post emphasizing on Design. Thanks a lot Chuck Longanecker

  16. Design drives visitors attentions. Your design gives the power to call the attentions of your visitors too.

  17. Im sure that design is what really make the diference on every website on inet, it keep your competitors away.

  18. Hi Chuck,

    I’m in my mid-twenties and am interested in making the jump from higher education to web analytics and online campaign work/consulting. I’d love to transition to a company that provides similar services to yours.

    Any advice on people in the industry who would be interested in spending 15 minutes helping me determine how to get my foot in the door.

    Btw, excellent post. Thank you Neil and Chuck.

    Pura Vida,

    • Chuck Longanecker :

      Hey Ricardo,

      Congrats on the pending transition. I recommend going to events and connecting with your local community. Also, spend time on sites like Linkedin, Dribbble…etc to connect with peers or blogs like KISSmetrics, Smashing Mag and start being active in the comments.

      Lastly, our friend Dan Martell has a new startup that allows you to connect with mentors. Try it out:

  19. How to be happy :

    hello guys,
    design is definitely important to please the eyes but equal focus on the quality is too importan, apple is a great example leader in design and quality.

  20. Design is not only the virtual appearance, but also with marketing in mind.

    Great tips!

  21. Bobby @ Sightness Photography :

    Neil !

    This is exactly i was thinking for last few days.The visitor will watch that piece twice hence increasing the possibility of conversion.

    Anyways great post.


  22. Apple does not market, it just designs so well it gets the attention anyway.

  23. Design which bring the attention of every readers so its should catchy so that makes sense in all criteria

  24. Maria - :

    Couldn’t agree more! Running an interior design blog is all about design (and inspiration!)

    Love, M

  25. Good info… Design indeed helps create the first impression that can be so critical if you don’t get the second… For me design says that you pay attention to detail. Not being a designer but having been around them their attention to detail second to none.

    • Thanks Mike,

      You make very good points. First impressions are everything and having attention to detail is key to a successful one.

  26. This one of my favourite topics Neil. Implementing call to action using clever design elements is a great way to get your prospects engaged.

  27. Awesome post! I think A/B testing is clear proof that good design works and really boosts conversions.

  28. Eschewing all the ideas about ‘conversion’ and ‘increasing subscribers’ et al, even if you just look at it from a consumer’s POV (which is what we all should be doing), they just want someone that looks good.

    As readers, most of us don’t care about how many sign-ups the blogger is getting, first and foremost, we just want something that doesn’t make us want to rip our irises out in frustration.

    • You have got it Jasmine. You have to put yourself in your readers/customers shoes and figure out what is best for them. Make it easy and quick and you can’t go wrong.

      • Stephanie Hackney :

        I could not agree more. The users’ impressions of your offering and the site’s usability should also be paramount when making design decisions.

        Apple is a great company and design is always paramount, but I have to say the iTunes is not intuitive and aspects of it are simply not user friendly. That kills any advantage that design brings to the table, at least for me. I want to it to be intuitive and easy to use before I care about it being well designed.

  29. Oh, and a word of advice, if anyone’s interested – in terms of design – marketing (and vice versa, I suppose) – looking at what your competitors are doing is a real help, as before you’ve even thought about how you can make your site look snazzy, you will have already identified not only what works, but what your demographic doesn’t like and what they are bored of.

    That’s the sort of stuff that will put you above the rest.

  30. Suresh Karuppaiya :

    Great post on How important the design to make conversion. When we add more things on site design like slider the page loading time gets increased a bit. If I used More images in my design it makes even slower.
    Because of the slower page loading we will loss some of the leads. My thought site the design should be clean rather than compressed.

  31. Custom design is important to bring branding to a blog. Great post Neil, thank you.

  32. Neil,

    One of the best post i have ready in my life,hope i can implement some of them and we need more posts like this.

    Awesome readers ,please forward if you have more posts like these .


  33. Fantastic read, loved it! Also love this site, I love the attention to detail, the opt-in bar on the side is great, love what you are visually communicating and the content backs it up. Thanks!

  34. Ritesh Sarvaiya :

    As always, this is one the most important point, well written Neil, people across the world is doing so many different things these days to innovate and explore new designing ideas.

    Following the designing leaders will make you leader one day, provided you follow them in most perfect manner.

    • Thanks Ritesh,

      It is definitely a good idea to follow and keep up with new and leading designers. This way you can take inspiration from them and apply it to your work.

  35. I strongly agree, custom design is very much improtant on blogs. Thanks for all the great information shared with us!

  36. You nailed it Neil;) For many of our customers, our website is their initial point of contact and as we heard many times, first impressions last. Excellent designs can create the first right impression.

  37. In the end, you have to take a wholistic approach. Implementing all of these +1 solutions will not end up a +10.

    A good example is this very website. The hello bar is fixed to the top, this recommended thing is popping out on the bottom, and this sharing thing is bouncing around the side. It’s all very cheesy and just seems a bit lazy to me.

    • I am sorry you feel that way. A lot of time has been spent on testing the different aspect of this sites design. This layout is the result of what tested best.

  38. website company :

    Design rules a consumer’s mind be it a website or a car. A well designed product always has more takers. It is human nature to be attracted by a good design.

  39. Internet Marketing :

    I’ve been studying how to design a site well. I have the skills to make one but the idea none. But definitely design attracts a lot of readers. It is common to check the how the page looks before reading the content. I sometimes stumble upon bad web designs and I tend not to read the articles because the impression is very important. Only those who are really interested in articles disregard the appearance but commonly they don’t.

    • True, if the content is good then often readers can get past a bad design. However the poor design still hinders your site and can turn away new readers that have not yet learned to appreciate the value your content provides.

  40. We are completely redoing our site and we are focusing on creating CTA’s that stand out. It’s so important to have colors that don’t blend in with the rest of the color in your site.

    • Definitely, you want to make sure the important parts stand out. However make sure to keep the colors cohesive.

      Best of luck.

  41. This is very nice topic and nicely elaborated. I have never expected that designing could be so powerful but with your article I am highly impressed. Thanks.

  42. Hello Neil,
    It was nice that you have share information regarding the HelloBar. I often have used into my blog and its really helpful. I have suggested to my client regarding these post and hope these would helpful to them.

  43. Health & Fitness Blog :

    Indeed – design is marketing. Didn’t they also say “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Absolutely right on it! We all love what is appealing to the eyes and this helps us make our decision, whether a little bit or a lot.

    Thanks for sharing, Neil.

  44. Health Wrong :

    I agree with you that design can really mean marketing. Remember after Steve Jobs died and a young chap designed a new apple logo for him and the logo went off so viral that made him so popular? Is the creativity that make the difference.

    • Creativity definitely makes all the difference. No matter how small you think it is, even a simple change could alter the whole perspective.

  45. Wade@Bloggers Make Money :

    This correlates to a post I wrote a while back. Website design should be included in your SEO program. If your website or blog is optimized in the code, don’t forget to give the design of your page a boost as well. If your site is not user-friendly and people can’t navigate well, they will leave.

  46. Trin Salaloy :

    It think design plays a HUGE role in marketing and even conversions. I mean no one really wants to enter their information on a boo boo designed site… Im book marking this post!

  47. Joe Lane Seo Specialist :

    Wow Neil,
    Thank you for leading the way with practicing what you preach with high quality articles and information. As an seo guy i often get asked to work on websites that really need a re-design before I can do any real beneficial work. Thas article is perfect and too the point for anyone looking to make a quality site.

  48. Selena Spice :

    I agree, that’s something lot of people know but small part of them applies.

  49. Online Mastering :

    hmmmm, the hello bar seems pretty interesting

  50. Web design Austin :

    Hi Neil,

    Excellent article. This is true that Design in marketing. If you have a good design then you can earn a lot of customers. 🙂
    Thank you

  51. Hi,
    This is really awesome article. if we will make design marketing more pretty then we can get good money and our costmer will be more and it will increase our money.
    Thanks for the posting.

  52. hey neil,
    great thinking. and really design matters much. good design can lead towards the success.



  53. Hello! Neil ,,another great post Neil, I really really like the idea, impressive job Neil!,,

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  61. Neil,

    Great article ! But you, like most everyone else, commenting on the design issue forget the most important design element of all.

    And its timeless !! Not subject to any trends…

    Has been there and has been the by far most important design element:

    It was important in the early days and I predict it will remain the most important design element for many years to come… proly forever….

    Nothing penetrates the emotional realm, where all the important (buying) decisions are made, like a good & strong photograph…

    Just my two cents…

    Keep up the good work..


    • Dominik, thanks for sharing. Imagery will always be the heart and soul of any good marketing campaign.

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