A collection of current essays, presentations and issues of interest to me.
We designs brands, books, products, packaging and print and interactive campaigns for scientific visionaries, education reformers, restaurateurs, best-selling authors, arts institutions, corporations, entrepreneurs, grounded in social and cultural values or bias.
Unique touches of humanity in the studio context always draw me in and make the space resonate on a personal level.
First and foremost, are you able to complete the following mad-lib?
“We do _____ for ______.”
It’s not that you must express your positioning in this way, but if you are as focused as you can be, you should be able to say both what you do and for whom in a pretty succinct way. Reducing this down to the simplest means possible — a mad-lib — is a great starting point. From there, you can work your copywriting magic to spice it up a bit. But be careful. Specialization tends to be a strong predictor of jargon. You know what you mean when you use certain words and phrases to explain what you do, but does your audience?
Once you’ve resolved what you want to say, you need to think about the forms this message will take. We’ve found that these three are almost always needed:
This is what you do in 5 words or less. Be clear, but also be memorable. One of my favorite examples comes from BigDuck, who do it in four words:
“Smart Communications for Nonprofits.”
2. Positioning Statement
This is what you do and for whom, but also an indication of unique differentiators or special claims, ideally in 10-15 words or less. This is your official message — the one you want everyone inside and outside of your firm to know well. A good example comes from our friends at Franklin Street, who write:
“Franklin Street is a health care brand consultancy. We build patient-centered brands.”
3. Reassurance Statement
This is an optional opportunity to add some detail that might elaborate on how you do what you do, why you’re good at it, or what guarantee you can offer. This is especially useful if you have a proprietary process that needs explanation. Franklin Street, who I mentioned above, reassure their prospects by writing:
“We believe that a brand built around the desires of the patient will increase satisfaction, fuel innovation and grow market share. Our proprietary process uncovers strategic opportunities and authentic brand strengths. This proven approach leverages online, direct and mass advertising, web platforms and brand experiences to convert prospects into patients.”
Beyond these three forms, there should be a strong, clear, message-based through-line from the top pages of your site down, as well as from the lower-level pages up.
Pay special attention to those pages specifically designed to more deeply inform your prospects about what you do, like landing pages dedicated to your capabilities, your services, and outcomes. Take a step back and read your site as if you were outside of your firm. Is it clear? If they don’t know what you know, does it still make sense?
Many websites either don’t talk enough about what they do, or they talk about it too much in language no one can understand. So, strive for a clear, concise, and compelling articulation of what you do.
Oh, and if your message is really, “We do what everyone else does,” at least don’t make visitors read a book before they realize that. The plainer the language, the stronger the statement.
You will have entire pages devoted to presenting your message, like your home page and sections that cover your services. But you also need to make sure that your message is present on lower-level pages so that first time visitors that enter your site will be immediately aware of who you are and what you do.
That’s where the tagline comes in. In the Big Duck example, they’re able to do it in four words, which are next to their logo on every single page of their site. That means that a prospect who reads one of their case studies talking about how their expertise was put to work can immediately answer the first question we know they will have after reading it: Who wrote this? User data continues to affirm a predictable orientation pattern for organic search traffic. Once a visitor lands on a lower-level content page, they either click to and read another one (thanks to related content lists) or they click the site’s logo or “home” button. They want to know who produced this content. With a good tagline, they can answer that question no matter where they are, without losing their place.
This one is dirt-simple. When it comes to that message you now have on every single page of your site, can search engines see and capture the words you use? If you’re able to get down to a lean and mean four-word tagline, don’t put that text in an image file! Make sure it’s real text. Someday, Google will get good at indexing text in images (did you know Evernote can already do that?) but that day is not today. Until then, Rule #3 stands.
That’s it. Three simple rules. Ok, ok, I know that the core problem — which starts with the ability to specialize and focus — isn’t really that simple. But, look how simple the marketing job becomes once you have focused!
I hope these pointers work for you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as you’re putting them to use.
ummary: A website’s tone of voice communicates how an organization feels about its message. The tone of any piece of content can be analyzed along 4 dimensions: humor, formality, respectfulness, and enthusiasm.
If we envision our website as a tool that enables us to have a conversation with our users, it’s clear that a carefully considered tone of voice is critical.
In literature, the tone of voice refers to the author’s feelings towards the subject, as expressed through the writing itself. Writing for the web is obviously different from writing prose (or at least it should be, since web users read very little.) Still, every scrap of writing on a page (from body copy to button labels and other UX copywriting) contributes to the tone of voice we’re using to speak to our users.
Tone is more than just the words we choose. It’s the way in which we communicate our personality. Tone of voice is the way we tell our users how we feel about our message, and it will influence how they’ll feel about our message, too.
Despite the importance of tone, advice about it tends to be vague: “Be consistent. Be authentic. Be unique.”
So, we wondered, what are the broader qualities that make up a tone? Here we describe a framework of 4 dimensions that can be used to analyze or plan a site’stone of voice. Then we conducted qualitative usability testing and online surveys, measuring the impact of those tone qualities on users (full details and findings to come in an upcoming article).
A quick Google search for “tone-of-voice words” will surface lists of hundreds of words used to describe literary tones. (Most of them come from websites for undergraduate English courses). You’ll quickly notice that most of those words have very specific meanings and connotations (e.g., “vexed” or “cynical”), and couldn’t be used to describe the tones of many (if any) websites. You’ll also notice that many of these lists are huge, some with hundreds of words.
We decided to design a manageable web-specific tool that content strategists could use to create simple tone profiles for a company’s online presence. Our goal was to identify several tone-of-voice dimensions that could be used to describe the tone of voice of any website.
We began with a long list of literary tone words. We then eliminated any words that wouldn’t be realistic content goals for normal websites (like “guilty”). That process produced a list of 37 website-specific tone words.
We then iteratively refined that list, by:
At the end of this process, we identified 4 primary tone-of-voice dimensions.
Tones could fall at either extreme of each dimension, or somewhere in between. Each website’s tone of voice could be expressed as a point in the 4-dimensional space described by these dimensions.
To see how these 4 dimensions of tone can be varied to create different effects, let’s consider a small piece of copy that almost every content team has to consider at some point — an error message.
At the core of every piece of writing is the message — the information we’re trying to communicate to our user. In this case, our message is, “An error has occurred.” Our tone will be how we communicate that message.
First, let’s try a serious, formal, respectful, and matter-of-fact error message.
“We apologize, but we are experiencing a problem.”
We’re not trying to make users laugh, or using any strong emotion in the message. It’s a fairly traditional, straightforward message.
Now, what if we tweak one of the 4 dimensions? Let’s make this same message a little more casual.
“We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a problem on our end.”
The message is still serious, respectful, and matter-of-fact. But the message becomes more casual with a few small changes:
Let’s add a little more enthusiasm to the message. In this case, “enthusiasm” means emotion more than excitement, since the subject is a negative one for both the site and the user.
“Oops! We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a problem on our end.”
Now we’ve taken the error message’s tone to casual and enthusiastic. If we add an attempt at humor and a little irreverence, we’ll have taken the same message to a totally different tone of voice. (Remember, the irreverence here is the speaker’s attitude towards the subject, not necessarily towards the audience.)
“What did you do!? You broke it! (Just kidding. We’re experiencing a problem on our end.)”
by KATHRYN WHITENTON on July 10, 2016
Summary: Getting back to the homepage is about 6 times harder when the logo is placed in the center of a page compared to when it’s in the top left corner.
Traditionally, websites display a logo in the top left corner of every page (for sites that use left-to-right languages). This design pattern fulfills several critical needs for a good web user experience:
The top-left placement of logos is so familiar to users that straying from this pattern risks significantly impairing the user experience. For example, we’ve previously reported that right-aligned logos hurt brand recall, based on a comparison of how likely users were to recall brand names when a logo was in the left vs. the right corner.
Centered logos appear more often on the web these days, perhaps due to the increasing adoption of responsive and “mobile-first” designs. Mobile designs often use the top-left corner to display a menu icon, and shift the logo towards the center of the screen. On small screens, the distance between the top-left corner and the top-center position is usually minor.
But when this design pattern is used on larger screens, the distance becomes significant.
Positioning the logo in the center of the page on both mobile and desktop layouts may be convenient for designers, but how does this affect the user experience?
To find out, we’ve compared sites with left-aligned logos to sites with center-aligned logos.
To understand how logo placement affects the use of the logo as a navigation element, we compared 14 different fashion-retail sites: 8 with centered logos and 6 with left-aligned logos. All of the logos were clickable links to the homepage, and none of the sites offered a text link to the homepage.
50 users participated in this study; each of them interacted with a single site and completed 2 tasks:
The first task was needed to set the stage for our second task but was otherwise not of interest to the current study.
We used UserZoom’s clickstream tracking to record every action taken by study participants. For each participant, we recorded whether that participant was able to navigate to the site’s homepage in a single click.
Our results show that, on sites with left logos, users are significantly more likely to navigate home in a single click than on sites with centered logos (p<0.05 with a chi-squared test).
Comparing the failures to navigate in the two conditions, users were 6 times as likely to fail to navigate to the homepage in a single click when the site logo was centered versus left aligned.
the ability to quickly return to the homepage is critical for users who become lost or simply want to switch to a different task or topic. Even when global navigation is shown on every page and lists all major sections of a website, many users still go ‘home’ by reflex when they want to start over.
On most of the sites with centered logos, at least some users struggled to navigate to the homepage. An analysis of these users’ behavior indicates that the logo position was a big part of the problem. For example, on the Koshka website shown below, some users clicked the leftmost navigation link (Under $29) instead of the logo. In some cases, users eventually did make it to the homepage — but only after several false starts and mistakes. on sites with centered logos, some clickpaths back home were much longer. For example, on Madewell’s website, some users clicked the centered logo right away, but one poor soul tried four other links before finally reaching the homepage.
Based on these observations, it’s clear that left-aligned logos are better than centered logos for supporting user navigation to the homepage. Note that the left-logo sites in this study still caused some homepage-navigation errors (although far fewer than the centered-logo sites). This is because some users didn’t realize that logos were clickable, especially when the logos followed a flat-design aesthetic. Positioning the logo on the left is good, but an even better approach is to offer both a left-aligned clickable logo and an actual Home link.
It appears that other factors (such as the contrast, padding, and legibility of the brand name) affect brand recall more than the position in the center of the page versus the top left corner. For example, the Nolitan hotel websites had a background image behind the logo, which may have overshadowed the effects of logo position: this main image has strong symmetry around a center axis and creates a visual path leading up to the centered logo position (which was the position in the original design).
When we compare the findings from our two research studies of logo placement on websites, we see that centered logos degrade website usability to some extent, but not as much as right-aligned logos. In other words, logos should lean left. We speculate that the reason for this difference is that left-aligned logos are the norm and what users expect, and so the more a design deviates from the norm, the worse the user experience. The location of a centered logo is not as far removed from the expected location as that of a right-aligned logo. To generalize this finding beyond logo design:
Branding and navigation are such critical functions for websites that anything which negatively impacts these goals should be avoided. Keep your logo where you can be sure users will find it, and your site will get the maximum value from this critical design feature.
In a different study, we also measured whether having the logo centered on the page (rather than in the top-left corner) affected how likely users were to remember the brand name.
In this study we looked at 4 boutique hotel websites; for each site, we compared two versions: one with a left-aligned logo, and one with a centered logo.
128 participants completed two types of tasks:
Unlike our study involving right-aligned logos, this study did not find that centered logos consistently affect brand recall (this effect was not statistically significant). Some sites had better recall for left-aligned logos and some for center aligned.