Is Your Designer Killing Your Conversions?

Designer Vs. Marketer
“That big, colorful button looked sooooo 2010, so I made it transparent. It’s much cleaner now.” Image source.

Have you ever worked with a designer who was more interested in fancy animations and cutting-edge technology than in creating a page that actually resonates with you and your audience?

While I’ve been lucky enough to work with many talented, pragmatic designers, I’d be lying if I said I’d never been frustrated with a designer who I felt was working more against me than with me.

Luckily, Jen Gordon isn’t such a designer. As the founder of Convert Themes, a design service explicitly for landing pages, Jen understands the importance of designing pages that are both beautiful and highly-optimized for conversion.

Hoping to help marketers work better with their designers, she recently hosted an unwebinar with us entitled 3 Tools to Keep Your Designer From Killing Your Conversions — which, of course, came packaged with three tools to keep your designer from killing your conversions.

And while those tools are pretty great, the advice Jen gave on easing the tension between design and conversion was just as valuable. Read on for the distilled insights, or click here to watch the full webinar.

Lost in translation

Jen described a situation in which she received a brief for a landing page project. While it gave her basic direction, detailing the offer and the copy, it was left up to her to decide things like:

  • The page’s visual hierarchy — the structure and order of its visual and textual elements
  • The type of imagery that would resonate with the page’s intended audience
  • The problem or pain point the page’s visitor is looking to solve

These are not small decisions to make. Yet they are exactly the kinds of critical decisions that are hoisted upon designers, either implicitly or explicitly. And in a situation like this, designers can be reluctant to ask questions or open a dialogue with the project manager.

But why? What is the root of this tension between marketers and designers?

To answer this, Jen made a word cloud based on the most shared posts on ConversionXL, Hubspot and Unbounce over the past year:


… and then did the same for some of the world’s top design blogs:


Notice that there is very little overlap between these two word clouds. They suggest that marketers are largely interested in results and the techniques that will produce them, while designers are more interested in technology, aesthetics and user experience.

What we can glean from this is that designers and marketers are speaking fundamentally different languages or are, at the very least, interested in completely different things.

And before we can open the doors of communication, we have to better understand where designers are coming from.

The evolution of web design

In the webinar, Jen gave an overview of different eras of web design (1990 – present) to show how new technologies can shape forthcoming design trends.

Eras of Web Design
A timeline of the different “eras” in web design. Image source.

For example, the timeline above shows that what we consider the most crucial elements of modern web design didn’t start to emerge until around 1998. That’s the year that usability research came into prominence and people were given more insight than ever into the behavior of their users.

Additionally, the launch of the iPhone in 2007 — and the release of Android soon after — brought with it the mobile design revolution and a renewed focus on user experience.

Each design revolution was triggered by designers searching for more efficient and more enjoyable ways for users to interact with content.

But whereas this kind of user-centered design focuses solely on a user accomplishing their own goals, Conversion-Centered Design (CCD) is focused towards having the user complete a single business goal.

This can seem like a huge shift, but the goal is essentially the same: getting the user what they need with the least friction possible.

The difference is that Conversion-Centered Design relies more heavily on the use of persuasion and reassurance; it’s not just about enabling the user to take action, but convincing them to.

What your designer needs to know about CRO

While you and your designer might speak different languages, you’re both (ideally) interested in the same thing: producing a great design that works for both your business goals and the goals of your visitors.

But if you’re designer is relatively new to conversion rate optimization, there are a few things that you should make sure they understand.

#1: A homepage is NOT a landing page

Website indexes/homepages used to be referred to as landing pages — since they were the page one would “land on” when going to the site — but this definition is outdated, particularly since users don’t tend to land on those pages as often as they used to.

Nowadays, a landing page means a page dedicated to fulfilling a single campaign goal. This stands in stark contrast to index pages, which are meant to be generalist and to appeal to a wide range of visitors. Additionally, index pages tend to have an infinite amount of referral sources, whereas you probably have a strong idea of what’s driving traffic to your landing pages.

It’s important that your designer understands this so that they can make sure their design is focused on that single campaign goal, and doesn’t feature any content that could be irrelevant to the page’s audience.

#2: Design isn’t a cure-all

The fact is that design isn’t the primary factor of a page’s success; landing pages can be immensely successful even if they’re pretty ugly. Jen brought up the example of the Super Funnel page, the #2 top-selling page on affiliate-marketing site

Ugly Landing Page

This is both a blessing and a burden. The core of any landing page is its unique value proposition and it’s entirely possible for a landing page to succeed based on the strength of that alone.

But that doesn’t mean that good design isn’t valuable. It just means that a landing page is made up of various elements that all contribute to its success. A page that’s performing well could still perform better with a smarter design. As Jen puts it:

Your designer needs to understand that the success of the page doesn’t fall completely on their shoulders — that it is a combination of design, copy, traffic sources, the offer, etc. that play into the success or failure of the page.

#3: The story matters most

It’s critical for every designer (and marketer and copywriter) to understand the story of their brand and how customers interact with it, looking beyond the user’s “persona” or how they arrived at the page.

Which is exactly why the Eisenberg brothers — who, in Jen’s words, “have been doing CRO before the acronym existed” — pioneered their Buyer Legends philosophy.

Contrary to personas, which are primarily interested in defining who your customers are, buyer legends are more concerned with their journeys and how they feel. From the Buyer Legends website:

Buyer Legends are not the stories you tell your customers; that’s just promotion. Buyer Legends are stories told from the point of view of your customers; because your brand isn’t what you say it is but what your customers say it is.

You can get an introduction to the concept from Bryan Eisenberg’s CRO Day webinar, and then create your own Buyer Legends with the template than Jen has generously made available for anyone to use.

Opening the door to dialogue

When a designer gets a brief for a conversion-focused project like a landing page, they may be reluctant to raise their own objections or propose their own ideas, because they worry it’s not their place. As Jen put it:

“These people, they are the marketers, they think they know best, they see me as a designer, I should just do as they say.” That’s what some of your designers are thinking.

But designers have brought the web this far. While CRO may be a relatively new discipline, its ideas are borrowed heavily from the experience-focused trends of yore; they’ve just been shaken up with digital marketing trends and a dash of Big Data.

Designers have their own expertise to bring to your conversion-focused projects. But the door to collaboration needs to be opened wide, and explicitly so. You should actively solicit the feedback of your designers and encourage them to share their ideas. After all, everything can (and should) be tested!

And in addition to talking, you can also use Jen’s free tools in order to more effectively communicate with your designer. In addition to the Buyer Legends template discussed earlier, you’ll get:

  • An extremely detailed and annotated copywriting template that will make it way easier for designers, copywriters and marketers to work together and understand each other
  • A landing page wireframe template for use with Balsamiq Mockups, which will help your designer understand the structure of a strong landing page while giving them the freedom to actually design it
  • And as a bonus, two free Unbounce landing page templates that you can upload to your account

Get access to both the full webinar and Jen’s free tools here. Together, they will put you on the path to a more productive and communicative relationship with your designers.

3 Tools to Keep Your Designer From Killing Your Conversions

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About Brad Tiller
Brad’s a former writer at Unbounce, with a marketing background encompassing everything from community management to lead generation. He's obsessed with the little touches that take marketing campaigns from so-so to stellar. Find him on Twitter: @bradtiller
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