Boring Giants?

Here’s a quick – and hopefully educational and fun – little project for you. I’ve given you the links to 16 top-selling Web sites. Your job is to visit them (just the home pages) and then decide what they all have in common from a general design point of view (well, two present exceptions, but not big ones). Don’t pick over details; go for the Big Picture.

Dell, Ticketmaster, Amazon, Quill, Staples, Sears, QVC, 1-800-Flowers, TigerDirect, Victoria’s Secret, HSN, J C Penney, Lands End, Travelocity, Match (click past the home page on this one), Ebay

Okay, off with you. Just be sure to come back!

Now, if you could give me one word to describe your impression of these sites, what would it be? My word, and I absolutely do not mean this unkindly, would be:


We are not talking fancy glitz here. We are not talking elaborate graphical design. Yes, 1-800-Flowers uses a very distinctive color palette, and Match and Victoria’s Secret are more image conscious (but then, they are selling love and seductive glamour). Fundamentally, there is nothing terribly exciting about the design of any of these Web sites.

Tons of research and attention have gone into the process of making sure these sites do the job they are supposed to do. Have you ever visited Amazon and discovered some new little thing that lingered for several weeks and then disappeared? They were consumer testing a tweak in an effort to improve the overall persuasion architecture of their site. Don’t ever think “boring” design is easily achieved!

None of the above sites are perfect, but each tries to address these critical persuasive home page issues through their designs. Here are some of the basics:

  • Professional appearance that takes the best principles for design and adapts them to the online environment
  • Relatively uncluttered, streamlined design
  • They load pretty fast
  • Color blocks rather than patterns
  • Good use of white space
  • More text than graphic images (for the most part)
  • Visual groupings of similar information
  • Scannable and skimmable presentation of information
  • Functions and elements located where visitors generally expect to find them (or made otherwise prominent)
  • Qualification schemes that quickly help the visitor identify what she’s looking for supported with links that take her directly there
  • These sites are conversion-oriented, process-conscious and they don’t try to hide behind very much visual drama. Sure, deeper in the process some have thrown in a glitzy feature (like a rotating view of a product), but you never have to rely on the glitz to reach the goal.

    The Giants seem to have internalized the message that shopping is, first and foremost, about shopping. It’s really not about being entertained. And a design that is subdued and non-intrusive, that supports the business objectives rather than undermines them, is worth its weight in gold.

    Think you can learn something from a Boring Giant?

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