Why do so many home pages suck?
Simple answer: because it’s been a couple months (at least) since they were designed.
Here’s what happens:
Awesome IA/UX/Design people collaborate in some combination to create a really nice home page template (or several templates). They get them approved. Marketing likes them and totally understands what creative assets they’ll get to create and use in the templates. Awesome IA/UX/Design people create equally awesome style guide, which looks very swanky and well organized. It is designed to look gorgeous when it’s printed out on portrait-oriented paper, preferably not of a standard size. It has the templates all marked up with annotations (in just the perfect color) detailing hex values and font sizes and leading and color palettes. It’s glorious.
The home page looks great for a few months or so. The marketing team (or whoever is responsible for the creative assets on the home page) is sticking to the style guide—often because they were heavily (and rightly) involved in its creation.
And then…something happens.
If it’s an ecommerce site, it could be a sale (and actually it often is). It could be a natural disaster that the company is helping out with. It could be some other project that takes up all the usual designer’s time and therefore requires that the creative be temporarily outsourced. Whatever it is, it’s treated as an exception, and it’s designed as an exception. And that one little exception changes everything.
Suddenly the whole visual vocabulary gets tilted just enough to murder that gorgeous style guide. Concrete blocks are tied to its tabloid feet and it’s never even seen again (until the next redesign, when someone asks to see it, and is surprised how great it is, given the current horrifyingness of the site).
It’s as if the style-guide-obeying boxes on the homepage start like a well-behaved collection of children, all playing nicely and using their indoor voices and attracting attention in the right way. And then, a new kid shows up, and, even if the new kid is well-intentioned, at least one of the originally happy little campers gets uncomfortable. Somebody’s little box shrinks a little, or there’s a new color in town, or whatever. The decibel level starts trending upwards as anxiety builds. And suddenly…everybody is screaming.
It’s hard to point to a home page that no longer maps to the original wireframes. But it’s equally hard to point to a home page that ages well (unless, of course, it never changes—but we’re talking ecommerce here, remember?).
In fact, I would challenge you to find any designer who created and launched a redesign of an ecommerce site more than two months ago who still likes the home page.
Here’s an example…
I was looking at the vandelay design blog — which I found through a basic search for ecommerce design inspiration. They do a nice job with their posts…not just the one I reference here. They shared several examples of nice homepage designs (nice in their opinion…I’m not saying I agree with all of them, but still…). Anyways, the screenshots are from 2009, and some haven’t been completely redesigned since then, and are therefore great examples:
LaSenza as an example of good design:
And…LaSenza today. Same great boobs, now with extra huge orange boxes:
What happened? A big important sale happened, causing a designer to lose his or her mind (and his or her color palette). Betcha the next sale has to yell even louder. Odd, given that the products probably tend to, ahem, sell themselves.
So, what’s the fix?
You simply can’t prevent ‘something’ from happening. Instead, I recommend that you build home page re-redesigns (or at least re-reviews) into your plan. Every time you change seasons or whatever, get the original design team together (yes, even pay the outsourced agency people! I mean really…) and take a look at the home page. You don’t have to redesign it again and again. You just have to re-establish the visual vocabulary and get it back on track. That’s easy…as long as you plan to do it and involve the right people.
If you’ve read this far, you may be interested to know that this rant is a preamble to a posting (or twelve) about the new trends in ecommerce design–and my psychic predictions to what’s going to happen to all those