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How Brand Strategy Leads to More Effective Website Design

If you’re a business or nonprofit engaging in a website redesign, you’ve probably prioritized a list of specific things you’d like addressed–from a dated design that’s gotten embarrassing to making it easier for people to find things, or a content management system that actually works for you, not against you (something we’ve recently given some advice on).

You’ve created an RFP outlining your needs: Business Development has its set of must haves, the folks in Marketing have their wish list, and Program Directors have theirs. While needs like these are important, too often they’re viewed tactically, but are symptomatic of broader strategic problems. Effectively tackling them requires an approach rooted in more than good website design process, by taking a brand-centric approach to problem solving.

The field of User Experience Design (UX) has come a long way in the last decade, formalizing a process that helps clients, designers, writers, and developers balance business goals with audience needs to create more useful and usable websites. Too often, however, clients engaging in a website redesign are led by web design firms through a process geared mostly towards meeting website-specific goals. The result may be a great-looking, and incredibly well-functioning website, but one that falls flat when it comes to meeting the broader strategic imperatives that are at the heart of owning an effective brand.

UX often does focus on answering questions similar to brand strategy to better understand audiences and the business. But they are two different disciplines with different methodologies and goals. UX is primarily focused on taking a rigorous approach to executing a successful online project—a project that serves critical business goals, but a project nonetheless. What UX does very well is help clients and designers better understand website users, then successfully address the needs they’ve identified (and likely discover a few they didn’t know they had).

But websites are just one (incredibly important) part of how brands engage with their audiences. Brand Strategy provides the necessary framework for applying critical thinking and problem solving, by focusing on intrinsic brand value, relying on insights from things like SWOT and PEST analysis to align design thinking with business strategy. Even if clients don’t have the budget (or stomach) for a formal branding engagement, approaching the website design process from a brand-centric creates better results by providing a broader, more far-reaching view of where a company is (and where it’s going), so that clients and web design teams are hunting in the right places as they design websites.

For design teams, brand strategy helps us ask more meaningful questions, and provide ideas and explanations in the language of business, instead of the subjective (and usually confusing to clients) realm of design. For clients, it orients the (also often confusing) web design process around more familiar business goals, focusing your people on what’s really important, placing choices in context, and clarifying decision making. And for everyone, it strengthens the working relationship by helping us pull in the same direction–working within a more meaningful business strategy to effectively differentiate the brand and be more meaningful to audiences.

The most successful nonprofits and businesses are those that understand that every communications initiative, from logo design to online experiences, is part of an interconnected branding effort. By designing our websites with this in mind, together we move from problem solving exclusively in the realm of web design to designing websites that are built to last by meeting the fundamental needs of executing an effective brand and business strategy.

About the Author

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

For the last 23 years, Matt has specialized in brand strategy and digital design, focusing his passion for social and environmental issues to help organizations achieve greater impact. As Constructive’s leader, Matt plays an active role in collaborating with clients and our teams to develop strategies and design brand experiences that increase mission focus and deepen audience engagement. A frequent writer and speaker, Matt is a regular contributor to The Foundation Center, Communications Network, and other organizations. His work has been recognized for excellence by numerous organizations such as The Webbys, Communication Arts, Print Magazine, The Case Awards, Graphic Design USA, The W3 Awards, The Communicator Awards, and others. Matt earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Writing & Visual Arts. He then conducted post-graduate design studies at the School of Visual Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and Parsons.

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