June 5, 2015 | Paul Gibson

Great Web Design Is Like Planning a Theme Park: Part 1

It may seem like an odd comparison, but when you think about it, planning a theme park and planning the design of a website have a lot in common.

I came to this realization the last time my family and I visited Walt Disney World®. Like many business owners, I’m a big fan of processes, planning, and organization (although you might think differently if you could see my desk).

An amazing amount of forethought and planning goes into a well-designed theme park, even though it's often masked by “intentional whimsy.” In a lot of ways, this balancing act is very similar to designing a website.

In this series of posts, I'm going to explore how the theme park model can lead to better website designs. Let's start with the basics: knowing your audience.

Knowing—and Accommodating—Your Audience

When you’re designing a theme park, you have to create an environment that's going to appeal to a wide range of people. You'll have the teenagers interested in blood-pumping action rides alongside starry-eyed tots hoping to get pictures with their favorite princesses, not to mention exhausted parents who just want to sit down in the shade.

That means those two very different attractions need to live comfortably side by side so that both groups feel comfortable. That might mean toning down a scary statue to avoid frightening the younger kids, and making sure you keep the pink and green pastels plastered along Main Street at a frequency that's tolerable to a teenage adrenaline junkie.

In website design, I often need to consider multiple buyer personas at the same time. By understanding the needs and aesthetic preferences of each persona, I can adjust my design to make each visitor feel as comfortable as possible. This often means that we have to reconsider the way we design calls to action (CTAs).

There are many cases when a CTA must accomplish more than one task. For example, say you have a CTA guiding traffic to your online store. One group of customers may be primarily interested in making a quick online purchase (Clark the Consumer), while another is scoping you out to form a long-term bulk purchasing partnership (Patricia the Purchasing Agent).

Let’s assume for a moment that online store sales make up most of your business, and you're trying to increase reliable recurring revenue from more stable long-term relationships. Obviously, you need to maintain your current customer base (people like Clark), so the primary CTA for the homepage needs to drive traffic to the store. At the same time, you can’t forget about Patricia--she's the future of your business.

A sales-y "Go buy our new and improved widgets now!" banner scattered with products wouldn't be the most appropriate fit here. Instead, we might design a classy, spacious "hero image" area with carefully-selected product shots and text that highlights the client’s stability. It might say something like "Now offering a new line of quality widgets backed by 30 years of widget design experience,” and include a button saying "Enter Now."

By coupling strategic design with a message that strengthens your position in the market, you can speak to both buyer personas. Clark gets a quick path to the online store, and Patricia has been reminded that you have extensive experience in the field and are offering new, modern products backed by that expertise. Like the theme park designers, you're appealing to two very different groups of visitors while meeting both of their expectations.

In the next part of this series, I'll take a look at website content and how it flows. Stay tuned for Part 2: Take Them Where They Need to Go!

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Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson

As the leader of our design team, VIEO Design principal and founder Paul Gibson oversees our designers and developers as they create marketing-optimized websites, digital graphics, and print materials. Paul also oversees VIEO's 3D printing division. To date, his most impressive project has been a replacement head for an old My Little Pony. He went with Yoda.

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