Updated: Mar 23
As designers of the Web, we need to rally around a common cause of democratizing web-based experiences as seamless, story-driven, goal-based, intuitive and viscerally satisfying as their mobile brethren.
Introducing the Smart Site
Think of the last landing page you encountered. Like the car salesman that wanders over when you just want to browse, landing pages relentlessly hound you to turn over your information. When brand is traded completely for conversion, there is no positive or lasting experience to be found.
Traditional websites have a whole host of equally damning problems. They are the motormouths at the cocktail party, jabbering at anyone in earshot a flurry of self-aggrandizing information without any kind of interest in the person listening (or, as is often the case, half listening).
Creating an optimal experience that blends performance and brand, the Smart Site sits between landing pages on the far transactional end, and traditional websites at the other. Our vision for the future of websites, Smart Sites, are the Goldilocks of the Web: not too transactional, not too unwieldy, just right.
Websites should tell a story
A quick look around the web shows that the majority of websites do a very poor job of storytelling. And yet, deeply human and emotionally resonant, a story is shown time and time again to be the best way to communicate with one another. So, if the goal of websites is to communicate, and storytelling is our best communication vehicle, Smart Sites need to be fundamentally story-driven.
Telling a good story on the web is has the potential to be even more powerful than storytelling in other mediums. Beyond words, we can create interactive and rich narratives which lead to both rational and emotionally-satisfying experiences. Even better, by removing the disjunct, page-jumping mode of engagement, we can create seamless stories that flow across a single-page site.
Websites Communicate Their Stories Viscerally
Smart Sites use discovery and visceral feedback to elicit emotional responses rather than merely transactional ones. They do this through interactions that surprise and delight users and add texture and context. These elements, such as drawers that open and close on the page, create visceral, enjoyable responses and provide room for users to experiment and explore within the context of the overall story. Connecting with users not just intellectually, but on a gut level means Smart Sites create engagement, affinity, repeat use, drive conversion, and encourage word of mouth sharing.
Websites should be designed with a goal in mind
Just as the best stories have a point, Smart Sites’ story-driven design leads to an actionable outcome. Whether driving more sign-ups, selling books, or launching a product or business, the design and structure of Smart Sites support the narrative arc of the customer journey. With fast connections and an audience accustomed to long-scroll experiences in mobile apps, pageless design gets out of the way of the visitor so they can enjoy the flow and complete their objective.
Websites should be intuitive
In a typical analytics setup, data is historical. By providing a set of raw numbers without context, its function is to provide information that the viewer must analyze in order to make reactive improvements to site performance. Often the analytics create more questions than they answer and provide no obvious actionable steps on how to improve.
Goal-driven Smart Sites change this dynamic by knowing what should be happening on the site–completed goals! Checkpoints along the way provide insights into the visitor’s journey and suggestions on where to iterate to improve the outcomes. Unlike standard web metrics, which exist as separate entities from the website, Smart Sites are packed with advanced analytics to help the website owner identify what is really happening on the site. Heatmaps, cohort analysis, qualitative insights, and A/B testing all come standard. If they’re to be true to their name, Smart Sites must be smart enough to provide proactive insights that help improve results.
Websites should work natively on any device
On tablet, phone or desktop, Smart Sites deliver an optimized experience for the user without creating headaches and overhead for the website owner. Beyond the current responsive design thinking, a Smart Site does more than simply retrofit the design to the device viewport. Instead, it creates a native experience that thoughtfully delivers content via interactions tailored for the device. In other words, it changes behavior to suit the device being used – for instance allowing the user to swipe instead of click when using the site on a touchscreen. It’s beyond responsive, it’s Responsive+.
Great Design is for the People
Great design should be accessible to everyone. If you own a business, you should be able to represent it online in a way that makes you proud, creates value, and is cost-effective. No more template sites used by a thousand other people. No more poorly designed sites sold through your local yellow pages.
It’s Time to Stop Building Websites and Start Building Smart Sites
The Smart Site is a foundational concept that we believe can be used to drive web design forward. The only way Smart Sites become a reality, however, is through the support of the design community. This isn’t about better design, it’s about smarter design. It’s about stepping back and looking at what’s changed around us – browser technology, screen sizes, user expectations, bandwidth, behaviors – to realize there is a better way forward.
It’s time for us all to up our game and deliver the next great experience on the web. This rallying cry isn’t just for designers, we also need entrepreneurs and website owners to ask for and expect sites that deliver more. We’ve thrown our hat into the ring with Impress, our own affordable Smart Site service. But we aren’t going to make this transition happen alone. We’re excited about Smart Site possibilities and invite everyone to join us as we explore this new territory.
If you are a designer who is working this way, send us a link, share your ideas, show us what you’re doing. If you are a website owner tell us what you want and how it will work for you. In other words, join us! We believe that together we’re going to change the web for the better.
As Founder of digital-telepathy,
Chuck has the ambitious goal of improving the design of the web by introducing new standards for people who give a damn about design.