Most ecommerce business owners are focused on the nuts and bolts of running their business, such as managing a product catalog, processing orders, and running marketing campaigns. Rather than investing in an expensive custom design, it’s tempting to use an existing template or take a do-it-yourself approach. But the failure to recognize the importance of a good design can take a silent toll on your business over time in the form of opportunity cost.

Why Design Matters

Studies have shown that you have a grand total of 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression when someone visits your website. Despite the time you spend writing great copy, sourcing the right products, and providing exceptional customer service, research has shown that three-quarters of users judge a company’s credibility based on its web design and more than 90 percent of first impressions are related to design.

Remember: It takes a total of 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression when someone visits your website. Share on X

Source: Kinesis Inc.

If you don’t believe those statistics, imagine walking into a dirty retail store with ugly décor and products organized without any rhyme or reason. You would probably be significantly more likely to purchase the same product from a clean and modern store that was well-organized. Now, imagine that you could transport yourself between the dirty store and clean store in 50 milliseconds and you can appreciate the importance of web design.

Design can also make a big difference on revenue and profitability beyond first impressions. For example, subtle changes to the color and text of a buy now button can have a big impact on conversion rates. These kinds of small design changes may only boost a conversion rate by one or 2%, but those small changes add up to a lot of money over the long-term. A 2% increase in $100,000 in annual revenue is $2,000 per year!

When it comes to usability, design also plays a big role in ADA compliance. An estimated seven million adults in the U.S. have some sort of visual disability, which makes it incredibly important to create accessible websites. Color and font size choices can mean the difference between readability or a move on to the next store, while images with text counterparts and support for assistive technology can ensure that everyone can buy from your store.

Finally, great design can help you connect with customers on a deeper level over time. The most obvious example of this is Amazon’s logo that appears on its website, advertising, packaging, and other materials. Maintaining a consistent design across your website, social media, advertising campaigns, and physical products can help build and maintain product and brand awareness among consumers and ultimately boost repeat sales.

Elements of Design

Great web design is a combination of aesthetics and usability. Aesthetics refers to the actual layout, typography, color scheme, images, and other elements of a web design, while usability refers to how these elements come together to optimize a user’s experience. You should have a strong understanding of both of these concepts: Beautiful websites that aren’t functional are just as ineffective as functional websites that aren’t beautiful.

Free Download: Web Design Audit Worksheet

There are many design principles, but five of the most common include:

  • Typography – The art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed.
  • Color Scheme – Logical combinations of colors on the color wheel that create an aesthetic feeling of style and appeal.
  • Composition – The way in which design elements are laid out on a page or canvas to make it accessible and appealing.
  • Direction – The path that a user takes when browsing a page, which usually defaults to the so-called F- or Z-patterns by habit.
  • Contrast – The light versus dark, thick versus thin, or other types of contrast that create emphasis and make a design ‘pop’.

Other elements of design include lines, scale, repetition, negative space, symmetry, transparency, texture, balance, hierarchy, framing, grids, randomness, movement, and depth, among other things. These concepts are the subject of countless books, but not all of these principles may be directly applicable to web design. For example, the use of texture doesn’t mean that you should have a textured background image on a web page.

Best Practices

The problem with these design concepts is that they can feel very abstract. How do you pick the right combination of colors? What is a good font to use for a heading? The good news is that a professional web designer can help you translate these abstract concepts into a beautiful and functional design. And if you’re interested in doing it yourself, there are some best practices that can help you stay on the right track.

Let’s start by defining three important design goals:

  1. Make sure people understand what you’re selling right away.
  2. Make it easy to purchase something (e.g. it doesn’t require many clicks).
  3. Make your branding consistent across everything.

Next, let’s take a look at some specific design tips:

  • Typography – Use two or three web-safe fonts at most. Serif fonts are good for headlines and sans-serif fonts are good for body text.
  • Color Scheme – Use a color palette with two or three colors that have a visual harmony and contrast well with text and images. Remember that 5% of the population is colorblind when choosing these colors!
  • Images – Choose images thoughtfully and avoid images with a lot of movement. Ensure that the file size is small since images can account for 60% or more of page loading time.
  • Composition – A simple design is an effective design. White space helps divide the page into distinct parts and makes it easier to process information.

There are countless other best practices – and design is something that evolves over time – but these are some of the overarching goals and stylistic best practices.

Put It Into Practice

The importance of design in ecommerce means that it often makes sense to hire a good designer. After all, you have just 50 milliseconds to impress a visitor and design influences 94 percent of their decision! A great designer may literally be worth their weight in gold. Even if you’re a designer, it can be hard to work on your own projects due to perfectionism and other psychological barriers, and it still may make sense to hire an external designer.

Before hiring a designer, make sure that you do your homework. Look at websites that you like and come up with specific reasons that you like them. For example, you might like the color scheme of one website or the way that another website handles navigation. It’s also important to remember that design is a collaborative process, which means that you’ll need to provide regular feedback to the designer to ensure you get the best results.

After you have a design, it’s equally important to continue evolving it over time. This means adapting to the latest best practices and A/B testing what design choices resonate the best with visitors and customers. For example, you might change the color or text on a button to see if it increases conversion rates or revamp a design every couple of years to keep up with new trends and conventions in web design and/or ecommerce.

The Bottom Line

There’s little question that web design plays an important role in ecommerce. While design is an abstract concept in many ways, there are some time-tested principles that can help you stay on the right track. It’s usually a good idea to hire a professional designer to achieve the best results and then constantly A/B test usability and design changes to optimize performance over time. Small improvements in conversion rates can pay a big dividend over time!

Free Download: Web Design Audit Worksheet