All design is a demonstration of values. The website design process involves decisions on the arrangement of information and assets. The decisions on the placement, prominence, and presence of an element are a manifestation of what you value, how you see your customer, and what you think they want, or should want, to experience.
If we imagine a home builder website that attempts to achieve the fairytale of design neutrality, we can actually see what they might have achieved is a website that communicates nothing to a visitor. Even if we imagined a scenario where this would be desirable, saying nothing is actually saying something.
tl;dr: The concept of “design neutral” is a fallacy. Your website should make statements.
Consider these two sample websites. These are actual screenshots of two pages from two different builders. Both pages are an active inventory detail page; i.e. a web page containing information, media, and related content of a single spec home for sale.
What kind of statements might these two designs represent? What do they say about the builder and what the builder feels is, or should be, important to the home shopper?
I’ve blurred the name and logo of each builder, but there’s no shame in either example. I will refer to them as Builder One and Builder Two.
Top of the screen.
Builder One has opted to place two choices above their logo. Considering that a logo is almost always on top, this is a significant placement. The two links are for a “customer portal” (where a home shopper can save their favorite plans, etc.) and a “design your home” selection tool. This builder likely invested some money in these tools, and that may have driven their placement, but it also means that the builder believes these are important choices to present — and has given them the most premium placement.
Builder Two has a more common logo placement at the very top and has chosen to use the rest of that top-of-the-screen space to offer quick-links to more details about this home. Builder Two’s website does not have a customer portal or design tool at all. Does this mean that Builder Two believes those features to be unimportant to a home shopper? Frankly, yes. At some point, there was a decision to prioritize dollars elsewhere — on other website features, or not on the website at all. But that decision was made based on the builder’s values, and what they felt would be more or less important to a home shopper.
There is no single answer to what is “right.” There is only the answer to what is most “you.”
Home price display.
Builder One has chosen to display the price of the home as the most prominent element on the screen. The font is larger and bolder than anything else. Clearly, Builder One believes that price is the most important thing, or it should be, to the home shopper.
Builder Two has chosen a different approach. The price is readily available but displayed in an equal weight among some other stats like bedrooms, bathrooms, and square feet. Does this mean that Builder Two thinks that price is unimportant? I don’t think so, but it does communicate to me that Builder Two believes the price may not be the most important thing.
Some builders are eager to compete on price. Some believe other methods of differentiation should be more valued by a home shopper.
Builder One does not present contact options on this screen. Scrolling further down the page does present a form and a phone number to reach a salesperson. Their placement, in not being immediately available, might represent an opinion that a shopper would not and should not be interested in contacting a salesperson until they learn more about the home.
Builder Two is communicating something very different. With three choices to start a conversation placed for an easy tap, Builder Two believes that their home shoppers want to speak to their online sales team and that making that it’s important enough to dedicate consistent screen space for it.
What do you value?
Both of these builders want leads and both of these builders know shoppers care about price. Both websites present the price and contact information, and yet, the design choices each made communicate unique statements of value beyond the data alone.
When a builder designs a great website, the website does more than a digital “feature dump” on its visitors. A great website is composed in such a way that guides its visitors to experience the highlights as seen through the builders’ eyes.
And the answer is “no.” This solution can’t be the same for two builders.