Web looks vs Web works

Website Design is fraught with opinion and bruised egos, and as a designer told me recently, he had to ‘develop very tough skin’ . For my part, it always brings to mind a phrase that I borrow from Avinash of occams razor, which is HIPPO.

Hi.ghest P.aid P.erson’s O.pinion

Hippo showing opinons can get in the way

It’s a phrase designed by a statistician, I think, to poke some fun at the concept of ‘Opinions’. Having my hunches disproven quite often in the early days of web, I have to agree.

Don’t trust your intuition when it comes to ’cause and effect’. The picture above seems familiar, something always seems to get in the way.

Examples of web ‘intuition’

Take ‘Long copy’, for example. Customers often worry that having lots of words on a site or page is not interesting, but the people that actually read it are often those already interested (the only reason Google sent them). A website isn’t advertising – it’s the showroom. People who are interested seem to read everything relevant, and I do mean everything, twice. Long copy often works (in the right place).

Business owners like free traffic, until they find it’s not worth the paper it’s not written on (it depends!).

And as a new friend Mark Oborn was telling me the other day, “Everyone really hates pop ups, but the trouble is they work”.

What we like, isn’t always what works

Foul tasting medicine was the first clue that we don’t always like what’s good for us.

But every time we’re faced with a choice, it’s a coin toss as to whether we can remember that, or not. In our personal lives, it’s a normal decision (or a constant wrestle, depending). Work or play, spend or save, stick or twist.

  • Do what we like, or what we need to
  • Spend money or invest it
  • Choose what looks nice or which works best (it can affect the biggest decision of all)

It’s a pretty human thing to do. But I’d like to tell you, decisions are easier when responsible for results, and when they are the difference between getting paid, or not.

Results based decision making

Choose one from the below, it’s easy, but couldn’t be more important

  1. It looks good, but doesn’t work
  2. It works, but doesn’t look good.

How it looks doesn’t affect results to the same extent as how it works. But ok, so perhaps you’re like me, and always want both? (looks and performance).

Here’s the thing.

When a site is working, a re-dressing exercise will probably help improve performance. If already profitable, then any percentage extra revenue all counts as extra profit – so you can get your money back quickly, or recover if you lose it.

Spending money on design won’t make a site profitable in itself. How it looks is but ‘one small part’ of the website visitor journey.

Get the journey right, that’s where the rewards are.

The real point, is that it’s an investment, which can be good or bad, at different times in the company ‘trajectory’. The return is ‘almost’ everything – and as Warren Buffett reputedly said, “if the money doesn’t work hard enough, choose somewhere else”.

The trade cycle counts

But when the pot is still small, whilst the percentage return has to be big to get a bigger pot, it matters how quick you can turn the handle and get your money back for re-investment.

A work of art is no good if you can’t make the rent payments of a cardboard box, perhaps we should wait for the new Hockney until we’ve made a mint.

Let’s fix how it works – it’s the successful thing to do.

WordPress Websites, Form and Function

One of the most wonderful things about WordPress, is that the way sites look and the way they work, are ‘separate’.

Depending on where the business is, there can be a template which might suit a micro, or starter company. Later on, they can support the most bespoke design, any customisation in fact.

But the investment in the functionality can come before the aesthetics (in the beginning). An update in design doesn’t mean any change in the content. They’re ‘separated’. A refresh, or a slow progression, is perfectly possible.

And if you think that WordPress ‘always’ looks the same, we can show you the difference there can be. Having said that, perhaps business WordPress Websites look the same for a reason?


For the sake of balance (and my designer friends), when the pot is ok, it is often very important to have the right design – for more reasons than you might think.

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  1. says

    Thanks for this Matt, I agree long copy works but only when it’s used in the right place and right way. Guess it’s lucky then that websites are so flexible and provide the scope for lengthly ‘information journeys’ to answer all those questions and provide peace of mind!

  2. says

    We have a lot more to write on the construction of pages and content – might need some imagery to support it though….and I’ve already used the hippo!

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