Why brand web pages?

/ Commentary

What price traditional visual branding? — Or rather, what value does carefully crafted branding have to users in a fluid, interactive medium where they want to do something? Where they feel in control of the flow of the experience? Where they can view the content in a million and one different contexts the author has no control over? Is it worth putting the same amount of effort into the visual brand of a web page as, say, a print advert? Could we put more resources into the actual content and functionality?

Adam Morse touches on this point when proposing a form of automated branding for digital.

In the past, you might spend 10-15 minutes picking a typeface and font size in Microsoft word in preparation for printing it out and sharing with others. But when you publish on Twitter, Facebook, Medium, you’re removed from this part of the design process. Even [on] your own website, you don’t have absolute control over how the typography will render for the end user. Chaos Design: Before the robots take our jobs, can we please get them to help us do some good work?

Note, he’s not arguing for no branding at all, more a version where AI makes decisions over things like colour combinations. However, Morse is the creator of an atomic CSS API, which basically says to front-end developers: “Don’t bother trying to create ‘semantic’ class names”, which I’d argue is the first step in removing the “artisinal” element from web design.

Would it be better thinking of web pages in terms of function and interfaces, and build them in the same way we might build a car dashboard? Dashboards more or less look the same and perform similar basic functions, but they work differently or just feel different depending on the car and how well they fulfil their purpose. The brand is derived from the experience of using the dashboard.

On the other hand, some still like the quirky visual nature of our sites, and how it aids the meaning of our words:

Among the many small violences of the social media platforms is the way they squash every contribution into the same rectangle, framed by the same buttons. They do this so they can assemble those contributions into a larger structure; a timeline. They prefer neat bricks; stackable, interchangeable. Heterogeneous, weird-shaped content won’t do… Foundation (part two)

I like the way good interaction looks, and I get easily annoyed at artisinal looking sites. But that’s just me. I’d be interested in any research on how important visual branding is to users. Even Nielsen says creating the right impression quickly is important, but what exactly creates that impression?

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