Instead of finding a wall of websites, I wanted to take a little time to discuss a smaller number of high-quality sites that caught my attention. These are all small businesses that have developed a strong brand. Their websites do a wonderful job of guiding the reader through the primary value the company brings to the table and educating a new customer on how to engage.
So instead of focusing only on the look-and-feel of these sites, I want to also bring attention to other factors like easy of use, quality content, and clear message. Let me know what you think of these choices and take the time to explore these sites a bit. You’re guaranteed to learn something beyond just wonderful design implementation.
The reason so many people use MailChimp is because they have such great support and content on their site. Setting up a mailing list isn’t the most simple thing to do, yet just about anyone can walk through the process of importing contacts and sending out bulk emails.
The site has a wonderful look-and-feel to it. The heavy use of the chimp isn’t the only way that they leverage branding – careful typography and tone are other more subtle tools they use. Beyond the slick design, check out the easy-to-learn process they’ve set up if you’re looking to model your content marketing or are trying to develop your business on ecommerce platform around a brand that knows how to educate their customers.
I love how well The Invoice Machine focuses their message on the front page with every single element of the design. From the hard drive-looking machine, to the power button at the top right, to the clear copy along the bottom. Every piece of the home page is focused. There’s no guessing or wondering if you’ve found what you’re looking for.
I also like the simple design as you click through the site. Pages are minimalist in their approach and guide the reader directly to where The Invoice Machine wants them to be reading. Very few distractions are present. If you’re looking for a site design that is barebones but still beautiful and effective, this is an excellent place to start.
Behind this refreshing look is a powerful site with feature-rich apps. But you wouldn’t know it at first glance because the site has been tailored to give you the sense that you’re doing a simple task. But measuring social media is no easy task.
And that’s why I love this concept. Mint has shifted away from wowing customers and instead helped them relax and get comfortable with a complicated tool set. While the design is busier than some others in the list, the content is still focused. It is social media measurement, so we’ll give Mint the benefit of the doubt and accept the fact that they have a lot of information to hit a customer with in a few seconds.
If you’re looking for a model grid layout site, I recommend Mint. They do a great job of using grids to break up content into little chunks as teasers, leaving the reader to choose what they want to do next.
Most people are familiar with Skype – the instant messenger that doubles as a phone and video communication tool right from your computer. Skype has a LOT of customers – college students, members of the military, small businesses, large businesses – and all of these customers have unique features they can use built just for them.
And that’s what impresses me so much about the Skype site – even with all those customer segments they are able to distill Skype to its core value and let the reader guide themselves to what they need. Most businesses only have one or two customer segments, functionally speaking. Can you imagine trying to manage a brand that has such a broad set of customers?
The key to the design functioning so well is the menu. If you want an example of how to design complex brand offerings and use menus to direct customers, check Skype out.
I love minimalist designs and am not ashamed to admit it. 37 Signals is a classic example of a site that nails minimalism while delivering a clear brand and value message. I also like the custom illustrations used in their design, which really help give the site a distinct look and feel.
But wait! As soon as you visit this site you’re going to have a strong argument that 37 Signals is actually not minimalist at all. I mean, look at all that freaking content on the home page! Well, you’re right about all the content. 37 Signals are definitely the masters of long-form copy. But the top fold of the site, what you first see when you hit the page is very much a minimalist approach. They draw you into their long-form copy gently and they do it brilliantly.
If you’re looking for a way to deliver a ton of content on the home page, look to 37 Signals as an example. They cram the most content while maintaining a wonderfully (initially) minimalist approach and I think it works very well.
Is there such a thing as “colorful minimalism”? If so, Panic nailed it! I love this site’s custom illustrations and simple message. Just because you do a single thing doesn’t mean it can’t be celebrated. And that’s what I feel like the entire Panic site does. They exude energy about their services and draw you into their brand.
Another wonderful feature of the site with their overside graphics and typography, is that it translates well to mobile. They are, after all, a mobile app development firm. So I wanted to highlight this site for its clever simplicity and accessibility across the broad spectrum of screen sizes they have to accommodate.
I knew I was going to have to show off a retail store in this list, and Overstock is the natural choice. Their award winning design is an excellent example of how to cram the universe into a web page. They use the banner to show off some of their highlight items, but make shopping so easy through the use of search features, sub-menus, and categorized shopping tools.
If you are thinking of building out a store with a catalog of items, check out Overstock as your first choice. They do a great job of branding throughout but keep the shopping experience focused on information and product selection that drives sales and makes the shopping experience easy.
Probably my favorite feature of this site is the eye-catching typography, colors, and graphics. The Dewey’s Pizza website design does an excellent job of creating a clean layout with strong brand elements. The way the front page is divided by the navigation menu makes it both unique and also puts the navigation links front and center, a great way to make an original menu design much more usable.
Every single page that I clicked on did a great job of maintaining the same brand look as the front page, and each were as simple yet clever in design as the next one. I also love how the website uses some type of horizontal paralax scrolling from page to page, yet the main navigation menu always remains in the center of each page.
Best of all, the designers of this website did an excellent job of creating fun interaction on each page. No matter if you are on the About page or the Menu page, clicking on the links is always an exciting event. It’s even consistent from page to page in that you click on links on the left side of the page to see new information on the right side of the page. Overall, this one is definitely one of my favorites.
This small leather goods shop website is actually a single-page website, something that can be tricky for an ecommerce site. It works for this websites, however, for one because their list of products is small and secondly because the layout is so clean and minimalist. The hanging leather wallet at the top of the page rotates continuously and flawlessly, which really supports the “quality handcrafted” pitch for this company.
The only navigation button at the top of the page, beside the Share one in the corner, is the Shop button. This made me hesitate initially because I was looking for an About page first, which is the only drawback of this design. However, when you click Shop or start scrolling down, immediately the logo and Eastworks Leather Company on the left changes to a small navigation box that remains throughout the length of the single-page design.
The brand remains strong throughout this design with distinct colors and fonts. While some of the information in the About section should probably be included in the main navigation menu, the no-nonsense layout definitely makes it easy to quickly figure out where the information you need is located.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have YFS. They’re a trendy entrepreneur website that focuses on style and business issues – and they rock at it! If you’re looking for a visual experience that inspires, this is a wonderful site. Sometimes I visit just to see their latest designs and find myself reading an article on some dense business topic.
I like to look to YFS when I’m helping clients that are building news sites. YFS delivers a broad range of content but manages to stay very focused. I imagine over the next few years they will have to focus even more as competition creeps in, but for now it’s a wonderful source of inspiring content delivery and visual layout mastery. I really feel like I’m reading a magazine, which is rare for an online experience anymore.
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