Why your website needs a real-world element

Bridge the gap between people and a product or service by introducing a real-world element, says Gene Crawford.

Often when we commence work on a new website design, we focus on creating all the visual assets ourselves inside our design application.

We begin with shapes and fonts, then move on to thinking through colours - or whatever it is you do as your thought process. But you can also start with things from the real world. Maybe you have some great imagery that got generated from a photo shoot, or maybe there's something interesting-looking from your client's office or your own desk that's worth using as a design element.

Bridge the gap

The idea is to pull the visitor out of the browser mentally and have them start thinking about the company or product behind the website as a real live entity or thing. This can help humanise what you're designing for, and bridge that gap between people and the product or service quickly. Using a real-world element as a focal point or even as the underlying visual direction in your work is a great way to build on this and accomplish some solid branding goals overall.

Using the desktop metaphor isn't new, but there have been a few major product website launches recently that rely on it to help lead the potential customer into the mentality of using the product. The desktop is where most of us sit all day and is something we can relate to immediately. Helping customers envision themselves using your product builds trust and understanding before they've even left the homepage.

Make them relate

A good way to get customers to make a purchase or decide to hire your company is to get them to relate to you on a personal level. Showing pictures of your office, or the people in your company doing the work they'd be hiring you to do can help this along in an immediate way.

Here are five examples to check out...

01. MailChimp

The email marketing app MailChimp uses desktop elements to help customers associate with the app on a human level and relate themselves to the brand.

02. Squarespace

The blogging platform Squarespace visually uses the desktop metaphor to place the customer into its environment using the application.

03. I Shot Him

The design firm I Shot Him () uses a photo of its logo in a picture frame as the main hero image, as well as weaving in images of its team doing things throughout the website to help connect you to them personally.

04. House

The fashion ecommerce website House uses photos of people who look like target customers using the products to form an association to the products. This isn't new, but this is a great example of it as a main design element in the hero image.

05. Playground

The design firm Playground literally uses an oversized image of their office so you can see them at work.

Words: Gene Crawford

Gene Crawford's projects include www.unmatchedstyle.com and conferences such as www.convergese.com. This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 246.