The review that is always up – your web site

There’s an old business school case study story about a Scandinavian airline CEO who was fanatical about cleanliness inside his planes. When asked why that was, he replied:

(In thick Swedish accent): “If someone sees a coffee stain on a tray table, they assume we don’t take good care of the engines.”


The principle is timeless: From the smallest available detail, we humans cannot help drawing large conclusions. It may not be fair, but it’s what we do. We cannot help projecting, assuming, and trying to intuit more about something. Because time is limited, options are plentiful, and we need to make a decision. So we use the (admittedly) imperfect evidence at hand.

In the absence of more info, we “read into” what we do have. FAST. Cleanliness then becomes a proxy for the level of care and attention deployed by the airline elsewhere in more important spheres – like aircraft maintenance. This little thing over here, it turns out, is directly joined at the hip to this much, much bigger thing over here. At least it is in the customer’s mind. Which IS reality.

If you walk into a restaurant, stand at the entrance, and no one comes to help you, and you then notice there is a spilled plate of food on the floor, and you hear the sound of a loud argument in the kitchen, what just happened – instantly – even without you being consciously aware? In one second (no more), using that fastest of all super computers, the human brain, you collected and processed all the data needed to answer: “Are we going to eat here?” Boom. You’re gone.

And yet all too often the exact same dynamic plays out (seemingly undiagnosed) in the visual medium that is the web. The navigation is tough, the images are poor, and the overall experience is not something you want to prolong. In that state of mind, how likely are you to make a purchase?

How does the audience know the show is good? The web site is good. Put another way, if a web site is outstanding, what are the chances that the shows it retails are going to be equally good? Fairly high. Why? Because the two, the visual design aesthetic and attention to detail manifested in the web site and show, are one and the same. They are two sides of the same coin.

A web site, like marketing, is not an ancillary part of a show. It IS the show. The web site is the prologue, because it gets the audience there to experience Act I. And unless that happens, there is no Act II. A good web site is an on ramp to your products and services with a giant green light above it. A bad web site is like a permanent coffee stain on your white tray table.

The good news: There are successful models to copy. One close at hand is the gorgeous new web site rolled out at PICA. Cruise around, kick the tires. Note how thin is the blood / brain barrier between the info you want and you. Everything you desire is right there. Beautiful.

Design so good you forgot to notice it was design at all.
Design so good you forgot to notice it was design at all.