A new website is a big milestone for any marketing team. It can take three or more months of work to bring together and provide a revitalized image to your online presence. Because a website is the digital front door to your business, the website dictates how current and potential customers will feel about your brand. For most, it will be their first impression.
When the website is done well, it shouldn’t need a redesign for a few years. For that reason, it’s imperative to get it done right. Because of that, you’ll need to choose the perfect theme for the website.
In this post, we discuss what a theme needs to accomplish, why, and our 9-step process for choosing your theme and bringing it to life.
A theme provides a roadmap for making the hundreds of decisions that go into crafting the look and the feel for your website. From the color palette and navigation, down to the iconography and button styles, all the visual elements need to work together across the many website pages to provide a single cohesive experience.
The perfect website theme will:
Intrigue a visitor’s intelligence
Paint your company in a friendly, modern, and professional light
Lends itself to interactive elements
Convey ideas of action and/or ease of doing business
Enhance a company’s color palette and branding
Deliver on clarity and aesthetic
Use imagery to convey adjectives (more on that later)
Extend beyond the homepage, not just to other pages on your site, but potentially to other branding mediums such as business cards or whitepaper layouts.
1. Establish Branding and Color Palette
The first step is that all stakeholders are clear about what makes a company asset “on brand”. What are the exact shades of color that go into your brand? What are the fonts that will be in use? For example, the following are on-brand for Bracken Marketing:
Green: #21922a / rgb(33, 146, 42)
Blue: #0056b8 / rgb(0,86,184)
Yellow: #f5d446 / rgb(245, 212, 70)
Accent blue: #00a7e0 / rgb(0, 167, 224)
Fonts: Fjalla One, Lato
Sometimes in business, it’s not good to make decisions based on what your competitors are doing. But in branding and website development, differentiating from competitors is important. Your brand needs to standout from the crowd. When brands and websites in the same space are too similar, individuals might incorrectly recall an engagement with one brand as an engagement with another.
In other words, if your website looks too similar to a competitor’s, there’s a chance that someone who visits your website and likes it might later associate the positive experience with your competitor. That’s not good.
3. Establish Adjectives & Ideas to Convey
Ask yourself this: what 5-10 adjectives do I want to associate with my website? These could be words such as fast, powerful, expensive, affordable, professional, informal, friendly, modern, rustic, futuristic, classic, etc.
What you choose to not include on your list of adjectives is sometimes just as important as what is included.
The goal of the website and its theme will be to convey these ideas. For example, pull up Apple.com and Microsoft.com. Ignore the words on the page. Think of how the look and feel of each site changes how the messaging is perceived. How does it affect the branding? This effect is intentional, and it starts in the planning stages of a website project by thinking through specific adjectives and ideas to are being conveyed.
4. Brainstorm Themes
Now that you have adjectives and ideas to convey, brainstorm as many themes as you can that play to these ideas.
Before you begin, a quick rule about brainstorming: there are no bad ideas. Even ridiculous ideas can spur the thinking that leads to the best idea. So, when brainstorming in a group, make sure no ideas are held back or put down, and that you worry about practicality later. The goal is volume.
As an example, let’s say our list of adjectives includes: fast, creative, powerful, sleek, classic.
Here are some themes that could play to these ideas:
You can tell from the list, some are better than others. And some will naturally fit some brands while others won’t. But keep the brainstorm going.
As a creative note, to work in the feeling of “classic”, I might recommend that the theme is done in black and white, or sepia tones, with only specific accent colors added to the palette.
5. Conduct a Preliminary Image Search
Once you’ve done your brainstorming, narrowed down the list to a few winners. Look through possible images for these themes using stock image libraries. Make sure there is a good selection of images that fit your ideas. You don’t want to be stuck with a theme that will be hard to carry through over 20 pages. You also don’t want a theme where it’s impossible to find images that aren’t cheesy.
A reminder…almost all website layouts require horizontal images, so don’t count on using the portrait style images that you like.
6. Consider Your Global Audience
If your brand sells around the world, make sure your theme is perceived correctly in target markets. For example, in western culture you might associate imagery of white flowers with purity. However, in Chinese culture, white flowers represent death. So, a theme including white flowers might be okay for a business with a US-only customer base, but I would not recommend white flower imagery for a company looking to expand their presence in Asia.
7. Choose the Theme
Now you’ve done all this planning, choose a theme. And be sure of it! You have hours of website and marketing planning ahead of you, based on this decision.
A big key, however, is that once you choose a theme, don’t back away from it. Stay the course. It becomes difficult to do the brainstorming again with a fresh mind, and your original ideas were likely the best.
8. Expand on the Theme
Once you’ve firmly decided a theme, take it a little bit further. Everything leading up to this point has been about choosing a single concept to run with. Now that your team is on board, it’s okay to take the theme in more complex directions, address more nuanced look-and-feel requirements, and choose a secondary theme.
For example, if you go with a theme of athletes, now decide how you want that packaged. Do you want images of people competing? Maybe for whatever reason imagery of people working out in street gear and every-day backdrops is more appropriate. Maybe you like the implied motion of athlete’s mid-performance such as a hockey player mid-slapshot or a track runner mid-hurdle, but you want to super impose these characters onto a backdrop of abstract shapes and colors. Or, maybe you want to combine athletics with a futuristic theme, or atomic/science elements. Get creative.
9. Choose Images
The final step in nailing down the theme for your site, is in choosing specific images to include. Getting these altogether, before you’ve understood their specific place on the site, will make sure everyone is on the same page about vision, and it will make it much easier for any designers involved to do their work.
Create a collection of images by filling a folder in the team Dropbox or SharePoint or using something like the “collections” feature in Shutterstock.
Then make sure stakeholders on the website redesign project approve or reject images. If someone rejects images, make them clearly state why. If a stakeholder likes an image, find out what they specifically like about it , and see if you can work more images like it into the project.
A collection of pre-approved images will make the work of the designer much easier, but don’t be too strict about it. Encourage designers to incorporate new images too, because your team may have yet to come across the best ones.
Sometimes a single image can make the whole website.
There is more theory that goes into picking images for a website. For that, check out our blog post Rules for Choosing Images for Your New Website.
There you have it. Let’s recap the process:
Establish branding and color palette
Establish Adjectives & Ideas to Convey
Conduct Preliminary Image Searching
Consider Your Global Audience
Choose the Theme
Expand on the Theme
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