Lesson 1:

What is Conversion Design?

When most people hear the word “design”, they probably think it has to do with how something looks.

But Design is more than appearance. It’s function.

I like to think of design as an experience. As in, “I designed this chair to look and function this way to the person sitting in it has a specific experience.”

Or, “I want this potato peeler to be pleasant to use while being faster than a knife, so I made specific design decisions to create an experience while using the peeler.”

As Massimo Vignelli said,

Design is not art. Design is utilitarian, art is not.

Does that mean good design isn’t artistic, or that we can’t put our emotions and souls into our work? Of course not.

But when we take work as Designers, we’re agreeing to use our creative skills to solve a problem for our bosses.

Now let’s apply this to digital experiences, like websites.

When creating websites, apps, or even emails, many people focus on how it looks. They want the design to look appealing and on-brand. (This is graphic design.)

And then they want the message to communicate specific things about a brand’s value. (This is copywriting and content writing.)

And that’s great! That’s design!

Of course, the technology facilitating the experience – both the website itself, the browser, and the device – contributes to that experience as well. (This is development.)

But in the modern, competitive environment, the attempt to create a digital experience through Design isn’t enough.

Instead, graphic designers, copywriters, and developers need to deliberately craft measurable experiences that can be:

  • Tested
  • Measured
  • Optimized

The way to do this is through Conversion Design.

What is Conversion design?

To understand conversion design, it’s important to get a little bit about conversions.

What’s a conversion? It’s a way to describe when your audience (the person experiencing your designed website, document or teapot) “converts” from one state to another.

This could be from someone unaware of your product to someone in your marketing funnel.

Or it could be from a visitor to a paying customer.

Conversions work best when evaluating digital experiences.

By definition, a conversion requires measurement. That’s because a conversion is a measurable state change. For example, each of the following state changes could be considered conversions:

  • From prospect to lead
  • From cold lead to warm lead
  • From warm lead to sale
  • From customer to repeat customer

Or, you might measure conversions like this:

  • Clicking a button on a page
  • Opening an email
  • Completing an app signup

…And so on. Without a way to measure each of those states, you can’t accurately measure conversions.

Over the course of the user’s digital experience on your site, all of these tiny conversions add up to bigger conversions – like sales.

So conversion design is designing with conversions in mind.

When you are thinking about conversions while designing an experience, you’ll incorporate measurement and other key factors into your work.

You’ll think about how your digital experience can be measured, tested, and improved.

That results in better results from your marketing – results you can measure.

Conversion Design is the Key to Changing User Behavior

All of this sounds very pie-in-the-sky thinking.

“What does this have to do with the REAL world, bub?”

Great question.

When you understand and apply the principles of conversion design in your marketing, you’ll get consistently better results, faster, which helps you reach your business goals.

Conversion Design is a new way of thinking bigger about your work that lets you achieve more.

This can mean…

  • Raising enough funds for your charity to finally expand this year
  • Selling more products that benefit your customers
  • Reaching more people with your urgent message
  • Making a bigger impact on the lives of your audience members

Whether we’re practicing video, illustration, content marketing, copywriting, UX design, content strategy, or anything else, we can apply a conversion design approach to achieve more successful results.

So How Do I Apply Conversion Design?

We’ll dive into practical applications of conversion design in future lessons.

For now, what you need to know is this:

  1. Always begin a Design project with the end outcome in mind. “What do I want the viewer/user/reader/etc. to do when they engage with my designed deliverable?”
  2. Make sure you can measure the outcome in some way. Instead of “Create a cool landing page,” your outcome should be, “Create a landing page that encourages people to click on this single button at the bottom/top/wherever.” Stay focused.
  3. As you work, ask yourself, “Would this design element increase the likelihood of the target outcome? Or would it distract?”
  4. Finally, put your design in the world and make sure you test it with real people. Then revise based on your test results.

In the next message, we’ll go into the practical “this is how you apply conversion design principles to user research” part of it. You’ll learn how to measure whether a design is successful or not.

Until then, think bigger about your role in our world. By creating measurable, conversion designed experiences, we’re able to influence how people act and behave.

That gives us incredible power to shape our world for good. But it also gives us remarkable responsibility to use this power ethically and with good intent.