Web Design Tone

Someone once told me their website needed to scream fun. I wondered if they were running a home services website or a haunted house.

Vaguely descriptive language like “more fun” and “make it pop!” do not make good web design feedback. In fact, they can confuse your designer and lead to a muddled tone for your web design.

What is tone anyway? If you’re a bookworm, you’ll remember tone from middle school lit class. In literature, this technique expresses an attitude or feeling about the theme and topic of a story.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one of the themes is “growing up.”  J.K. Rowling wrote the story with a specific tone and attitude towards this topic. The tone helps her adolescent (and older) readers discover that growing up can be difficult, but friends make it fun and even magical. Rowling carefully chose words and imagery that create a feeling of wonder and delight as readers engage with her story.

Your website has a story too, in the way it helps web visitors make a decision. Well written and designed sites answer visitors’ questions and make it easy to take the next step towards a purchase or important action. The website copy and graphics work together to form tone, which helps visitors know how to feel about your business, products and services. If the tone is right, web visitors quickly know if you’re the right one to solve their problem.

So, how do you strike the right tone with web visitors? It starts with your web designer and early on establishing your understanding of common tone words. Here’s a list of words I hear a lot that should be explained more clearly.

Fun – Want to make something fun? Tell me it should be playful, exciting and cheerful. Sort of like this fun. song.

Formal or Casual – Building a corporate site or working with lots of technical jargon? Your audience will appreciate it if you cut the fun and choose a plain design with just-the-facts, formal writing. The opposite might be a casual tone that uses a conversational writing style.

Sarcastic – One of the most overused words in the Internet-age, sarcastic actually means using irony to mock or show contempt towards something. Today, we take it to mean a dry, darkly comedic tone typical of Twitter posts and aloof teenagers. Make sure you match your tone to your audience so that web visitors understand when you’re joking.

Bold – Do you mean confident and assertive or coarse and offensive? Bold like in-your-face or fierce and aggressive? Like sarcasm, you should be careful with this one. Unless you know your audience really deeply, certain types of “bold” can quickly turn off new web visitors.

If you give real thought to this aspect of your web design, we’ll build a common understanding of tone. That way you can use shorthand words like “fun” and “pop” in your feedback and I’ll get it right. With this knowledge, we’ll develop a web design that strikes the correct tone to move your visitors closer to solving their problem (by choosing your solution).

Can’t think of the words to describe your desired tone? Here’s a list of big words to throw around. Or search the Internet and find examples of websites that nail it, or get close to what you want. You might even use a movie or TV show as an example. Whatever you do, recognize that fun and other tones come in different flavors. Let’s make sure we choose the fun that’s right for you.

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