Years of experience in the design industry have helped Greg Merrilees perfect his craft. In this interview, he reveals his top web designing secrets.
In this podcast episode:
01:02 – What Greg’s been up to
02:55 – From fashion to websites
03:27 – Rules to convert paying customers
07:00 – Designing a very strong brand
08:45 – What every design should have
11:48 – What is flat design?
14:30 – On copycat designs
15:20 – Mixed typography explained
17:07 – Podcasters Greg has designed for
18:54 – Raising your profile with design
19:44 – A quick recap
21:11 – Greg’s biggest tip
James: James Schramko here, welcome back to another special interview podcast on SuperFastBusiness.com. Love to get a hold of experts and talk about things that are really impacting the Internet business space. Today’s topic is what makes a great website design, and the particular focus is on design.
So I’ve reached out to one of my good friends, and he really is actually a good friend, and also a member of my SilverCircle mastermind. Welcome Greg Merrilees from Studio1Design.com.
Greg: Good day James, how are you, man?
James: Good. So, are you burning up down there in Melbourne right now?
Greg: Actually it’s a bit colder today. But it has been ridiculous. It’s just too extreme down here, but today’s bearable.
James: Now with your business, you’ve been focused heavily on design in many traditional industries, and you had a design studio, you were doing some cool stuff with T-shirts, but also some unusual items. What sort of things have you been designing in the last few years?
Greg: Mainly websites, actually. The last probably four years, I developed my own websites and trying to work out what converts and build a site that’s better based around conversions. And in doing that, you know, I started doing it for friends, and then eventually started doing it professionally.
So that was four years ago that we started, and now, I guess we concentrate on designing for marketers like yourself that have your own clientele.
From fashion to web design
James: Right. What are some of the most unusual things you’ve designed? I went to your studio and you had some unusual merchandise there.
Greg: Yeah, I guess over the years, so we’ve had the design studio for 14 years or thereabouts, and over the years we’ve pretty much sifted and shifted through all sorts of products, so we’ve done… let me think, we’ve done thongs, we’ve done packaging…
James: Now, you should clarify that for the non-Australians. We’re talking about flip-flops, right?
Greg: (Laughing) Yeah, good point. Having said that though, we have done some designs for a brand called Hanky Panky, at Bras and Things, and yeah, that’s more the other thong. But anyway.
So, we’ve done seat cover designs, we’ve done DVD covers, backpacks, accessories for clothing, well, T-shirts themselves, pajamas, anything to do with fashion, basically. Style guides for brands, you know, brand, logos, etc., the works. You know, billboards, everything.
James: Right. So does any of this fashion design carry across to a functional, high-converting website?
Greg: I would say yes in the sense that it follows trends, and so websites change because of technology and in my opinion, it’s really just to keep people, designers in business.
So if design never changed, then there would be no need for designers, so I believe that to be part of why things always change. And also people get bored and sick of looking at the same thing.
James: Right. So I guess you would have your own ethos on what makes a good design. Have you got some values or standards that you always draw back upon?
Greg’s web design process
Greg: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess with web design, we try and match the professionalism of the business that we’re designing for, or we might try and raise it up to the next level for them. But generally with websites we’re trying to design a site that will convert into paying customers, so we just follow a set of simple rules that you know, help with that process.
James: OK, so give me some of those rules.
Greg: Yeah, sure. Well, for starters, I don’t think there’s anything… like there’s no such thing as a perfectly designed website. And that’s mainly because prospects all think differently, they have different opinions on what they like and what they find easy to use.
Although that is our goal, to make it easy to use and make it easy for the end user to understand. So we would start with, say, a questionnaire, that’s based on establishing the perks of the website, learn more about what the client wants and likes, and that eliminates a lot of time wasting when we’re designing as well.
And we then establish what the client wants in the way of their offer and what they’re offering to their client, and if they have a marketing funnel or not, and if not we try to help them with that.
And so basically our goal is to create a website that ‘s designed to convert prospects into clients for our clients. So we, first of all, if they haven’t got an offer, we try and help them with that.
But the offer is generally something like a free offer like an e-book, free trial period, free training course, like you have, James, which is purely just to get people onto your email list so you can build trust and rapport, and so then you can market to them later or just keep building that trust.
So it really just eliminates any risk or doubt that they may have with buying from you, especially as a cold customer.
James: Well, I think in my case, it’s not even just to get them on my database. It’s actually I truly believe I can help someone more if I can stay in touch with them, and the evidence for me is the seven day follow-up that I do when someone downloads Wealthification for free.
James: It’s kind of like a “Hey, how’s it going? Did you enjoy the course?” And a lot of people said “Oh, thanks so much for the reminder. I got it and I stopped going through it.”
I think sometimes in this period of overload, people need a bit of a hand, so it’s a good thing to do to get your customer onto an email list, and I imagine that feature’s on most of the sites you’re designing.
Greg: Yeah, absolutely. It’s pretty much crucial. And usually, you know, it’s either they’re going to follow the popup like Clay Collins’ new LeadBoxes, where it’s really, you know, just a button, but then will pop up with fields for them to enter their details, to download or get access to the free content.
But yeah, so then also with the website, we really concentrate on the main call to action, which is the main focus of the site. And it’s really what you want your visitors to do next, and ultimately take them through your sales funnel. And usually one call to action works better than multiple.
For instance, if we look at your SilverCircle, James, it’s really, you know, you have your opt-in at the top, but then it’s such a simple site, that, and it’s really just trying to get people to register, so you have one big call to action, “Yes, I’m ready.”
James: Yeah, that site was designed by you. You made the template for it, and I gave it to our web design team to code out and build on top of the website. People might think it’s strange that I’m talking to a website designer when I have my own team. But I think you have very unique designs, and you’ve done T-shirts for me, you’ve done my logos.
I mean, James Dyson used to do my logos, but he’s busy running a multimillion dollar software business. It very nice that you’ve been able to help me with designs. But I remember telling you my vision for SilverCircle and how I thought I just want a nice silver circle and very simple, because a lot of people hear about it from somewhere other than the website.
When they get there, I want them to have an experience. That’s why we put the documentary, and then it flows through to a series of nice, clean videos and I’m actually just uploading the new ones now in just in a simple white T-shirt, making the whole site simple and elegant.
But I can tell you that changing that design seems to have helped the conversions, because the minimum entry to SilverCircle is now quarterly payments, so the entry price has gone up, but it hasn’t slowed down applications or conversions to full paying members.
It’s probably increased, so I think having impeccable design is vital. Especially now that Google have removed the keyword data from our search results, the thing that we really can tell from the Google Webmaster Tools is the search queries for people looking for a brand are very strong.
People are coming in hot looking for my name, my website names, and I can control that and I can make my design memorable.
A design checklist
Now I think you’ve got a couple of ideas around what every design must have. Let’s go through your checklist.
Greg: Yeah, sure. I think you hit the nail on the head with the keyword being simplicity. And I think that’s really well reflected in SilverCircle.com. So basically, simplicity, but it also needs to get the message across.
And if we look at, for instance, your main headline on your site, “Grow Your Business Profits Faster,” it’s pretty clear, and that’s what you’re going to do for your customers. So having a clear headline is really crucial, and it needs to be compelling as well, and something that’s of interest to the visitor.
Then also, I think we’ve discussed call to action, so copywriting is another thing that can significantly make or break a site. And most small business owners try to do copywriting themselves, and you can get it horribly wrong, so I’d highly advise getting a copywriter to professionally write your sales message.
And so then also, I think one thing that we try to do is we use color. Generally we use color in a limited color palette. And far too often, we see websites that just have way too many colors, and they just make you feel sick.
So we usually start with a limited color palette, and it will reflect the client’s logo if they have one, but then what we do with color also is make the call to action stand out, so that’s usually in a contrast color.
And fonts as well, we try and use Google web fonts, and we also try and use, maybe just one font family rather than a million fonts. So that just once again helps congruency across the site and just keeps it more user-friendly and easier to look at.
Then, also, there’s elements that we use throughout the site that we try and once again tie them with the brands, values, etc. And we also change those elements up on a regular basis, depending on what current trends are. So at Studio1 we have a team of designers that are passionate about design, and they compete with each other, which is great.
Recent design trends
So they’re always researching the latest trends and looks, just to stay on top of the game, and just compete against each other, basically. So some of those elements that we’ve used in 2013, like flat design, clean design, circles are pretty popular, video backgrounds, vector characters, which are just large, flat-looking characters.
And then trends that we’re seeing in 2014 – color palettes are based on like fashion trends, so it’s always like trends in general in design, they’re quite global, and we often see trends that are on TV, commercials, or in movies, or in packaging design, or in magazines.
And websites, they all have similar kind of looks and feels, so we try and keep up to date with those global trends. And lately we’ve seen mixed typography coming in, which I think is quite nice if it’s done well. It can look quite messy, if it’s not.
James: Well, you’re going to have to explain what some of these things are. For example, flat design. Rolls off the tongue, but what does it mean?
Greg: Yeah, sure. So basically, it just means… If we go back, say, even three years, if we talk about a button design, a button on a website, it used to be really glossy and beveled and had drop shadows everywhere. But nowadays, it’s literally just flat color.
And it might have slightly rounded corners, still looks like a button, but yeah, that’s the trend at the moment in button design. It’s quite flat, and just in general, color backgrounds used to be quite multi-colored and had effects all through them, but now it’s just flat. I guess it comes down to being more user-friendly. So I think that’s one of the trends that’s emerging.
James: Right. So I noticed Apple’s iOS system went flat on the last update.
Greg: Yes. Yup. Even the Google logo’s gone flat. So yeah, the big boys are doing it, and you know, they do it for usability in my opinion. And if you look at mobile phones, like the latest iOS, it’s a lot flatter and cleaner and simpler.
James: And we’ve done that with the font on our video thumbnails. They’re just big, Helvetica Neue flat letters. It’s easy to read what the video’s about. It seems to help engagement, and it looks kind of consistent when you look at a row of videos on the YouTube channel.