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
Need help growing your online business? James is waiting HERE
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.
Greg: Yes, exactly. Yeah. It’s pretty great, and it’s more user-friendly. That’s right. And, what else have we got?
James: Well, you mentioned vector characters?
Greg: Yeah. So you can look at services like Zendesk, for instance. They have this big popup genie kind of character. And it’s quite flat-looking. Once again, there’s no shading. And that’s a big trend at the moment.
James: Is that like the surfer I have on my SuperFastBusiness Live logo?
Greg: No, that’s different.
James: What’s that one?
Greg: That’s a T-shirt design.
James: Right. So it’s a very engaging design and everyone I’ve showed it to is like, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
Greg: Yeah. And it’s different. And I think that’s part of what makes a design good. If it’s unique, you know, and different to what everyone else is doing, and you’re very good at that, James.
James: Well, I am until everyone copies my site. I can’t tell you how many versions of SuperFastBusiness there must be out there now. And it’s because I go and talk about how it’s converting, I’ve paid conversion specialists to help me, like Peep Laja.
I have done a lot of analytics and testing. And then I get Clay Collins to help me speed up the opt-ins and everything. So it works well. What would you say about that, when someone says, “OK, well James has a site, it’s obviously going well, I’ll just make a version of that.” How does that affect my uniqueness and their uniqueness?
Greg: Yeah, it’s terrible when people do that. But you know, we do get that request a lot. They want to be similar to other sites, so…
James: Well, I bet you everyone says, “Apple.”
Greg: Yeah, absolutely.
James: “Make it like Apple. And make it pop.”
Greg: You got it. You got it.
James: That’s what we get in our web design brief as well.
Greg: Yeah, yeah. You got it. And so it’s quite difficult when they’ve got their mind set on something but they don’t have imagery of their products that are as nice as Apple’s, for instance. And then we rely on relative free design sites to try and collect images and create images based on what we think they want, and it can be quite challenging.
James: Yeah. So, trends coming down the pipeline, one of the ones you also mentioned was mixed typography. I’d love you to tell me what that means.
Greg: Yeah, sure. So it’s just a trend that… may not be a huge trend, but it’s something that I just love the look of. And it really stems from T-shirt designs. So in T-shirt designs, we do use a lot of different fonts to just make things look unique and we customize fonts, so we start with a font and then we’ll just add bits and pieces to it.
And then we work out which fonts complement other fonts, and we just mix in different fonts together. And that’s essentially what mixed typography is, just finding fonts that work well together. And you know, you might have a tagline or a USP that we’ll use mixed typography font to create a nice design.
James: Right. So the thing that really introduced us was when you started designing ThinkActGet website pages and a T-shirt for us, you know, as a… I guess as a freelance marketing initiative. You pretty much kept sending us designs until we couldn’t refuse you any more.
Now I want to stress again, our own team coded those designs out, so that’s the way we like to get the designs is, to get the raw design and then to build it around our framework. And that’s been a great partnership, and I know you do that for other web developers as well.
James: So would you say you’re biased in the design part of the website, or do you do a lot of building in the background?
Greg: No, no, we don’t build at all. So, no, we purely do design. You know, that’s our strong suit and yeah, I wouldn’t even begin to try and take on the coding.
Who’s wearing Greg’s T-shirts?
James: That’’s it. We do the design part and the building and the coding but in the case of your designs, they really are very specialized and they’ve got a unique look and feel. You’ve been putting out T-shirts for a bunch of other podcasts.
You’ve had Clay Collins, you sent them for Ezra and I for both of our shows plus our ThinkActGet podcasts, you’ve also had a few others. Who else have you added to your list of podcasters who are wearing a Greg Merrilees’ Studio1 Design?
Greg: So we, just yesterday, sent a couple of designs to Gary Vaynerchuk and I got a personal email from him saying unfortunately, he’s committed to a merch company or whatever, so that was a shame but we’ve also done for Dan and Ian: Tropical MBA, David Siteman Garland: Rise To The Top, John Lee Dumas and Tim Paige from Love Your Leap, John Lee Dumas from Entrepreneur On Fire, who have we got?
Tim Reid from FreedomOcean of course and Tim Reid’s podcast site SmallBusinessBigMarketing, John Dwyer from Wow Marketing Accelerator. Who else?
Just looking at, in fact, if you want to have a look at them, go to SuccessShow.com there’s a heap of yours there James and in fact, my favorite one is the latest one which is the T-shirt for your event – SuperFastBusiness Live.
James: Yeah, I’m really happy with that. That was an important one for me because I switched from my long-established brand which was up to its 5th event and moved to SuperFastBusiness brand but I really wanted to have the live element and the cool thing about that design is I think I can use that for each of my live events. So from doing one a year…
James: It will really become known to my audience and we carried it on our sidebar widget.
James: It will look fantastic on a T-shirt, specially in the “surfy” culture Manly. I’m sure these T-shirts will be worth a discount in any coffee shop around Manly, probably because they’ll know that it’s me and I’m kind of a regular in most of them.
Greg: Can’t wait for that event.
Design for online marketers
James: Yeah. How else do you see design being important for the average online marketer?
Greg: Well, I think it can raise their profile. A lot of people will try and get it like their cousin or their neighbor’s whatever to design a website for them because they’re trying to save money but it’s really hurting their business.
And in my opinion, they should invest in design to not only match their professionalism but maybe raise it up a notch or two. And you can see that I do that with design. Smoke and mirrors.
James: Well, we don’t want smoke and mirrors. We just want a… I guess it’s more of framing isn’t it?
Greg: Yeah, good way to put it.
James: Putting a frame around the picture that lends itself. Like you have The Mona Lisa with the crappy frame, it’s not going to pop the same sort of results as having a beautiful, ornate themed period frame.
James: So tell me, sort of as we close out, I’ll love just a quick recap. It’s really important to understand the brief. It’s really important to have an offer. It’s best when combined with sales copy.
It should pick up the trends and style that people are used to seeing and looking for and we can take clues from big companies like Google and Apple and what those guys are doing. We should have a clearer and obvious, simple call to action.
A brand is memorable, it’s how we feel about the company, very easy to understand and it positions us in a way that should be different and valuable compared to everybody else. Am I sort of on track there?
Greg: Oh mate, spot on. Absolutely spot on.
James: Right. And your website is Studio1Design.com. That’s a great domain Greg.
Greg: Yeah, thanks James. James helped me get that one.
James: So, anyway, thank you so much for coming and sharing design talk. Obviously, the design should flow through from every element.
I remember when you were helping me, we did our Twitter, Google+, Facebook page, our main website, all of the things should tie together and get that consistency across different platforms so that people will instantly recognize who they’re dealing with right?
Greg: Absolutely. Yup, you got it. Congruency throughout.
The biggest takeaway
James: So I’m going to ask you, what’s your biggest tip that you could offer someone listening to this that they could use to take action today? Like, one action might be to engage a professional designer if they’ve been trying to snap things together whether, you know, Photoshop it themselves. I mean it’s so easy to churn out crap design.
James: I’m sure there’s probably some talented guys on Fiverr but I bet there’s a lot who aren’t. There’s lots of these logo generators and cheap logos. I’m sure they’re killing a business more than they’re helping it. What would be the best action step for someone to take right now?
Greg: I think that then just to review their site and hit it with a simple stick. You know, really try and simplify it so there’s one main call to action.
James: Right, so it could be what can we take away?
Greg: Yeah exactly, yeah. Good point. What can we take away and not add? Yup, absolutely.
James: Yeah, that’s where I start. I’ve been finding my Statue of David under that block of marble and finally hit on the.. the formula you know, what when it all comes down to it, it’s actually frighteningly obvious and simple that your business is going to depend on having that very clear offer and helping people understand that it’s just right for them.
And often that’s just a few videos and a clickable button framed up in a nice display. And thanks so much for the design you did on SilverCircle.com. It’s a beautiful site. I’m very happy with it. It gets the results. Thank you for the designs on SuperFastBusiness Live. The logo is stunning. I think it’s going to really resonate with people who attend the event.
Greg: Yeah, thanks for having me James. Really appreciate it.
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