Seth Godin posts on "The first question every web site designer must ask" where his hypothesis is that most sites (except for musicians, artists and web 2.0 companies) need to focus on the message and action they want their website users to take, instead of drasticing website users with "cutting edge, clever or slick" design.
The intent of this idea couldn't be more correct, though I feel more importance needs to be placed on how interaction design serves your website users. Your website design (or interaction design) can't be divorced from your message. Both, combined, produce a belief or emotion to elicit an action.
First impressions are best made when the details of design are carefully weighed and measured. When the right pieces of the puzzle are placed in the right places and emphasized with the right lines, textures and colors, all conveying unity, strength and clarity, your site can reach a balance where it just plain works.
Great design is invisible because website users only notice the message. Great design builds an image and prepares the website user to receive the message, almost instantly. This takes a great deal of skill and restraint. Though it goes without saying, unless you take care of your message, great design can't happen. Great design makes websites easier, not harder.
Our own Rise website realignment launched at the end of 2008 provides an over 500% increase in new business requests from our old site. Our message didn't change greatly, though our new site offers clarity, direction and a hierarchy of information, all delivered in a design that ties the message together—and, admittedly we still have miles to go on our site! Testing is the only way to gauge how great design will affect your website performance.
What results have you experienced when great design was applied to your website strategy?