by Derick Daily

If I had a nickel for every time a client said “we really like the way Apple’s site looks” – I’d have at least $5.00. Maybe $6.00. But seriously, no other company in the last 5 years has had such a profound effect on so many aspects of our every day lives as Apple has. Even if you don’t own an Apple product, you surely own some sort of competitive product that owes it’s success to Apple (ahem, Android.) As a Creative Director who’s been developing web sites for 15 years,  I can honestly say that Apple’s influence on the look and feel of web sites has been just as impactful as what the iPhone did for telecommunications.

I still remember when Apple launched its re-design in 2007. Our visual designers were still designing sites with a “web safe” area of 800 x 600 pixels.  The “fold” was part of our everyday lingo and we always tried to get everything deemed important “above the fold.”  Of course this always presented enormous challenges because everything is important to a client and trying to get everything into an 800 x 600 window is problematic.  Apple took a different approach; one singular image with one singular short message. They then flanked it with simple “Hot News Headlines” which rotated succinct news in a one-sentence format. Below that they displayed 4 content modules, all with visual iconography and very little copy. Thus began a transition to a less is more philosophy on homepage design.

Now I’m sure that Apple knew that on smaller monitors you wouldn’t see the headline news bar or the content modules because they would be below the fold, but I’m guessing that they decided that would be alright; that users would simply scroll a short distance and see the other content deemed important. They also realized that one core billboard would drive more users to what they wanted them to see – or teach users to find what they were looking for in the simple main nav bar at the top. They also recognized that the web is a visual medium and most people don’t read website content. They scan. Say it again, “Less is more, less is more, less is more…”  Embrace the mantra, embrace the medium.

Let’s get back to “the fold.” Or really I should say, “RIP Fold” because Apple has effectively killed the notion of a fold. It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t their 5 pages combined into one long scrolling page that did it. It was much more than that. It was the notion that scroll (or swipe) was a GOOD thing – and one that would become a key interaction for all of their user interfaces.  While my creative teams were busy creating multiple levels of tiered navigation systems, from 2004-2007 Apple was busy developing interfaces that would eventually eliminate  the need for these multiple levels by putting much more content on one long page. And at the bottom of the page was a global footer which reduced the dependency on complex navs – and allowed subjugated content to be relegated to the least valuable real estate. (Privacy policies anyone???)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a short video is worth a million. This age old cliche is especially poignant on the internet. As the web becomes a medium increasingly consumed on mobile devices and tablets, it’s even more important to get your point across with less copy and more meaningful visuals and short videos. Everyone in the rich media advertising industry was pimping video 5 years. “Do video in your ads, it’s more engaging!!!” But the reality was that  slow internet connections, required plug-ins and the high-cost of creating original video made video a much more difficult proposition. Today, the increase in data speeds via wifi and satellite networks, combined with easy to use desktop editing software, has made video a much more viable medium than it was even 2-3 years ago.  Apple has been on the forefront of using video in place of text since 2007, often showing all key product attributes via images or video. Think about it this way. If your visitor is only going to spend 2 to 2.5 minutes total on your site – and you offer a video that gets your message/product/concept across in 1 minute or less – then you’ve made efficient use of that limited engagement time. Here are some examples: Nest, Leap Motion, Dropbox, Victors and Spoils, Boxee, Nike Fuel

So, it’s a simple formula right? To create a successful, award-winning website we need only make it look like Apple.com.  Lots of white space. Crisp clean design. Minimal copy and lots of cool video… Well, hold on a minute, because in terms of web site design, one size, or template, does not fit all. The reality is Apple’s products are beautiful looking, and they pay top dollar for high-end photographers to take product photos. Then they have a team of talented designers who re-touch the images in Photoshop and make them look even more beautiful. They have a ton of video content from which to  pull, including keynote addresses, developer / designer interviews and entertaining TV commercials. Most companies don’t have the luxury of gorgeous asset libraries and, more importantly, not everyone is selling beautifully designed gadgets that changed the world. But the overarching design principles are the same, and key take aways should be the same.  Here they are in 3 easy bullet points:

  • Keep the homepage clean and visually engaging. Say more with pictures and video and less with blocks of text.
  • Be bold with imagery and headlines.
  • Don’t be afraid to make visitors scroll. It’s better to  give content elements room to breathe and arrange content by priority.