In this article, Penfan Sun, Exasol interim head of design, discusses how she and the team gave Exasol.com a new look and feel. It covers the crucial planning and research phase, how to visually interpret a brand’s personality and why instilling confidence in users was a guiding principle.
The new Exasol website went live this week, and as interim head of design, this project has been my baby. I joined Exasol last summer, attracted by the data analytics space it operates in and the strong leadership team. Previously, I spent almost four years managing and leading cross-functional creative teams in Airbnb, and have lengthy experience in helping businesses like Salesforce and SAP to build cloud platforms.
In this article, I want to share my thoughts on the theory of great web design and give you a sneak peek into the process and creative ideas behind the creation of the new Exasol site.
Formulating a plan
The first step in any website redesign is to understand what’s working and what’s not in the current site, ideally informed by quantitative and qualitative data. This way, you can keep any aspects which are performing well and replace any that aren’t with something new. Without this step, you’re flying blind and aren’t going to be able to drive impact. With this project, we undertook a really in-depth research phase to find out how users navigated and understood the old website.
Once the problems and opportunities are clear, it’s about setting up a goal and creating a strategy around how you meet it. When defining your targets, you have to be realistic about any barriers and constraints – such as budget, timeframe, differing tech stacks and time zone challenges. If you bake all of these considerations into your plan, you have already factored them in, rather than coming up against a surprise wall when these issues inevitably arise.
Next, it’s time to get the right people in the room to ideate and prototype. It’s vital to test, iterate and repeat. You won’t get the best idea or concept the first or maybe even the second time, but with the right brains and experience on the case, you’ll get there. For this redesign, we eventually whittled down our preferences to three core styles before settling on the theme we liked and iterated on it once more.
In the case of a redesign, there are different challenges at play compared to a ‘from scratch’ design project. At first, nobody likes changes, and yet change is innevitable. Evolving a brand serves as a way to show the outside world that innovations are happening within the business.
It’s important to bring the wider team along the journey and have them understand how you arrive at your proposed changes. For Exasol, this brand refresh is about redefining our ethos and going back to one of our defining principles – visual storytelling.
Reflecting the brand personality
A website needs to be a natural and meaningful representation of the brand, so it’s hugely important to study and understand the brand’s USPs and values, and bring these across in the design. For Exasol, along with the overarching theme of storytelling, speed and flexibility are core to our proposition, so we focused on imagery, copy and layout which portrayed these elements.
We took the existing brand color palette where you’d find green, blue, purple, and orange and refreshed them with a brighter, modern tone. The idea was to evoke the sense of speed, best in class quality and bespoke performance.
As humans, we are visual animals, so it’s important to use image-led components to create a long-lasting impression with any site visitors. Great content is good to look at, easy to remember and tempting to share, so bold headlines, impressive graphs, side-by-side comparison and videos are always in my tool bag when it comes to creating these stand-out ‘micro moments’ on a site.
All about user experience
The ultimate feel which we want to evoke in our users is confidence – that they know what Exasol is, what we do and have access to information on why our approach and services would benefit them.
Think of the communication as a three-level system. On the bottom, relevant content at the right place on the right page, aided by visuals. One level up, the narrative and storytelling ensure the message is delivered. On the top level, a trustworthy brand that’s recognizable in people’s minds through a combination of channels and media.
In short, we want our website users to be at no loss as to our mission, our brand personality and our ambitions. The site design is an extension and a visual representation of all of those things, allowing our own staff, our customers and any visitors to the site to walk right into our business, take a look around and be delighted and impressed by what they see.
Penfan Sun is interim head of design at Exasol. Previously, she spent almost four years managing and leading cross-functional creative teams in Airbnb and earlier headed the design function at OneLogin. Penfan also has years of experience helping companies like Salesforce and SAP to build cloud platforms, with ease of use and user delight as the primary metrics.