There’s a wonderful line in an episode in one of the early series of Mad Men. Don Draper is reviewing the work of Paul Kinsey. Paul Kinsey shows him copy with a clever line in it and Don chastises him, telling to “Stop writing for other writers”. It’s a wonderfully pithy sentiment that captures how Paul is forgetting what the primary purpose of his work is. It’s not to impress people, it’s to sell the company’s products to potential customers.

Too much website design today is the equivalent. The purpose of an ecommerce website is to sell products. The end. It can be about getting them to come back multiple times before they purchase. But the final goal is always the same. To make more money.

Too often the design is the primary factor, rather than being subservient to the goal. You can see this on many websites. They start by wanting the website to be “beautiful” and then think about the type of functionality a customer wants and it is just the wrong way around.

The Amazon homepage is the perfect example of how to do it right. There wouldn’t be many that would argue it is a pretty page. However, it makes it very simple for a customer to achieve what they want to and does all it can to algorithmically choose the products that you want.

I quite strongly dislike the new M&S homepage. They are trying to make it upmarket and create a magazine type feel to it to go with their recent moves in their stores. However, it feels like they’re forgotten that their primary role is to make money. It isn’t a bad website at all, in fact the functionality is good. However, sales are being lost due to their fixation on style in and of itself rather than for a purpose.

As with most tasks in business, it can be simply corrected by starting with the customer. What do they want? What will make their life easier and keep them coming back? Is it a photo that takes over the whole page? Or is it products specifically chosen for them? Once you start with your customers’ wants, the questions answer themselves.