The Anatomy of a Corporate Site
This is part three of the week-long “Website Anatomy Class” series
A corporate website, just like the business, is a prime example of large scale thinking. As you’ll see in this article, a company’s web identity is brought together by a combination of several websites, each with branches and divisions of their own.
In this edition of our Website Anatomy Class series, we’ll take a look at some of the best practices and design trends behind successful corporate websites.
Along the way we’ll also be looking at some design elements to avoid, as well as how corporations are using social media to expand their customer service reach.
What is a Corporate Site?
We’ll start with an important point to keep in mind. A corporation’s web presence may span many different domains and departments, but there is always a top tier. Here’s a quick lesson in basic hierarchy:
More Information, Less Promotion
Corporate sites don’t need to be flashy or exciting. That’s what the product sites are for. Instead, they focus on providing public relations, investment material, and general career information. These pages focus on business information, while product pages focus on promoting sales and awareness.
There’s not a whole lot of excitement surrounding corporate responsibility policies, but this doesn’t mean you should lose hope when designing one. Let’s take a look at what makes a good design in the business world:
The Business of Design
Many of the sites looked at for this post had similar design trends. They followed simple color schemes with very product intensive photography and ample use of white space.
One of the main goals for Website Anatomy Class is that you’re able to walk away with a few pointers for better site development. You’ll be able to apply standard website design techniques to corporate pages, but there are two main points to consider in this niche:
Office Stock Photography is Cliché
The public face of a corporation doesn’t have to include a cubicle. Stock photographs of happy white collar workers are not a requirement for professional design.
Try something that appeals to a visitor’s emotions instead. Walmart’s site has a stock photography slideshow including happy family activities. This has nothing to do with the business side, but it does make people associate Walmart with something they are likely to relate with. You won’t get that sort of response from a stapler.
The best examples of corporate page design don’t have a fax machine in sight, and that’s part of why they work. The “clean corporate” designs may be just fine for some companies, but there’s plenty of room to be creative without creating something unprofessional. Take a lesson from Red Bull.
The Power of Color
What color do you associate with the word “corporate?” If you’re like the majority of people, your answer is a shade of gray or blue. These are the expected shades of the business world. How about that?
Here’s a Challenge: Think of two or three companies at random and visit their websites. I would bet at least one of them has a color scheme where grays or blues are dominant.
The next time you’re working up a corporate design, try using a palette outside of the usual. It’s a great way to keep yourself from falling into a design that pops.
Planning for a Global Audience
A country-specific version of the site is separated from others by things like contact information, languages, and even product availability. When it comes to the website of a multi-national corporation, there is no one-site-fits-all.
Pick Your Location
This is why having “global” splash screen is a common practice to help direct traffic. The visitor is responsible for picking their language or location in order to continue. Nike, for example, uses a drill down menu to get its visitors to the right place.
Give your visitors a way to personalize their experience. Even if it’s just by letting you know where they’re coming from. It opens up a world of possibilities, and makes your web presence much more scalable internationally.
A Portal for Product Sites
Even though companies like Apple and Herman Miller manage to fit everything into a single site, it doesn’t always make sense to. Especially for companies with diverse products, there’s no reason to have everything cluttered together. The products need breathing room, and often have their own sites.
Viacom is a media giant that owns television networks like Comedy Central and MTV. After seeing their brand page, it’s easy to see why it wouldn’t be possible to include everything as one site.
For sites like these, if it’s not about business or public relations, it can end up somewhere else. Think of the corporate site like a newspaper’s front page. It may highlight a variety of news stories, but if you want to read more you’ll have to head to another section.
Business is more than just sales. Public relations is a large component of many corporate pages. When Coca Cola launched their Expedition: Blue Planet project, it wouldn’t have fit as just another page. It instead became its own sub-domain, completely independent of the corporate page.
A Relationship of Customer Service
A website for corporations is like a 24/7 public relation department. It’s a platform for news, updates, and press material regarding the business. Personal relationships are replaced with customer service, and corporations have to expand past their own domain in order to keep connected.
A company can have a personality, but it’s probably not going to be as one-on-one as the one found on a portfolio site. The focus tends to be on building a network on existing social sites (e.g Twitter or Facebook). This builds a platform for corporations to maintain public relations through.
This means that you’re not going to have JetBlue Airways asking about your weekend. You might have them asking about your grandmother’s wheelchair though.
While doing research for this article, I was surprised to find a trend of dated designs. It makes sense that the focus would be put into the promotional public sites, but where’s the love for the investors? Don’t they recognize good design too? The corporate site of Kraft Foods? Not exactly a design miracle.
What is your experience with corporate websites? Have you ever designed a purely corporate page? Or has it been a combination of products and business? Also, if you have any sites from this category with solid designs to share, feel free to throw a link up in the comments!