I had an interview with a “do it all design and development” firm down in Soho that left me hopeful there were still mom and pop shops out there building custom websites. For the size of their firm they had an impressive roster of clients.
The quality in their websites ranged from good to great, and I could tell their clients were flexible in letting them control a lot of the design decisions. This experience inspired me to find some clients of my own because I enjoyed building very custom websites and thought it would be cool if I could replace my 9 to 5 with this.
Over the years my personal website has evolved. Normally it's a portfolio showcasing all of my projects and work experience, but I needed to change the tone so I looked like I was trying to do business with potential clients.
It starts with messaging core values. I wanted to communicate to clients that I enjoy using a lot of playful interactive design. I had just seen a talk by John Deighton, a Harvard Business School professor that focuses research on digital and direct marketing.
He makes a point that “In the interactive era, money can’t buy attention. But when markets are approached with a playful mindset, attention is freely given and almost free.”. John was nice enough to give me permission to use this quote on my site so that I could communicate to clients the importance of playful interactive design.
It wasn’t just about building something that looked cool, it was about capturing the attention of your target audience and keeping them engaged through your messaging until the very end.
Most of the landers we end up on come from templates with some generic content placements, and are built to optimize information consumption quickly. What a user misses out on is a memorable experience to remember the product while shopping around. More importantly, the messaging may not be engaging enough to really communicate the information at hand.
If you can make someone smile through clever branding, a feature or a piece of content, you are going to keep that user more engaged because they will be looking for the next moment of entertainment in your messaging.
For example, take a look at the TunnelBear lander - it’s hilarious. Each content section has illustrations that use humor to keep the audience engaged until the very end. You’re happy to have spent the time reading and you’ve also fully digested the material.
I tried to incorporate some of this playful messaging into my own site. At the top of every content page was a short animated moment that indirectly related to whatever information was being discussed. For example on the about page I described my design services as “epic”, so I animated two characters in medieval armor battling it out above the content heading.
When the site was finished I needed to market myself, and let people know I was open for business. I tried content marketing using blog posts that I would then circulate to popular feeds. To my surprise, one of my blog posts made it to the top of HackerNews and a ton of traffic followed! I had discovered this form of advertising really works.
I didn’t win any new clients, but I was happy to know I at least had a blueprint for how to market myself and potentially find some in the future. Things were starting to get busier for me as I had just accepted a new job, so I felt like this experiment was over for now.
The biggest lesson I learned from this project was that I really enjoy writing for myself. Your entire academic life you’re writing for other people, and rarely do you have the bandwidth or motivation to write something for yourself. It’s what inspired me to start writing more and produce most of the content I have on this site today.