May 08 2013

Stop Building Websites and Start Building Smart Sites


The mission of digital-telepathy is to make great design accessible to anyone by creating new standards that improve how people interact with and create digital design. From websites to mobile apps, TVs and beyond, we’re committed to making experiences that define the future of the screen interface. Though there is plenty of ground to cover to accomplish our mission, the higher we push the standards for publishers and designers, the better the experience becomes for all web users.

We’re starting our mission with a focus on websites. Still based on print paradigms with archaic, link-driven tables of contents and page structures, today’s websites don’t capitalize on the native opportunities of the digital medium they live in. They are disjointed and kludgy, hampering the user’s ability to accomplish his or her goals. And yet, we don’t need to look any further than our handheld devices to see that user experiences don’t have to be this way. Fluid and guided, mobile apps are intuitive, providing visceral feedback that satisfies and keeps us coming back. They are the antithesis of most web experiences.

So what’s preventing the website from becoming as enjoyable and effective as mobile apps? Thanks to app-like interactions made possible by JavaScript and CSS3, faster connection speeds, and responsive design, there is no technical reason that websites can’t evolve. The only remaining barrier to a great experience is exceptional web design. Why? Because it’s historically been incredibly expensive. But if we think in terms of the experience and forget what we know about traditional web design, we can free ourselves of the expensive corporate site design time sink, and find a way to bring intuitive design to website owners everywhere.

As designers of the Web, we need to rally around a common cause of democratizing web-based experiences as seamless, story-driven, goal-based, intuitive and viscerally satisfying as their mobile brethren.

Introducing the Smart Site


Think of the last landing page you encountered. Like the car salesman that wanders over when you just want to browse, landing pages relentlessly hound you to turn over your information. When brand is traded completely for conversion, there is no positive or lasting experience to be found.

Traditional websites have a whole host of equally damning problems. They are the motormouths at the cocktail party, jabbering at anyone in earshot a flurry of self-aggrandizing information without any kind of interest in the person listening (or, as is often the case, half listening).

Creating an optimal experience that blends performance and brand, the Smart Site sits between landing pages on the far transactional end, and traditional websites at the other. Our vision for the future of websites, Smart Sites, are the Goldilocks of the Web: not too transactional, not too unwieldy, just right.


Websites should tell a story

A quick look around the web shows that the majority of websites do a very poor job of storytelling. And yet, deeply human and emotionally resonant, a story is shown time and time again to be the best way to communicate with one another. So, if the goal of websites is to communicate, and storytelling is our best communication vehicle, Smart Sites need to be fundamentally story-driven.

Telling a good story on the web is has the potential to be even more powerful than storytelling in other mediums. Beyond words, we can create interactive and rich narratives which lead to both rational and emotionally-satisfying experiences. Even better, by removing the disjunct, page-jumping mode of engagement, we can create seamless stories that flow across a single-page site.

Websites Communicate Their Stories Viscerally

Smart Sites use discovery and visceral feedback to elicit emotional responses rather than merely transactional ones. They do this through interactions that surprise and delight users and add texture and context. These elements, such as drawers that open and close on the page, create visceral, enjoyable responses and provide room for users to experiment and explore within the context of the overall story. Connecting with users not just intellectually, but on a gut level means Smart Sites create engagement, affinity, repeat use, drive conversion, and encourage word of mouth sharing.

Websites should be designed with a goal in mind

Just as the best stories have a point, Smart Sites’ story-driven design leads to an actionable outcome. Whether driving more sign-ups, selling books, or launching a product or business, the design and structure of Smart Sites support the narrative arc of the customer journey. With fast connections and an audience accustomed to long-scroll experiences in mobile apps, pageless design gets out of the way of the visitor so they can enjoy the flow and complete their objective.

Websites should be intuitive

In a typical analytics setup, data is historical. By providing a set of raw numbers without context, its function is to provide information that the viewer must analyze in order to make reactive improvements to site performance. Often the analytics create more questions than they answer and provide no obvious actionable steps on how to improve.

Goal-driven Smart Sites change this dynamic by knowing what should be happening on the site–completed goals! Checkpoints along the way provide insights into the visitor’s journey and suggestions on where to iterate to improve the outcomes. Unlike standard web metrics, which exist as separate entities from the website, Smart Sites are packed with advanced analytics to help the website owner identify what is really happening on the site. Heatmaps, cohort analysis, qualitative insights, and A/B testing all come standard. If they’re to be true to their name, Smart Sites must be smart enough to provide proactive insights that help improve results.

Websites should work natively on any device

On tablet, phone or desktop, Smart Sites deliver an optimized experience for the user without creating headaches and overhead for the website owner. Beyond the current responsive design thinking, a Smart Site does more than simply retrofit the design to the device viewport. Instead, it creates a native experience that thoughtfully delivers content via interactions tailored for the device. In other words, it changes behavior to suit the device being used – for instance allowing the user to swipe instead of click when using the site on a touchscreen.  It’s beyond responsive, it’s Responsive+.

Great Design is for the People

Great design should be accessible to everyone. If you own a business, you should be able to represent it online in a way that makes you proud, creates value, and is cost-effective. No more template sites used by a thousand other people. No more poorly designed sites sold through your local yellow pages.

Built on top of flexible, open source libraries, Smart Sites are easy to iterate upon, so that data-driven learning can lead to swift site improvements. Utilizing CSS, JavaScript and HTML, Smart Sites can be updated and managed by any web developer. Using open source standards and simple design keeps Smart Sites affordable, even with the unique interactions that set them apart.

It’s Time to Stop Building Websites and Start Building Smart Sites

The Smart Site is a foundational concept that we believe can be used to drive web design forward. The only way Smart Sites become a reality, however, is through the support of the design community. This isn’t about better design, it’s about smarter design. It’s about stepping back and looking at what’s changed around us – browser technology, screen sizes, user expectations, bandwidth, behaviors – to realize there is a better way forward.

It’s time for us all to up our game and deliver the next great experience on the web. This rallying cry isn’t just for designers, we also need entrepreneurs and website owners to ask for and expect sites that deliver more. We’ve thrown our hat into the ring with Impress, our own affordable Smart Site service. But we aren’t going to make this transition happen alone. We’re excited about Smart Site possibilities and invite everyone to join us as we explore this new territory.

If you are a designer who is working this way, send us a link, share your ideas, show us what you’re doing. If you are a website owner tell us what you want and how it will work for you. In other words, join us! We believe that together we’re going to change the web for the better.

About the Author:

As Founder of digital-telepathy, Chuck has the ambitious goal of improving the design of the web by introducing new standards for people who give a damn about design.Find me on Google+ and Twitter.

Leave a Response

37 Responses

  1. May 08 2013
    Nathan B Weller

    Great post Morgan! I really like the idea of transitioning from current standards to a smarter middle ground; the one page story. I’m looking forward to watching this develop.

  2. May 08 2013

    First off, I just want to say I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of Impress and I like the new design/branding that you gave it! A flat-rate, no BS, data driven webpage will hopefully be the new standard in web design.

    Good work guys!

  3. May 08 2013
    Evan Shoemaker

    Great post Morgan- couldn’t agree more and you did an amazing job at describing the middle ground between a traditional website and a landing page. We’ve had a lot of clients pointing out to us that all of our websites are longer scrolling pages (instead of dozens of internal pages), and many of them don’t fully get it yet. I’ve done my best to educate them on conversion-oriented design, and your post touches on a number of points that we’ve known viscerally but never fully verbalized. You guys are blazing a trail and we’ll do everything we can to help support the cause! Keep up the hustle.

  4. May 09 2013

    Yes these websites are very cool! I saw one the other day from a design company that took you through there design process it was a great one you can take a look here if you like ;

    • May 09 2013

      I’ve thought about changing over to the one page design several times, but SEO really worries me. I’ve got several “Cornerstone Content” pages that are dialed in to specific keywords. It would be redundant to have these pages all as part of my front page, because they are essentially the same thing, just targeted for different searches. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to design for search engines, but they drive my business.

  5. May 09 2013

    All selling is story telling! I’m quite impressed with the simplicity, strike that, the elegance of how a smart site comes together. The fact that it’s got baked-in analytics, over a decade of design research and has already proven to convert… well Damn, these are all reasons I’ll be referring this to my clientele. Thanks for continuing to push the envelope proving that high converting sites don’t have to be ugly.

  6. May 09 2013

    Good reading, until i reached that part which says what websites are supposed to be/do… Websites are communication tools, nothing more. You make them say what you to want them to say in the way to want it to be said and believe me, necesitties are very different. You can put a whole digital experience on them or just a simple reading (the most ambitious impressive experiences are always market oriented – money for money-)…
    Websites are not only meant for telling stories, movies or books are still better for that…
    They do not have to communicate only viscerally…
    and sometimes, a website doesn’t need any “design” at all.

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  8. May 12 2013

    good read and some great points highlighted. i love sites that can roll me thru one page, although I think parallax design has already seen its time in the sun. ideally we’d have a good mix of one page and entire site storytelling – which leads me to ask, how do you see this way of thinking being applied to big online stores? or large brands who sell multiple categories? Right now, we see that Mr Porter does a great job of telling a story mixing the freemium concept with selling product.. but then other big stores or brands like ASOS etc get lost in that journey and just SELL SELL SELL…

    will be interesting to how much of this one page storytelling and interactivity can also be applied to the Newsletter scene too…

  9. May 17 2013
    Tony MacFarlane

    Totally grok this, but I think the story is still only half-told. What should those standards be? jQuery Mobile? There’s still so much yet to figure out, and I suppose that’s what this post is really tying to inspire designers to do.

  10. May 17 2013

    Thanks for sharing, hopefully I’ll be able to implement most of these ideas in projects here in Brazil.


  11. May 19 2013
  12. May 21 2013
    Mathew Porter

    your right in saying ‘start creating smart sites’ or to even expand on it, creating a user friendly, accessible, multi functional sites that are multi device friendly.

  13. May 22 2013
    Karen Walters

    Great Stuff !! You are right because now time has come to change our strategy towards website building. Smart websites make complicated decisions easier, simplifying complex processes and basically do something useful!

  14. May 23 2013
    Velly Angelova

    Really helpful post, Chuck! Thanks for sharing! I think your project is actually a great initiative. As a Community manager of a free website builder, I’m daily communicating with a lot of users and I do briefly summarize their insights for a smart website with few words only- user friendly, intuitive, functional, design- exqusite! In my company we believe that building a professional and smart website should not anymore be kept under complicated codes and expensive fees, but needs to be accessible reality to all!

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  16. Jun 05 2013

    Great Post! Which Smart Sites would make into your list ? Just for some inspiration !

  17. Jun 10 2013
    Lorne Fade

    I love the new style of design that allows designers to convey that story you talk about. It helps to engage the end user, and by capturing the users attention you would hope to also capture the lead/sale/signup etc.

  18. Jun 12 2013

    In a response you mentioned, “One thing we forgot to note was that you can overcome SEO concerns by building in a url structure to each section of content on your one pagers.”

    Could you clarify how to build in this URL structure? Thanks!

    • Jul 05 2013

      I’m also very curious how the SEO part of this will pan out in the long run. would really like to know if and how you guys are tackling this, in reaction to your customers and properly named and filled individual “pages”.

  19. Jun 13 2013

    Great article Morgan and Chuck. We agree – the ‘smart site’ is the future of the web and long overdue. Great to see you guys leading the charge and making the web better for all. Love your work!!

  20. Jun 15 2013
    Julio Cesar Faleiro

    Dear Digital Telepathy team,
    I would like to know if you guys can give a better offer for construction a simple but designed website?
    The questions here is the cost, I really have not much money now (I bought a service from iPage 1,99/month) but I need to present my new company with a professional design and I hope that you may can help me.
    Please let me know if this is possible.
    Thank you for your attention.
    Warm regards;

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  23. Aug 31 2013

    So concidering the responses in this article, how exactly would you propose starting on changing for instance my website into a smart site? Cause ideal situations hardly ever are the case, and it can pose much harder for some people to actually get somewhere…

  24. Jan 07 2014
  25. Jan 24 2014

    Great Work