| Branding, Web Design

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Some people have a hard time understanding the connection between design and branding.

No, design is not all that goes into branding. But design is a major part of what we call brand identity and an integral part of a what we call “a brand.”

Good or effective design can make you like a brand a lot more. It can also make you frustrated.

PayPal: Effective design, poor branding

I’ve written about PayPal before in this post about how PayPal’s brand can affect your own brand. Unfortunately, it’s not a brand that has a lot of love behind it. It is easy to implement on a web site and it allows you to take payments without ongoing credit card processing fees. People seem to grudgingly use it, but you rarely hear your friends singing the praises of PayPal.

Let me put it on the record that I think there is a huge opening for someone to build an online payment processing system that is simple and friendly. People are looking for alternatives to PayPal. They want to find a new brand to love.

PayPal’s design history

As a designer, I’ve always disliked PayPal’s graphics. People post their buttons everywhere, and they are pretty ugly. Also, if you have an account with them, and therefore log into their site a lot, you are very underwhelmed by their web design (see the last screen shot, below).

Recently, PayPal has spruced up its home page and some of the graphics that you see on the way to getting to your account information.

Here is the PayPal home page. They’re doing a number of things really well. The page is uncluttered. They are very effectively using their blue and gray corporate colors. In fact, this company is using their core colors better than many other brands out there. Clearly, they use custom photography that creates a very consistent brand identity for them.

PayPal homepage design
PayPal’s homepage design

But when I go to login, the trouble starts. Let’s take a look at that login area:

PayPal's login area on their home page.
PayPal’s login area on their home page.

After I enter my email address and password, I am compelled to click that blue “Sign up” button rather than the gray “Log in” button. But I’m already a registered user, I want to get to my account. Every time I hit the wrong key I end up having to enter my log in information again. Once you are a registered user, you access their site over and over and again. Instead of trying to get people to sign up, how about making it easy for your current customers to make the right click, easily!

After you log in, here is a typical screen that you see.

PayPal's web design
Design of a web page that you must go through to get to your account.

You have to get through this page to make it to your account. Look at that design. What button are you going to click? The large, yellow button that says “learn more”, or the little, plain-text button that says “Go to My Account?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on that yellow button, and landed on their marketing page rather than into my account.

This frustrates me. This is an example of how effective design ruins a brand’s image.

The design of the page is clear, simple and compelling. But it is compelling me to mistakenly fall into their marketing trap, rather that take care of business.

This makes me dislike PayPal even more.

PayPal’s original design problems

Once I finally get into the actual platform the design reverts back to its ugly roots. The type is very small. I hate the way there is a horizontal band for the navigation but it just ends rather than continuing the full width of the screen. Overall the design just looks poorly done and out-of-date.

Check out this screen shot, and let me tell you my last pet peeve about using PayPal.

Screen shot of the PayPal web site's withdraw page.
Screen shot of the PayPal web site’s withdraw page.

My last gripe about PayPal has nothing to do with design, yet still has to do with branding. This is where user interface design and thinking about what your customers really want factors into branding.

I use PayPal to accept credit cards from my clients. After someone has paid an invoice, I go to PayPal to move those funds over to my bank account. Every time, I want to withdraw the entire amount. For me, I don’t know why I’d ever want to withdraw anything less than the entire amount. Why is there not a button that give you that option, so that the amount can be automatically filled in for you? It is a little detail that would make my experience with PayPal so much better.

I hope this case study helps you understand what parts of web design affect a brand. And to clarify that good design can still mean a poor brand experience.

What do you think of PayPal’s web site design and PayPal’s brand?

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