Dan Roam is one of the top gurus in visual thinking and I’ve been a fan of his sincetaking his workshop at VizThink 2008. Shortly thereafter, Dan’s seminal book Back of the Napkin was released and I immediately ate it up. Early in the book, Dan relates a story about using visual thinking to come up with a web strategy for an organization and he uses a visual model that I still think is the most succinct way of strategically analyzing any website.

Brand, Function, and Content. The 3 aspects of any website.

3 Aspects of Any Website:  Brand – Functionality – Content

Content – What people want to learn or know, or what you want your viewers to learn and know.

Function – What do people want to do or what do you want them to do. Purchase a product. Register for a conference, class or workshop. Sign up for an email list. Watch a video.

Brand – In Dan’s model, brand is defined as, what will people remember. My interpretation of brand in this model is the style, look and personality of the website.

In Dan’s model, the three nodes are each the same size, implying equal weight and emphasis for each. But in reality, each of these aspects is going to have varying importance from one website to the next. Many websites place an enormous emphasis on style, the Brand node, focusing on slick, stylish graphics, but have very little content. Others might place limited emphasis on stylish looks and have tons and tons of content for readers. Function is usually driven by what kind of business and website you have. An informational website will have less functionality than an e-commerce or online registration website, for instance.

A website focused too much on branding and not enough on content

In my opinion, people spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the Brand aspect – making it look slick or stylish at the expense of good content. I think people will remember good content longer than they will remember the slick graphic elements you used in your header or in your background images. Content is what will keep people coming back. Google and other search engines are able to index and search content, not your stylish layout. Want people to be able to find your website? Worry about making that Content node bigger and not so much about the Brand node. I’m not saying your website shouldn’t have a personality to it. Just don’t forget about content in the search for style.

In analyzing your mix of Brand, Content, and Function for your website, the most important thing to keep in mind is your audience. Who are they? What are their behaviors? What do you want them to do, learn and remember? Do you need to connect with them on an intellectual level, or is it more of an emotional connection that you need to establish with them? You may need to put more emphasis on the style and Brand aspect if you need to connect more emotionally than intellectually with your audience. If your audience is 12 – 16 year old boys who skateboard, your mix is going to be different than someone whose audience is 45 – 60 year old astrophysicists.

A content-focused website

As you’re surfing the web and viewing other websites, keep this model in mind and ask yourself “What’s the Brand/Content/Function ratio of this website? Does that ratio support its audience’s needs?”

To learn more about the story behind this website model, check out Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin pages 7 – 10.