For thousands of years, design agencies have been offering conflicting advice to innocent clients.
“The look and feel of your site should match the quirkiness of your company’s brand voice.” – Agency 1
“Your website is not for you. It’s for your customers. Your site should make your customers feel like home.” – Agency 2
I’m sure I read somewhere of the famous philosopher Plato (or was it Descartes?) sitting in a cave agonizing over this most ancient of questions: whose personality should be reflected in one’s website?
A mediocre answer
Unfortunately, like so many things in life, the answer is not one or the other. The design of your site should take into consideration both your brand voice and the habits, likes, and tastes of your target demographic.
But that’s too easy and not worth your click. Kestrel can do better.
A better answer
Perhaps a better way to answer this question for you and your company is to first define what you’re selling / marketing on your website.
Let’s imagine you are the marketing director for Hal’s Handmade Hutches. You custom build solid wood dining room hutches. Wonderful. Your website should have the look and ethos of a formal dining room. That’s what you’re selling after all! The people visiting halshutches.com will be looking for and expecting to see hutches. Make them feel like they’ve landed in the right place when they get to your site. Don’t make it quirky and silly. They’re expecting quality, handmade furniture. Your site should feel just like your mother’s dining room.
But let’s switch it up. You quit Hal’s because you couldn’t stand going home smelling like a pine tree everyday. Clara’s Cleaning Crew hired you on to replace their old marketing director who suddenly passed away from exposure to excessive ammonia.
The game has changed my friend! You are no longer selling a specific product, therefore your visitors’ expectations have changed. Now you’re selling the services of Clara’s Crew. The visitors who land on your site are now expecting to meet with the service they’re considering purchasing. Therefore, the general impression of your new site ought to reflect the personality of the company. In this case, the company (more precisely, the service provided by the company) is the product.
If your company’s service is fun and playful, let some of that seep through in your copy, images, colors, and structure. On the other hand, if you’re serious, professional, clean, and prompt, don’t use coy heading tags and navigation.
tldr; (a.k.a. Summary)
Of course, you should always be cognizant of who is viewing your site, what device they’re on, how they’re interacting with your content, etc.
But at the end of the day, let the general personality of your website be a reflection of the product or service you’re providing. Web users are smart. They came to your site for a reason. They came with expectations. Make sure you don’t violate those expectations, and consider that the overall personality of your site is one more component in promoting your product or service.