educational

New Blueprint for Adult Design

Bob Johnson

Good website design equals more traffic to a website. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But good design isn’t what it was a decade ago and webmasters that don’t adapt to new trends may well be left in the dust.

Hot graphics and equally hot sex — the foundation of nearly every adult website created are no longer a guarantee for success. Grabbing Internet attention now also requires the adoption of new technologies like social networking, “responsive design” that detects where the site will be delivered, video, targeted copy and even some experts believing in more “tube-like” presentations.

Dickman says utilitarian design is the name of the game. His watchwords are simple, clean, intuitive, yet powerful design that provides an interface that delivers what the user wants — “with no friction.”

And with the proliferation of the mobile market, new challenges are emerging, causing webmasters to rethink how sites are to be designed for the ever-growing wireless market.

There’s also brand awareness. Good design must now create a virtual identity that users recognize as soon as they see a company logo.

Although not always a top priority, or considered much of a hot topic any longer, taking a back seat to combating piracy and creating the next hardcore niche, design pros are more adamant than ever about the importance of creating a site that immediately compels a potential subscriber.

“Imagine a Hollywood movie without a trailer?” asks Bruno Dickman CEO of leading design firm Dickmans Design stressing for example the importance of integrating video into good website design.

And Mansion Productions’ President and founder Garry Oien believes the most pronounced trend and the biggest challenge for designers today is adopting the “responsive design” approach. “The variety of the devices used to consume information and services online can not be ignored anymore,” he says.

All of these factors present a new paradigm to webmasters and designers alike.

Mainstream social networking for example, is exerting its influence on how a site is built and is becoming a major factor on webmasters’ design wish lists. Design firm CardinalVice’s Sergey Voronov says that sites are indeed becoming more social nowadays and ignoring the trend could mean lost revenue.

Design firm Extreme Adult Creations (EAC) echoes Voronov’s position and believes that webmasters seeking guidance want to feel their sites are connected with all of the major social networks. “Web design is much more dynamic than it was years ago. It’s usually more than just creating graphics these days. It’s creating a virtual identity for your brand,” says a company executive.

He continues, “A good website design can have many things that draw people back and increase traffic such as a related blog, twitter updates, newsletter signup and bookmark link — all incorporated into the design. These things help keep connected with potential subscribers and help expose the product”

“Although social networking began in the mainstream it has migrated into the adult industry through blogs, tube sites and things like Follow, like, etc.,” adds BlueflyAdult.com’s Kreig lynn.

Adopting social networking and other new bells and whistles is critical, but tried and true basics still have their place.

Voronov believes sites need to have old school “unique spices,” that include preference in color schemes, fonts and textures. “Content combined with the site make it unique. Design is a second thing. Of course we can remember Myke Wilde and Kreadult designs that were unique at first because they were revolutionary, but then everybody started to copy them. If webmasters want to stand out from other site designs they need to add some creative elements like illustrations, icons, etc,” he believes.

Dickman says utilitarian design is the name of the game. His watchwords are simple, clean, intuitive, yet powerful design that provides an interface that delivers what the user wants — “with no friction.”

“This is the way to go. While the art direction aspects became less predominant on the interfaces, good art direction is still important, especially because now every good site deserves an introduction video. Paysites with obvious business models must focus on showing good trailers, and platforms with innovative offerings must showcase “how to” and “why us” videos,” the design pro says.

Lynn maintains that another design “must have” is being up-todate. He says a webmaster can’t design a 1999 or even 2005 layout in 2011. “I recall us designing for 800x600 pixels, then 1024x768, 1280x1024, etc. Nowadays, the layouts are at 1200- 1400 or even 1600-2000 pixels wide. Also, to my mind, adult designs are connected to the technical end of things far closely than before. In the old days you just had to come up with a top-notch design without thinking way too much about HTML/CSS. But now you always have to keep in mind which technologies would be applied when the original PSD design would be converted into HTML. Would there be some JQuery, Javascript, HTML5 tricks, or which backend the website is going to use, etc.? That’s why we’re mostly working on turnkey solutions these days, when not only the design, but ‘skinning,’ i.e. implementation of the design that is included in the backend.”

Although page-by-page site tours seem to be archaic today, Lynn believes they also have their place in overall design if done right. He says his firm is still building more tour-based sites than odd-size layouts. But the big difference in the new tours is that the large thumbnail in episode boxes is now a flash video preview of that very episode. “It was a static image before, with links to downloadable WMV/MOV sample movies somewhere near the end of that episode box. In general, streaming videos are common these days. Not only in tours, but in members’ areas as well,” he says.

But what about taking the simplest route and using templates?

Dickman cautions that even novice webmasters should go the extra mile or they’ll eventually suffer the consequences. He says template design works only in a very few instances. “If you have a cookie-cutter business model, cookie cutter templates will work — the question is, for how long?” But Bluefly’s Lynn believes paysites that have exclusive content should definitely look at custom designs, as they have great product to offer. “I don’t see why they should stick to templates.

On the other hand, Lynn says many adult websites may be built on templates including blogs, porn boards, TGP sites, tube sites, and websites providing some kind of services for the adult industry, hosting companies and others. Voronov believes it all depends on task and budget. “We had templatemonster.com for some time, and now we have themeforest.com and they’re good. Of course if you’re a big player, you shoot unique content, using unique design for your sites is the only way — it’s your branding, it’s your reputation.”

The real trick is getting users excited and ready to pluck down their credit cards, that ultimately comes down to aligning them with their fantasies, according to Dickman. And once again that translates to good design with the right message.

He maintains that in addition to selecting proper content, webmasters must deliver their content with the right words and images that drives user behavior towards the conversion.

And nearly all web designers believe high quality content is the cornerstone of a successful platform. eAC believes that the coolest looking graphics/Ui/text and effects in a design still won’t convert if the content is below par.

‘Great content is what really pulls everything together. But true text (not an image/graphical) is always good to have as well for seo. Videos never hurt either. if you take a solo model site for example; a good ‘welcome to my site’ video by the model can do wonders,” the eAC exec says.

Like Voronov, Dickman believes in adding some “spice.” He feels users respond to certain color schemes, placements, key phrases, etc.

It also depends on the users a webmaster’s trying to reach. the eAC pro maintains that if a hardcore fetish website uses “bright, happy, candycolored” design it’s just not going to work.

Users’ wants are key for sure – added with some new tech.

Mansion’s oien maintains that the “responsive” concept is hard to beat because it uses one central content management system that spits out, different view styles depending on the detected device and screen resolution.

“No need of double and triple updates of one and the same thing. Yes, it does take more time to design and it take a good understanding of the technology, design skills and experience, and it costs more to produce, but it pays back well once the site is in use,” he says.

And Bluefly’s lynn says when a site’s looks and usability match its target audience it becomes “outstanding.”

“Obviously, the content has to be great, shot in HD, with crystal clear images to work with. it’s hard to make a ‘candy’ out of low-res images and video caps. so, the content is king, which has been well known for ages. But the design has to be perfect as well, no doubt about it. Webmasters should come up with a perfect design image for the content provided. they have to develop a general idea for the upcoming website by brainstorming just what the customer wants,” lynn says.

Dickman says the right combination usually comes from years of experience. His firm has worked on thousands of sites and affiliates, some of which have become industry benchmarks. the firm’s experience has gathered insight and hard data on conversion rates as they apply to design and gives Dickman the chops to comment on what works.

“To be a bit more insightful and practical, i would suggest that companies consider the colors they are using against the niche they are trying to reach, and that to be really assertive about placement, A/B testing and remote surfer shadowing (via click tale for instance) is always a good thing to do,” he maintains.

His company also puts forth what he calls a “holistic attention to detail” that includes 10 pillars of online performance that cover on-site strategies and tactics that cannot be overlooked. They include are art, accessibility, content, copy, findability, interaction, information architecture, search, social and technology.

But there are times when design takes a back seat to pure, raw sex. explicitness — a component of a website’s overall presentation may seem like a no brainier – the raunchier the better, but it’s not always the case. Dickman says making the choice in the bigger design picture depends on the unique selling proposition and positioning of the website.

“I’ve seen and designed tours that are straight out ugly in terms of aesthetics (for my personal taste) but showcased thumbs with stuff that would make the eyes of 90 percent of the first-time visitors pop out of their skulls. that converts. I have also seen and designed tours that are very successful because of the storytelling and enticing but not explicit nature of the previews. thankfully, in the end, there’s not a single winning formula but many paths for success.”

But EAC thinks most sites these days are far too explicit and give away far too much in their tours. The exec believes that giving too much for free is one of the reasons why the industry is not in the same shape that it was a decade ago.

One similar path Dickman likes is the “freemium” model where users get a good taste of what the site will deliver but limits them to the amount of uses or caps some features without compromising the promised experience.

And as the internet becomes more like a tV network than a static information destination, video tours and embedded clips continue to be almost mandatory. Dickman points to Videobox as an exemplary site as one that incorporates clean design and has the advantage of having video as its source of content.

“Videobox was one of the best sites out there and one that many other sites copied. i believe it’s still good but the new interface and direction is not quite there yet — it still needs to be perfected,” Dickman says.

EAC likes twisty’s design — so much so the executive joined himself. “twistys.com has a light, warm, welcoming, pastel look that really makes the content pop out because of the high contrast. The videos are high quality and provide just enough tease without giving too much for free. Clean and uncluttered. I’m a member.”

And Voronov says he likes the “good, clean layouts and perfect content” of X-art.com and teenModels.com.

If satisfying users isn’t enough, website designers are now faced with the challenge of designing for mobile platforms.

Mansion’s Oien says, “Yes it [mobile] is different due to the resolution restrictions and the way we use it because of the touched based interaction, but if the “responsive design” approach becomes an industry standard, special sites for mobile phones will be needed in a very limited number of situations.”

But CardinalVice’s Voronov doesn’t agree. He says mobile doesn’t necessitate its own design claiming there is good option now to write mobile Css for devices, or creating fluid layouts with grid systems (GoldenGridsystem.com) and with media quarries for image scaling depending on screen resolution. “HtMl5 rocks,” he says.

‘The most effective thing in mobile is new technologies — senchatouch, jquerymobile, css3, media queries — all of this stuff is handy when developing mobile sites. I also suggest to prototype your projects before designing. There are tons of tools for that on the market, my favorite is Axure.com,” Voronov says.

Bluefly’s lynn notes that mobile is “a kind of a time machine.” “Screen resolutions have been increasing during the last 10 years. so we had to stick to new ones when designing websites. With the adult industry turning its attention towards mobile devices, we have to return back in time and design for far smaller screen resolutions, to match mobile screens.

“I think the general design rules are applied for mobile site designs. I mean, great designs make great sites. Either it’s made for 1920 pixels wide or 960, it does not matter, only the quality of design and content handling does.”

And if deciphering what design trend to follow is just too much for the average webmaster there’s always the nagging, evergreen, yet necessary question as to whether to outsource or employ an in-house team?

Dickman says the decision is not always as easy as it seems. “Overall, it depends on the size of your operation, the level of control you need, and your company’s ability to manage a design dept. The ideal scenario for a large company that wants the absolute best result, is to consult with a knowledgeable company and get a good chunk of the work and future iterations and tweaks done in house, with people like us as consultants to guide their team.”

EAC doesn’t like outsourcing but prefers sub-contacting, claiming that the latter provides for a lasting working relationship.

“When you subcontract work to someone you are maintaining a relationship with them. When outsourcing, you hand a part of your business to someone who takes control over it. I think most people like knowing who exactly is doing the work for them and knowing that they are dealing directly with their designers rather than a middleman,” the design executive says.

So what are the major design pitfalls to be avoided?

Bluefly’s lynn thinks the biggest mistake is dated design. He says keeping up with contemporary web concepts and trends are not only important in design but in functionality and usability as well. And content must match current expectations for quality. “Video should be shot in full HD, while photos should be hi-res. So, basically, following the progress or pay the price.”

Similarity is also a mistake according to Mansion’s Oien. He says too many sites are using standard templates and look too similar. And many choose design companies based on price instead of investing more in order to get a unique product.

EAC’s team says providing too many “previews” is a problem and not validating code when possible which rehashes the same design style without innovating. “There’s only so many ways to design a site though and limits to what can and can’t be done when designing. A client’s specific requests need be honored and many simply want something that ‘looks like that cool site,’” they say.

Once webmasters grasp the trends in technology the best advice from industry experts can be summed up in the old “Kiss” acronym – keep it simple stupid” — in graphic appeal and delivering on the niche market.

And the best advice of all on what makes a site work? EAC says you know it’s all good “When there’s a 1:25 conversion.”

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