When you walk into Starbucks the smell of coffee brewing permeates your senses. Music plays in the background with earthy painted walls, nicely lacquered wood and friendly baristas all help to create the presentation that pushes the perception of a welcoming, quality, comfort and taste.

You may be surprised to know that this is all by design – Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks once made a trip to Italy. He visited more than 500 espresso bars in Milan and Verona. He took in local habits, took notes on decor and menus, took photographs, even videotaped baristas in action. He was figuring out how each bars perception worked for them.

Try to compare this to Denny’s – what’s your perception of Denny’s? The presentation is fast, simple comfort food; who do you think would have a better cup of coffee, Denny’s or Starbucks?

Perception can dictate reality – Starbucks coffee may taste better because the consumer thinks it tastes better. But, in recent Consumer Reports. The finding was a bit different. Denny’s coffee was actually better than Starbucks. That is the reality of perception!

Pryer to designing a new website it is imperative that you and your designer know what the perception is that that site should portray.

If you are designing a new website, you need to learn how the company is currently perceived in its market. This can be done by talking with the owner, as well as the employees and even the patrons of the business.

Are they perceived as: conservative, progressive, friendly, formal, casual, serious, experts, humorous, service-oriented or professional? Are they going to wish to strengthen this same perception through their website or are they looking to make a change? Will they want to add to what they have now or change their personality all together?

What challenges are they facing getting their image across to customers? Or maybe they are doing a good job with this and you need to learn what has made them so successful. This will allow you to design the site in an equal manner.

A company’s perception will impact the overall design of the website. Take GEICO and Allstate: they are both insurance companies, yet each conveys a different perception. The perception of GEICO, with its humorous speaking gecko and the “So easy, a caveman can do it” ads has a more relaxed feel than the Allstate insurance company with its more formal “You’re in good hands” ads. We might anticipate that the websites for these two insurance companies could be completely different even though they are in the same field.

Perception is powerful, it’s how we see things – not how they really are.

If you were to ask someone what they feel about the company after they have left the website, that’s the perception the site is giving off.

:by Douglas Goddard