Relatable or Aspirational? Site Design Differences

Web design is often described in monolithic ways; there’s good design and bad design and the same rules apply across the board. What this overlooks is that brand messaging, the narrative attached to a product or company, actually plays a significant role in site design choices.

One clear line that divides brands on a broad scale is the idea of the aspirational versus the relatable. Simply put, some companies try to attract customers through commonality, while others project a dream-like version of what life could be. Though basic rules about layout or font choice, specifically regarding clarity and ease of use, overlap between the two, other styling choices diverge.

What sets a relatable website apart from an aspirational one? When readers navigate to a site, they look for these 4 indicators to determine how a brand is positioning themselves relative to the consumers’ lifestyle.

Aspirational: Playing The Hero

Aspirational branding is a classic strategy – think Wheaties boxes with athletic icons on the front, suggesting that if you eat this cereal you’ll become as great as these athletes. The classic Wheaties slogan, “Breakfast of champions,” lays that message bare.

Online, heroic, aspirational branding shows up in the form of famous brand ambassadors or muscular models populating your page. If your landing page features your founder, someone normal, you’re setting the customer up for a relatable experience, but if it features Aly Raisman or LeBron James, customers understand that this brand will help them hold their head high and push the limits of their daily lives.

Relatable: Mirror Image

When discussing models and superstars, one of the first things critics point out is that they all have body types that are essentially unattainable to the average American. That’s why, for brands that seek to represent themselves as relatable, choosing models or brand ambassadors as well as honing copy language to match customer speech and writing are all key to building trust – and sales.

Parenting websites are great at balancing the relatable and aspirational, presenting real parenting problems as well as solutions that might stretch our perception of real-life situations. Babies R Us summed this up with the phrase, “Be prepared-ish.” The idea is, of course, that parents can only do their best and the slang-y language even mirrors mommy-speak, the shorthand used between peers. Pair that with models with kids hanging off their limbs, or at least casual babywearing, and you’ve hit on the mirror image approach to site branding.

Aspirational: Elegance

Elegance – it has countless meanings, especially in the world of design and marketing. For example, relatable or lower end brands will advertise sales and prices on their landing page, but aspirational brands know they should keep that under wraps until later.

Relatable brands line up their products and let you shop. Presentation is a second thought. Aspirational brands exude elegance by pushing aesthetic aspects to the fore. They’ll design a lookbook with gorgeous models in idyllic locations like beaches yachts, or near foreign landmarks. The fonts are simple, sleek, and the site makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into a boutique – the experience overruns the product.

The idea behind aspiration branding is to make the product and its presentation so appealing that it’s no surprise when customers see that it’s out of their price range. They’ll still want it, even saving for these products. Aspirational branding builds your reputation, gets people talking, even when they don’t own anything from your company. Word of mouth is a powerful force in branding and marketing.

Striking A Balance: Real Beauty

Is there anything between the all-access, relatable approach to web design and the out-of-reach, aspirational take? Many brands today find that they can offer this look by playing down the value propositions, dropping the product carousels, and using recognizable faces – but not ones associated with the upper echelons of power or beauty.

One way that brands are building their reputation as relatable but still powerful is by using plus-size models – models that look like the average American – but who still have a measure of fame. Think of someone like Queen Latifah or the now iconic Ashley Graham. These are beautiful women, but they don’t look like your average model. They take the aspirational and move it into reach.

Next time you look at your website, pause and consider what message you’re sending. Does your site speak to your customers’ current lifestyle or does it ask them to think about who they want to be and how your brand can take them there? Choose a camp and stick with it throughout your design. These subtle signs are just as important as any SEO rule.