In 2009, Simon Sinek gave a TED talk called, “How great leaders inspire action.” It’s been watched nearly twenty million times, and for good reason.
Sinek gives his answer to why Apple was able to defy all odds despite having access to the same talent, how Martin Luther King Jr. changed a nation, and how the Wright Brothers succeeded when others failed.
Starting with Why
He presents a brilliantly simple pattern, as he’s observed that “great leaders think, act, and communicate the exact same way, and it’s the complete opposite as everyone else.” He’s codified this into what he calls the “golden circle.”
Nearly all organizations know what they do. Some know how they do it. Very few know why they do what they do.
If great leaders inspire action, what do you think great websites should do?
The same thing: inspire action.
When most people are thinking about a new getting a new website, they start in the place they should end up with: design.
So, let me propose to you a “golden circle” for websites:
- Why should anyone care about your website?
- How are you going to communicate your message?
- What is it going to look like?
Adrift on an Ocean of Themes
It’s common (and easy) to start with the look, failing to lay the groundwork for success. Some 10,000 “supported” WordPress themes are available.
You can go crazy looking at all the themes out there. Eventually, they all begin to blur together and seem like variations of a handful of themes (they are). Many become exhausted and just choose one—usually, not the best.
Don’t cram your content into a look. Choose and craft the look for your content.
Before you venture over to ThemeForest or hire a designer, have the courage to ask yourself and your team, “Why should anyone care about a new website from us?”
Maybe your answer is that you’ll inspire people, or educate people, or tell a story, or provide helpful tools, or an image of respectability that people need for trust.
In the video, Sinek says that your “why” consists of a belief. When we realize that people connect innately with beauty, art, justice, truth, love, kindness, relationships, hope, craftsmanship, joy, and health, we can get clarity as to why we do what we do—or at least why we should be doing what are we’re doing.
How do you want to communicate your “why”? What content do you want to employ? Options include things like:
- copy (text)
- calls to action
- interactive tools
Let’s say you’re a nonprofit that wants to communicate hope through relationships. Your path forward will naturally unfold as you think of the perfect story or image that conveys your message. When we start at the right place—with our “why”—moving forward often feels easy.
At this point, we still haven’t talked about design. In our culture, image is everything, so it’s tempting to start there. Nevertheless, design should be last.
Design is the “what” of your website and is the way things look and feel. Think of design as the tool to optimize and convey your “why” through your “how”. Colors, fonts, textures, layout, and more come together to complete your new website.
With that mindframe, it’s suddenly much easier to narrow down those 10,000 themes to the ones that allow you to explain your “why” with the right tools, layout, and options. When you start with the “why”, you’re able to know what you’re looking for and find a design that’s right for you.
Sacrificing the Why
What happens when you sacrifice your “why”? It just doesn’t feel right.
No matter how many times the design is tweaked, people just aren’t happy. There is an inexplicable feeling that something is off.
No color change will get you the aha moment you are looking for. No perfect font will do the trick.
If you don’t get your “why” right, it’s tough to get anything right. Sinek uses the example of Apple vs. Microsoft (keep in mind this is 2009).
In discussing their computers, Microsoft would say, “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed and simple to use. Do you want to buy one?” Chances are, you are not inspired by that even though it says what they do and how they are better.
Compare this with Apple, who leads with their “why”. “In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. We do this by making our products beautifully designed and simple to use. We just happen to make great computers. Do you want to buy one?”
When you sacrifice the “why”, you sacrifice everything. It ruins culture, marketshare, and—yes—websites.
Often, by asking “why” first, you don’t even need that much design. You can actually begin to take things away.
I’ve often felt that it’s an injustice how the market doesn’t seem to recognize or value the contributions of writers and artists, but that’s starting to change dramatically.
As of this writing, Apple is worth $653 billion dollars. It was started by a guy named Steve Jobs who said he would have fancied himself a poet in Paris if he weren’t at Apple.
Yes, a poet.
Start with your “why.”