With CFC’s business motoring along nicely, I decided in late spring to redesign our very bare-bones website, to add more information, and make it a little more pleasing to the eye. After four months of sometimes tedious labor, the process is now complete. The English-version of the new CFC website went live earlier this week. The Chinese version will follow after the October holidays in China.
During my journalism career at Forbes, I had some experience working with designers, so I generally understand how words and images can best interact on a page. Or, at least I thought so. Web design is a whole different ballgame. The web format allows for a lot more flexibility than designing print pages to in a particular newspaper or magazine’s existing template. You can incorporate animation, videos, pictures, sound. But, there’s also a lot more chaos about the whole process. Maybe it’s the fact that a good web designer must be combine the character traits of a graphic designer and a computer programmer. Rendered in mathematical terms: flakiness 2
Everything turned out well. But, completing the site took far longer than I’d expected at the outset. I helped contribute to the delays by frequently changing my mind about which images should appear on the site. I decided one thing emphatically from the start: I did not want to reproduce the hackneyed sort of imagery you see on every other financial industry website I’ve ever seen, from Goldman Sachs’ to a small regional bank’s. So, I wanted no photos of men shaking hands, or gathered around a conference room table, or walking purposefully down a busy urban street holding a briefcase. For one thing, I don’t even own a briefcase.
Instead, I wanted to do something far more personally meaningful on the site, and use only close-up images of Chinese art. After some experimenting with images of Ming Dynasty porcelains and sculptures, I decided to use only Chinese paintings. I wanted them to reflect many of the broader thematic and stylistic movements in Chinese painting, from the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. And, of course, I wanted to feel a connection with each image, both aesthetically and also as metaphorical statement of core principles and values that animate our work at CFC.
That’s a pretty tall order. I probably looked at over 1,000 paintings, and did my own, on-screen close-up crops of several hundred, before deciding on the 25 I liked most. In the end, there was room on the new site for only 13. Early on, I’d thought of using close-ups from several thangkas I’m lucky enough to own. The images were gorgeous, but my team felt (and I ultimately agreed), they were too unmistakably religious, even in extreme close-up,to fit well on the site.
The text was not as difficult. We’re lucky in that our business has a very clear, narrow focus that’s easily expressed. Ours is also, importantly, not a business that relies on website traffic, or Google search results, to create awareness and revenue. I know this other world very well, through my role at Awareness Technologies, which is a web-marketer par excellence. Every day, Awareness Technologies’ websites and Google strategy will deliver new customers who buy our software. It’s highly-specialized work, this kind of online marketing, and my Awareness colleagues do it as well as, and often better than, anyone else in the world. Awareness Technologies also builds great software, which matters even more, of course, to the success of the business.
CFC, on the other hand, is mainly a “word of mouth” business. Chinese SME come to us not through an online search, but because we’ve been introduced to them by others they know and trust. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn none of our clients have ever visited our website. They’re generally too busy running their companies to spend much, if any time, online – let alone searching the web to find an investment bank.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t look to the CFC website to generate “walk-in” traffic. We do no search advertising, or web marketing. So, someone finding our website will usually do so through following a link on what’s called a “natural search result” at Google, Yahoo, Baidu or other search engines.
My main hope for the new website is that all those who do visit it, first and foremost, will get enjoyment from looking at the paintings, and allow the close-ups to meander around in their minds for awhile. If that gets them then to read about what we do, so much the better.