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Multi-Layered Branding and the Psychology of Web Design

May 29, 2021

A recent post at the website UX Planet provided some insight into the psychology of web design while also leaving the door wide open to further explore the concepts it raised – and those it may have overlooked. The article was at least the third of its kind, with the author having previously examined how Tinder and TikTok “hook us up” as users. The new one brought a similar approach to the topic of OnlyFans, a platform that is frequently, though not exclusively, used for hosting adult content and facilitating payment from subscribers to specific individual accounts.

The psychology of web design arguably takes on a different color when you’re dealing with adult content. But then again, ordinary online consumer behavior is frequently driven by the same sort of impulsiveness and desire for instant gratification that you might associate with the average OnlyFans user. Conversely, those features are perhaps mitigated by the fact that the site operates on a subscription-based model, so its goal is not so much to direct users toward a hasty purchase as it is to help them commit to a long-term consumer relationship.

Connecting Sellers and Consumers

This speaks to features of OnlyFans – and of the psychology of web design – that we think could be instructive for web design companies and their clients. The UX Planet article seemed to overlook this, but we think it’s vital to understand that OnlyFans’ role is as a platform for third-party content providers and not as the purveyor of its own brand. There are plenty of websites and businesses that operate the same way, and there are plenty of entrepreneurs who may want to do the same. For them, an understanding of OnlyFans’ successes and its shortcomings could be useful, even if comparisons to host of adult content seem misplaced or inappropriate.

Of course, there are plenty of other sites that offer a potentially more valid comparison without getting the psychology of web design all mixed up with the topic of human sexuality. Even household names like Amazon are at least in part platforms for third-party content and merchandise. Amazon is different because it prioritizes its own sales whereas OnlyFans has nothing to offer entirely on its own. But still, Amazon warehouses other companies’ merchandise and fulfills sales on their behalf, so it might serve as some sort of role model for other companies that want to do the same – either physically or digitally.

Of course, we’re not aware of anyone who’s done a recent dive into the psychology of web design as it applies to Amazon or eBay or Alibaba, or any other site that facilitates connections between a vast body of consumers and a wide array of third-party retailers. Besides, each of those sites wildly complicated in comparison to OnlyFans, which in the first place is strictly a digital operation, and thus has much less to worry about when it comes to fulfilling the relationship between consumer and content provider.

Accordingly, OnlyFans also has a much more streamlined design, and thus a much more streamlined approach to exploiting the psychology of web design. But is it possible that “streamlined” in this case means “overly simplified” and that OnlyFans is actually relying too heavily upon the base impulses of its customer base to sustain its business model? UX Planet actually seems to think so, but we would tentatively argue that this conclusion stems from the author’s failure to recognize how important third-party partnerships are to OnlyFans’ core identity.

A Good Place for a More Generic Design

The article in question is lightly but repeatedly critical of OnlyFans’ designers for having a layout that reflects popular trends from several years to more than a decade ago. It also notes that the somewhat archaic appearance is reinforced by the fact that OnlyFans does not have a smartphone app – though it acknowledges that this isn’t an oversight but rather a matter of necessity. Apple and Google will not allow their app stores to carry an app for a company that is known for adult content, even if it is not designed specifically for that content.

No website should want to look as if it is unstuck in time unless, perhaps, it is a website for historical research or a company deliberately trying to capitalize on consumer nostalgia. But it’s not clear that OnlyFans gives that impression to anyone other than the sorts of seasoned web design professionals who would write a deep-dive article about how OnlyFans directs its visitors through a funnel toward the point of purchase.

Then again, if the author in question is really an expert in the psychology of web design, they should probably have a good sense of when an outmoded design scheme is having a negative impact on brand identity. The implication of the UX Planet article is that that’s what is happening with OnlyFans but that it doesn’t matter very much because the platform has few competitors, if any, and isn’t losing sales because the site is still organized in a way that effectively connects consumers with the content they want, then makes transactions quite easy.

Despite the criticisms, the main takeaway from UX Planet’s analysis is definitely that OnlyFans is successful. We don’t dispute that conclusion, but pending more research, we might argue that the site’s success came not in spite of but partly because of the lack of trendiness and recognizable modernity in its web design.

The basic argument is this: The psychology of web design operates differently with regard to sites that are primarily dedicated to a specific brand and those that are a platform for multiple third-party brands. For the former, distinctiveness is a key asset, but for the latter, if there is too much brand-recognition built around the site itself, it could actually cut against the sort of personal connection that a consumer wishes to develop with specific individual retailers or performers, especially on a site like OnlyFans.

UX Planet actually compares OnlyFans to both Twitter and Instagram, saying its design looks like a combination of both. This seems like an accusation of unoriginality, but the article doesn’t consider that maybe looking like a familiar social media site was exactly the idea. After all, when your job as a retailer is literally to connect thousands of customers with thousands of sellers, that’s exactly what you are.

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