Apartment website design: Process, best practices & tips from our creative team

Aug 2, 2023

Two people using color samples to work on an apartment website design

Building a brand-new website — or rebranding an existing one after an acquisition or shift in corporate direction — is a big task for even the most experienced marketer. You have to focus on two quite different things at exactly the same time: website functionality and website design.

Website functionality is typically at least somewhat built into whatever platform you choose, so a lot of the decision-making happens at that stage. Once you’ve chosen your website platform, there’s only so much you can add or integrate to change how it works. And there’s data on which website features work better than others at converting renters.

Unlike website functionality, website design is largely subjective. Designs can combine any number of colors, elements and styles. So how do you get started? And who’s responsible for making the decisions that determine how your community or company looks online?

At REACH, our creative team of design experts helps property management brands figure that out. We partner with clients to build and launch websites that resonate with their unique audiences. Some sites have even won awards.

So today we’re delighted to have both Nicole Landfried, REACH agency manager, and Neha Marathe, REACH web design manager, here to share their insights into the website design process specific to the apartment and property management industry.

Photos of Nicole Landfried and Neha Marathe

Whether you work with us or someone else (or choose to DIY), you’re sure to find some website design inspiration, best practices and tips in their interview below.

How does the design process start for a client?

Nicole: The discovery workshop is where the magic happens. We host an in-depth discussion to get to the heart of what needs to be displayed to website visitors. Understanding the nuances of each client is key to developing a successful brand that resonates with the target audience.

Neha: That’s right! Our discovery process is a visual exercise designed to help identify three things.

  • Audience: We analyze the brand’s audience to determine their interests and identify the key brand or community elements that attract prospects and retain residents.
  • Brand message: We gain an understanding of client’s values as well as the key messaging and driving influences of their unique brand personality. This helps us clarify, understand and realize their creative vision.
  • Creative vision: We explore visuals using a series of mood boards, which lets our team hear and assess client’s reactions to imagery, patterns, colors, typography, page elements and more.

What should clients bring to the first meeting?

Nicole: Having the decision-maker(s) present is essential in the initial meeting. They play a vital role in identifying core information needed for translating it into a visually appealing website.

Neha: Absolutely. The decision-makers help us align with the client’s vision, ensuring that our design reflects their preferences and objectives.

We’ve noticed that when all decision makers are present, discussions can progress more efficiently. Including all stakeholders ensures that everyone receives the same information at the same time. Sometimes decisions can be made on spot, reducing the need for follow-up or delayed responses.

How does having a mood board help the project?

Nicole: A mood board, or design brief, for the website design project acts as our North Star and includes everything from color palette and typography preferences to texture and photography files. It keeps us aligned with the goals identified during the discovery phase.

Neha: Yes, a mood board is essential. It guides us in creating a cohesive design that aligns with the client’s overall marketing strategy.

A mood board ensures consistency and coherence across the design by gathering numerous visual elements in one place. It enables designers to express their ideas to clients more effectively than simply using words. Presenting a mood board to clients early in the process allows them to visualize the recommended design approach.

Especially in larger projects, a mood board acts as a unifying reference point. It guarantees that everyone is working toward the same visual goals, which helps to avoid conflicting designs.

4. What kind of things should be on your mood board?

Neha: A mood board is a visual collage consisting of images, colors, fonts, textures and other elements that express the overall look and feel of a design concept. It also nicely encapsulates all our discussions from the discovery call to reflect our client’s culture, demographics and other aspects.

5. Does the mood board stay the same or evolve throughout the project? Can/should it be used for other things?

Neha: A design mood board can evolve during the project’s lifecycle. The goal of a mood board is to inspire and guide the creative process. It is natural for the mood board to grow and adapt as the project progresses to generate a captivating and successful final design.

Nicole: The mood board can easily be used for complimentary design or marketing initiatives. For example, it could be the starting point for creating a meticulously detailed branding guide for a community or even a company.

6. What is the design review process like?

Nicole: We love this part of the project! This is where the concept truly comes to life. Our designers are incredibly talented, and we love showcasing the home page design to our clients.

We partner with our clients to host an in-depth review of the entire design, section by section. We do this for every milestone of the project.

Neha: As Nicole mentioned, we meet with the clients at each milestone and go over all the elements. The specific processes and structure of the design review process will vary based on the project, but let’s look at a custom home page design as an example.

Starting at the top, we would explain our thought process behind the placement of the logo, hero image, navigation, tagline, call to actions and any other elements users see first on the page. We then scroll down to different marketing areas, ending with the footer and its elements. 

Since this is a collaborative process, for the design to be effective, we must match with our clients’ expectations. Feedback from clients helps us refine our designs.

7. Worst-case scenario: the design doesn’t match the client’s vision. What’s next?

Nicole: It’s possible that the project scope shifts after the initial discovery phase. When that happens, we are flexible. We can pivot to identifying where the mark was missed and provide alternative mock-ups to accommodate for the new direction.

Neha: Our creative marketing specialists and website designers carefully listen to the client’s feedback. It is critical to avoid being defensive and to remain receptive to constructive criticism. We hold an open discussion to identify potential solutions and changes.

Sometimes clarifying the design ideas or making simple changes can remedy the problem. Other times, a more extensive makeover may be required. Proactive communication is key to staying on time and withing budget.

8. Best-case scenario: the design is perfect without revisions. What’s next?

Nicole: Let’s integrate it! We’ll take the approved mock-ups and build them in our RentCaffeine framework. Once the integration is complete, we’ll join a meeting to review the functioning site with our client and take note of any changes that need to take place.

9. Any other design tips specific to the apartment industry?

Nicole: I would say, identify if you want corporate branding vs. property-specific branding as early as possible. This will allow us to strategize our approach and align the company vision and objectives from the very beginning.

There’s really no right or wrong way to go about this. It’s about the company’s values and what is more important to the mission statement and vision. Then we build from there staying true to the genuine brand.

Neha: Apartment website design requires an important mix of functionality and aesthetics. The fundamentals of an effective website, such as page speed optimization, responsiveness and WCAG compliance, are covered by our RentCaffeine platform.

From a design perspective, it can be smart to keep the website simple and intuitive in terms of navigation. You also want to use high quality visual content, such as professional photos and videos, and to implement consistent branding elements.

As the industry evolves, we’re seeing an increasing emphasis on immersive visuals and interactive elements to engage users and create a memorable online experience.

Nicole: We keep an eye on everything, not just our client’s sites. Staying updated with design trends allows us to deliver websites that truly stand out in the apartment and property management market.

10. What’s your favorite element of branding and design?

Nicole: For me, it’s the color palette. I see it as the anchor for all brands because the color palette is very personal to the brand identity. It also acts as the catalyst for the emotional connection the end user should experience when interacting with the brand.

Neha: My answer is that it’s all about consistency. We’re doing our best work when we’re maintaining uniformity across all brand touchpoints, including logos, colors, typography, imagery, messaging and the overall visual identity. It’s what helps a customer instantly recognize a brand anywhere they see it.

We’d like to extend a huge thanks to Nicole and Neha for taking the time to share their expertise with us! If you’d like to see some examples of what our creative and design team are capable of, take a peek at our online work portfolio.

You can also check out these related articles:

Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives is the manager of marketing content at Yardi. She leads content initiatives for REACH by RentCafe. Writing may be her first love, but data is a close second. Geneva is based in Santa Barbara, California.

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