The Thumb Test is a classic informal way of assessing your branding. It couldn’t be more simple. Just take a representative piece of your branded material and place your thumb over your logo. Then, with your logo hidden, ask yourself (and be honest)…

Is your business recognisable from what’s left visible?
Will your audience know who your company is and what you offer?
What image do you portray? Is it distinctive? Could it be from one of your competitors? Would it be easy to copy you?

The power of the Thumb Test is that it helps illustrate that your brand is far more than just your logo.

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With many websites failing to create a digital experience with any sort of differentiation, we say it’s time to resurrect and update the Thumb Test for the digital age. Let’s call it The Digital Thumb Test (bonus points if you get the geeky irony of that title).

Why’s it needed? Despite best intentions, most websites only do an average job in promoting their business and brand. Brand personality is largely absent and the overall experience is anonymous, leading to generalised experiences that don’t differentiate. Put simply: too many websites look the same, and say the same thing.

As no one ever writes a brief that says ‘design me a website that looks the same as everyone else’s, and makes it unclear about what we do or why you should buy from us’, we’ve got to ask: how do things get this bad?

Sometimes there’s an obvious reason, such as the use of a theme, a copycat brief or not having a clearly defined brand in the first place. But sometimes it’s just the process of negotiating all the curveballs that come along when creating a new site that derail the most well intentioned of project leaders.

An analogy we like to use is Bruce Lee and cumulative damage. Bruce used to wear his opponents down with lots of small blows that might not immediately seem to have much effect. But the cumulative effect was to grind his opponents down so he could deliver a knockout from a 1 inch punch.

For a digital project, this cumulative damage is caused by lots of small, seemingly innocuous compromises, short-cuts, interferences, group decisions, vested interests, narrow focus, timing pressures and other constraints that you’ll face on the journey. No one said it was going to be easy.

The net effect can be to detract attention to the very thing your digital presence needs to do: present and promote your business and branding in a distinctive and compelling way.

You may be reading this thinking, ‘well, we’re not that bad. Yes there’s a few things we could improve on but it’s not that wrist-slashingly-awful. I don’t need to do this’. We’d counter that and say, at the very least, it’ll help you highlight areas where you could do with some improvement to steal a march on your competitors.

The key thing to remember about the thumb test is that Everything Counts. Your brand experience is not about your logo, or your carousel.

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It’s your entire presence: typography, margins, copy, buttons, spacing, imagery, interactions, quality of production, loading speed and everything else, etc. You get the message.

The Digital Thumb Test

Here’s 4 ways to do it. We’ve created a Digital Thumb Test Worksheet to help you: download it here.

Method 1. Self (Quick).

  • Load up your site and your top 5 competitors into individual browser tabs.
  • Go through each tab, obscuring the logo (cut up post-it notes help here – you might need to move them around if the logo position changes).  Answer the following questions:
  1. With the logo hidden, would your customers easily be able to recognise whose site this is?
    Rank each site (1: not recognisable at all; 10: unmistakeable).
  2. How distinctive does your site feel compared against competitors?
    Rank each site (1: samey, indistinctive; 10: standout, memorably different).
  3. What first impression does each homepage give?
    Describe in 1-2 sentences or use a few adjectives.
  4. For your site: do you think it provides the best and most appropriate first impression?
    Describe what could be different.
  5. Is the messaging clear?  Is there a clear proposition for the audience?
    Rank each site (10: a clear and compelling proposition; 1: confusing or lack of proposition).
  6. How differentiated is each message compared to the other 5 competitors?
    Rank each site (1: lacking any sort of differentiation; 10: differentiated message)
  7. From what you know or can assume about the main site users, how appropriate is the messaging?
    Rank each site (1: not focused on user needs; 10: represents a user pain point)
  8. Who stands out most?
    Choose 1 site.
  9. Which site appeals to you the most?
    Choose 1 site.
  10. Rank the quality and distinctiveness of the following elements: Typography, use of colour, use of imagery, layout, production / build quality
    Rank each site (1: poor quality, generic etc; 10: high quality, distinctive, on-brand)

    Now, close down your browser. From memory, for each site:
  11. Write a few words about what they offered. 
  12. Write a few words about the feeling you got from the site.

Method 2. Group

Same as above, but take full-page screenshots of the homepages and digitally obscure the logos / names.

Then distribute (as PDF, as full size print-outs, or using an online tool such as InVision) and ask a few colleagues to complete the test. Compare notes. Hatch a plan.


Method 3. Users (More time-intensive but undeniably useful feedback).

As above but tested with actual users.  Load site homepages into InVision software and run the test with a representative user group of 4-6 people. You get to hear what people really think.  Great for testing out new layouts and messaging too.

(We can help you run this type of test).


Method 4:  mobile.  (Quick)

Choose one of the above but use to assess mobile homepages.  After all, to stand out, create impact and attention in a smaller window your experience has to be honed even more.


There you go. You get a quick assessment about your digital brand representation on your homepage. If all is hunky dory, then pat yourself on the back and keep up the good work. If it’s highlighted areas of concern – do something about it!  We can help there of course.

By the way, so you get to see how we think and work, we’ll happily do the quick test for you on your behalf. Just get in touch and we’ll let you know what we think.

Just in case you missed the link above, here’s the worksheet.