GrokDotCom's "If Architects Had to Work Like Web Designers" blog post gave me a good chuckle today. Buildings are properly constructed by following blueprints. The same principle applies to web sites, but for a variety of reasons, most aren't build from a pre-defined set of well-conceived plans.
GrokDotCom article quotes Seattle designer Shae Allen's interpretation of people treating the process of building a house in the same way most companies construct their website:
Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can arbitrarily pick one.
Allen's mock letter continues for many more paragraphs, but you get the point. Companies who want to build new web sites often fail to think through the details and often leave them up to their web designers.
Small business owners shouldn't leave the details of their web sites to the "web designer next door." Likewise, big companies shouldn't rely on in-house design staff to form the vision for their web sites. Web designers are terrific people, and they can put very attractive web sites together. But do the web pages work together? Do they represent a consistent user experience? Do they consider how people will arrive on the pages they build? Do they sell?
Designing or redesigning a web site should be a collaborative process -- one where the "business types" and "creative types" share knowledge and ideas. Business types may not understand the plethora of ways to implement an idea on the web. Creative types may not understand why a deep understanding of the target audience or marketing vehicle is important. As long as a knowledge gap exists between "business types" and "creative types" exists, collaboration between the two is integral to a project's success.
A good design firm or agency knows that it takes business acumen to design a great web site. They know that the client will say they want "this" when they actually need "that." Good firms...
- spend time up front learning about the client's business and market
- know how to combine the right technology with the right creative
- are more interested in the client's success than winning fancy awards
- understand that it's not just the creative that matters, it's what comes before and after that guide the creative direction
- know the value of competitive research
- can communicate clearly enough to guide the client in the right direction
A good construction team always has a blueprint. A good web consulting firm will partner with their clients, and the collaboration will produce an effective website.