Design View | Design articles and news from Andy Rutledge

8/5/05

Give Your Website Away

So, you’re a small startup retail enterprise or perhaps a multi–national consulting conglomerate …or anything in between. You’ve decided that you need a new or updated web presence and have enlisted the services of a design and development agency to accomplish your web project. Now what?

Well, in preparation for your project launch, you get the executive decision makers together and in one or more meetings hash out the details of what the site should look like, how the site should function, how the navigation should work and what technologies should be employed in the site. Now you’re ready to communicate your ideas and decisions to the web agency.

Big mistake.

At this point you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. And if you’re too enamored of your consensus on the what/how details for the project you’ll probably do significant damage to your project, your company and its value. Why? Because it’s not your website you’re building. It belongs to someone else.

It’s Not Your Website

You may be thinking, “What the hell? It is so my website!” But you would be wrong. The website may have your name and logo on it, it may contain your content and functionality, it may be the online wing of your marketing effort, but it belongs to those who will use it.

Of course you do own it, but what you really own is the impression created for your company by the site in the minds of the site’s users. They, not you, control the degree of benefit or liability the site generates for your company and your brand. Fail to do right by the site’s users and what you’ll end up owning is a useless, budget gobbling liability for your company and your brand.

It’s simply not a good idea to make decisions based on your own preferences when you’re not the ones who will be using the site and when you’re not the ones who will dictate the market success or failure of your business. Your website is supposed to enhance your business, right? That’s why you need to give your website away to the users.

Consensus Nonsesus

Say you like horizontal navigation, drop-down menus, the look of light text on a very dark background, Flash animation on web pages, extensive, multi-paragraph blocks of copy that detail everything about your products or services, and earth tones in the color palette (or even say that you like just the opposite). Now, are any of these elements really appropriate for this site? How do you know? Are any of these elements consistent with the public’s perception of your brand? How do you know? Are any of these elements consistent with how you want the public to perceive your brand? How do you know?

So now ask yourself:

Is our consensus on what the site should look like, how the site should function, how the navigation should work and what technologies should be employed a reflection of our own preferences or the explicit preferences and needs of our site’s users (and/or potential users)?

One answer to this question will stand you and your company in good stead. The other answer will doom your project, your company and your brand to a failure of one degree or another.

Relevancies and Irrelevancies

Face it; your own individual preferences are largely irrelevant to a successful web project. Yes, you need to communicate your needs and preferences to the design and development team for your project, but you need to then let go of those preferences and place no arbitrary, predetermined value on them. You need to be able to let the needs of your site’s users take precedence over your own. You also need to trust in the experience of the design team to appropriately articulate your brand through the website.

But, surprise, the designer and developer’s individual preferences are also largely irrelevant. But if they're good, they already know this. What these folks are good at is translating your needs and your site visitors’ needs into design, layout and function that will best represent your company and your brand to the really important people: your customers.

Give your website away

So rather than approaching a web project from the standpoint of your own preferences, because you think you own the site, instead take the approach that the users own the site. Go to work for them. Work to make them happy. Work to make things easy, intuitive and memorable for them. Work to reinforce or enhance their level of confidence in your brand and your company.

Transfer ownership of your website to your site’s visitors and the consensus for what is right and wrong becomes clear and relevant. This sort of dispassionate approach helps to ensure that all of the project’s governing factors are relevant and beneficial for you, your company and your brand. Bottom line: give away your website to your customers before you build it or they won't want it after you build it.

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