Recently I read a thought provoking post from Seth Godin titled “How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers“; it didn’t sit comfortably with me so after letting it stew for a while I decided to make a rebuttal.
The aim of Seth’s article was to help business marketers communicate their website vision better so that the whole process went smoother and, ultimately, the website appeared quicker. Fair enough. However, there were some flaws in his advice.
Be careful what you wish for…
The gist of Seth’s advice was this:
Let’s make the process take less time and be less hassle. Browse other websites and find the tech elements you want for your website (a shopping cart like this, a homepage like that), mockup the website in Keynote or Powerpoint and use that as your specification.
However, I have some issues here.
In my experience of designing websites, you have to be mindful of reaching for the tech too early. It’s all too tempting to be lured in and to spend time “researching” what the competition are doing, and mistaking that for a strategy for deciding what your website needs (“ooh! look, their pages fip like a book..WE NEED THAT!“). What is right for one company and one website is not right for another. And who’s to say that the websites you are looking at are any good?! You could be copying poor websites & poor techniques; this is hardly laying the foundations for online success.
Where you should start
Competition research is fine and has its place but, in my experience, it is more important that the client brings the following to the table:
- A clear idea of who they are & what their brand is
- Who their audience is and what motivates them to buy
- What products/services are they offering to their audience
- The buying process of that audience
This is stuff which marketers should know really well (but don’t always).
And this is a gold mine of information which savvy website design companies will use as a starting point so that collaboratively we can create a highly polished piece of online marketing collateral.
If you have established the above information then, by all means, go further and map out how you think this experience should manifest itself online (e.g. a sitemap or mocking something up in Powerpoint). BUT treat this as a straw man only.
And use your straw man to communicate your vision to your web design team but the conversation should not be “this is how it should look” or too prescriptive full stop. A good web design team will work with you on what you are trying to achieve and, armed with that, they can advise you on how that may be best achieved online. Brow beat your web design team at your peril.
Seth says “Virtually all websites are not on the cutting edge of technology.” true, but that’s like saying “Virtually all recipes can be made using ingredients you can buy down a local supermarket“; the skill is in understanding what ingredients to bring to bear for the end result; the magic is not so much in the ingredients; it is in the knowledge of how to bring it all together using a creative process.
I don’t want to start every paragraph with “Seth says” but…
Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it’s finished
This is dangerous, dangerous advice.
Online success is rarely achieved by business stake holders and design creatives working in isolation; it is more likely that it is achieved by working collaboratively to bring your vision online. The process is iterative. And it needs input & ideas from various business stake holders along the way. Web design companies do not possess a crystal ball and if you want to avoid that awful moment when the curtain gets pulled back on the project and you start finding fault then I would advise you to be part of the process (yes, design has a regimented process) from day one. Design process is what achieves results; the design is just an output.
What you should concentrate on?
A word not mentioned once in the post is something which I would consider critical: content.
Without good content a website is dead in the water. And by cherry picking the process and trying to decide on (for example) what navigation system you think you need on your website, we run the risk of not concentrating on what we DO need to focus on. And that is the actual content of the website.
- What content does the website need?
- What form will that content take? (text, video, audio, infographic etc)
- What content do we have already? (and what shape is it in?)
- What new content do we need? Who will create it?
- How will our content work on mobile?
- How will we measure the effectiveness of our content?
Indeed, some website companies will push clients to create the content first before any further web design is done; concentrating the mind of the client on creating top quality content to engage their audience. Once we understand the message we can see how it needs to be applied to the medium.
Seth suggests that in following his advice you will achieve results with “less time and less hassle“. However, be careful on the corners you cut, quality results require time & effort.
Perhaps I misunderstood the advice offered in his article but, if I did, my concern is that other people will have misunderstood as well.
p.s. one good bit advice from the post was “Don’t do any coding.”, however, to me this is self evident. It’s like saying “Unless you are a qualified dentist, don’t perform your own root canal work“.
p.p.s part of me suspects that Seth knew his article would raise eye brows in certain quarters; perhaps he is not adverse to link bait