“You don’t know what you don’t know” – a sentence true in every situation. That’s why the majority of websites are messed up before someone even starts designing them. The main issue is that the client doesn’t know how to convey what he really wants to the designer, and the designer doesn’t know what the client wants because it wasn’t described clearly enough.
But everything could have been started so nicely and clearly with just one question. The question that would have saved both the designer and the client many problems and made the job a lot easier…
“What is the goal of this website?”
I bet there’s a contemptuous smile on some of your faces right now … “The goal? Meh… I know what I have to do. My client wants: a blogging platform, a newsletter, an administration panel for the newsletter, and a nice flashy header … there’s no place for messing around, Karol” – if your thoughts are somewhat similar to that one then think again.
If no goals are defined then there’s no point of starting work because it’s doomed to failure from the get go.
Let me explain it with an example, and it’s going to be an extreme one so bear with me…
“Do I need this Porsche?”
Let’s say that you’re thinking about buying a car. Your friend who drives a Porsche 911 says that it’s the best car ever and that he will never need a different car, so you automatically want one too (assuming you can afford it).
You visit the nearest dealer, talk to the salesman, choose the color, select the options, get the insurance, and after three long months your new ride is waiting for you to pick her up.
Suddenly you realize the fact that you’ve actually needed the car for work and your job is wholesale trading of raw meat. You know, the kind of stuff you can’t carry around in a Porsche 911. It’d be difficult to send it to west Germany with 500 kilograms of meat on board, wouldn’t it?
While deciding what car to buy you forgot that your friend is not in the same business as you are. He’s a real estate agent and he always lets his prospective clients drive his car for a while in order to create a more personal relationship which can be helpful when he tries to seal the final deal with them.
…Well I know, the story is a little extreme and it is not likely to happen in the real life. For some reason we have just enough common sense to ask ourselves the question of what do I need a car for, and depending on the answer make the right choice.
Unfortunately, clients (both good clients and bad clients) who want some web design work done for them often are not able of asking themselves that question, which can lead to some dire consequences.
Websites that were supposed to sell some specific products are only doing some branding. The ones that were supposed to present the news and arouse interest in the market are just forcing the visitors to create their profiles and engage in a social network of some sort they don’t care about. Other ones that were supposed to show the wholesale offer of the company are only providing a simple shopping basket and so on.
Just because a client asks for something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
And the worst thing is that:
You can’t resell a website…
You can always resell a new Porsche. Well you will lose about 1/3 of the original price but it’s always a solution.
You can’t do the same with a website. If someone had a custom website made for them and it flopped then they wouldn’t have a way of getting their money back.
That’s because it’s impossible to realize that it flopped sooner than, let’s say, one year after it went live. So it’s too late to call the designer (a.k.a. you) and ask for their money back.
Define the goal first
Once you define the goal you make your life much easier and less stressful during the whole period of work. And the best advantage of starting with clearly defined goal is that you can answer practically any question or deal with any problem you encounter during the work. The only thing you have to do is to try to look at it this way: “How to solve this problem in a way that the solution is consistent with the goals?.”
After the work is done (or after several months from the date the website went live) you can use such an approach to answer the ultimate question: “were the goals achieved?”
The worst case scenario is always the situation when you’re wandering in the dark having no clue what you’re really aiming for. Both in life and in work you have to have your goals. Period.
What’s the next question?
“What’s the vision for achieving the goals?” … but let’s leave it for the next time.
Were there any projects you know of, that ended with a failure because no one had defined the goals? (And the field doesn’t matter… It can be designing websites, creating marketing campaigns, building a doghouse, frying a carp. Feel free to run wild on that one.) Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.