The reason site design turns bad.

Website design has been around long enough by now that you would think there wouldn’t be so many terrible websites out there. Today I thought I’d discuss my opinions on why so many of these still exist and continue to exist. I’ll be honest with you as well, I’ve even created several of these monsters. Not necessarily willingly but sometimes what the customer wants isn’t what the customer needs and the result turns out to be catastrophic.

Bad Website Reason #1 – The do-it-yourself’er

There are do-it-yourselfers in every line of work and by far the web design industry is no stranger. The typical do-it-yourselfer will try to save money by either having the website done by someone who is not qualified or even trying to design the site themselves.

In most cases these turn out horrific. The thing that amazes me though is that we continue to see these. I’ve sat in roundtable discussions where the person actually gets argumentative with the professionals about why they actually think their website is good. The developers on panel give clear, concise reasoning for what they would do to improve upon the terrible design. In cases where I’ve been on these panels, I’ve tried to be constructive without being hurtful which at times is hard. In most cases the person fires back with “Well this is good because …”, and doesn’t really want to hear your constructive criticism at all. I think this is human nature. No one likes being told something they did is bad, but it amazes me how many people don’t recognize it themselves. I have done things before and looked at them at the end and said “Wow that wasn’t really my best work”, but even more so, I know when I did a terrible job on something, and I’m okay with these situations especially if it isn’t something that I do a lot, or if it is something that is outside of my field of work.

The only advise I can give to these people who will probably never read this blog post is: it is okay that you are not a good programmer/developer. It is the same as me being okay that I’m not the best at whatever it is that you do in your profession.

Bad Website Reason #2 – The Template-mongers

Templates are great, I design them often for clients. What isn’t so great is trying to insert the proverbial round peg into the square hole. Sometimes what it is you are trying to do with the design, was never intended for the design. A great example would be pre-made website templates. These by sheer nature of the animal, were probably not designed with your website in mind. These cookie cutter solutions have the ability to save you lots of time and money, but at the cost of lots of customization. If you think about it, templates have to be designed in a way that they work for everyone; unfortunately, this makes them not work for everyone. They don’t typically work for the person who wants “A website different than all the rests”. Knowing your target audience is key. Remember this quote found in the book “The 4-Hour Chef”: “What we really need to do, to design, is look at the extremes. The weakest, or the person with arthritis, or the athlete, or the strongest, the fastest person, because if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.”. Which fires me back into Reason #3 …

Bad Website Reason #3 – I want to have a website like no one else

I’ve been guilty of this myself. Sometimes I want something so unusual and so different than the “Norm” so that I can try to be a trend setter. The result usually turns out to be something terrible. I usually end up spending hours on trying to make something different only to end up going with something the same as everyone else. Here is something important to note about that though: It’s okay to be different, but it is also okay to be the same. I think we get focused so much in being different that sometimes we miss the most important fact; The things you see that work, work because they follow some sort of standard. Web 2.0 might be a loose standard, but still a standard none the less. I remember what a good friend of mine (Joseph Crawford [jbcrawford.net]), once told a client ours:

The client wanted the website to be round in every aspect. He wanted rounded corners, rounded backgrounds, rounded everything. The client wasn’t budging on this and these were the days when you couldn’t do as much in CSS. We had given a few comps of non circular designs, but he wasn’t having it. This is when Joseph said something that I’ve never forgotten: “The reason that won’t work is because you’re monitor isn’t round.” He went on to explain that the reason good box design works is because you’re ultimate container (your screen), isn’t round. If it were, Joseph went on to declare, then round websites would look good. Now there are exceptions where round works, but sometimes being round just to be round isn’t the answer. Its the same with the color red, huge lettering, or just about any other thing people can over do to try to be different. When you do so much you become different alright, but it isn’t necessarily the different that people are looking for. This ultimately throws us right in to our next example of bad website design…

Bad Website Reason #4 – Not accepting the advise of the professional

As design professionals we all understand that you want your website to look the way you want it to look. We also even know that your design somewhere up in your head seems relatively simple for us to design. I can assure you this is not the case. First we aren’t mind readers so we don’t know exactly how to get what you want out. If clients could tell us exactly what they wanted they wouldn’t need us to design the site for them. So there has to be some kind of compromise. In my younger days of web design I would work on a project until the customer was completely satisfied without any sort of contract. Today, I tend to stick with what is promised and while I do intend on giving a great product, the “little things” they want to add are usually squashed before birth, by the billable term “change item”. This just goes to show good documentation is key and having an agreement with your customer is a requirement. If not you’ll end up with a design that resembles the oatmeal carton (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell).

Bad Website Reason #5 – Having a website just because

Perhaps the biggest reason for bad websites is that you didn’t need a website in the first place. I don’t sign on to the philosophy of “every company must have a website, Facebook, twitter, and app”. In fact there are cases when these can actually hurt your business. The example I would give on this is that is when someone signs up for a Facebook account for their business and then never updates it. It almost seems like the business has closed down because there are no activities coming in. If you don’t have enough content on a website, it looks terrible; the same is true for too much content. Knowing what your business does is imperative for people but I usually turn away clients that say “I want a website because so and so said I needed one”, or “Well I’d like to sell to people in other states that might come to my website.” Website design is just one key factor for having a successful e-commerce campaign. It involves advertising, marketing, search engine optimization and a handful of other things to even begin to get started. In general most people don’t understand this but, websites are costly and don’t generally make you rich over night even if done correctly. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve turned away that wanted me to build them the next auction site like E-bay. If someone else has done it you aren’t going to typically make your millions on it by localizing it to a smaller demographic, or changing it just a bit. You also have to remember that sites like E-bay spend millions on website design and invest years and years into it. If you don’t have the money or time to do it better than them, you probably are spinning wheels and wasting money.

People might find it strange that as a designer I turn away clients that are willing to pay me money, but in general, the ones that want to pay money for a repetitious idea, etc. are the ones designers don’t want anyway. They typically won’t ever been happy until they get a site comparable to whatever they are trying to mimic. This just isn’t worth their money, or my time and ultimately leaves to harsh feelings. Now who needs a website designed? 😛