Several times a week, I walk past a commercial office furniture warehouse. There is signage–a series of photos and text–running the length of one side of the building. If you get close to the building, you notice that several panels of the signs look noticeably ‘jaggy’ or low resolution. Other panels look normal. Here’s an example (and here’s another):
Somebody–the sign designer, and maybe the printer–failed at their job. They delivered an obviously substandard result. The owner of the furniture business probably:
- Hasn’t noticed
- Has noticed and doesn’t care
- Doesn’t understand that a better result is possible.
Understanding the How and Why
The third scenario is the one we encounter all the time when we teach web marketing workshops. The attendees are almost always non-technical marketing executives and small business owners. At some point during nearly every session, we hear this complaint from at least one of our students:
I asked my web designer to make a change to our site, and they said ‘no’. They explained why they couldn’t make the change, but I didn’t understand their explanation.
Sometimes the designer’s decision is the right one. But all too often, their answer doesn’t make a lot of sense. A few actual examples:
- “You can’t install WordPress on a Windows server. Launching a blog on a third-party site like WordPress.com is just as good.”
- “It’s impossible to add Google Analytics tracking code to your site.”
- “Drupal is the right solution for your small, simple site.”
I feel for our students. They lack the web designer’s vocabulary to fully understand the conversation. More importantly, they don’t have the technical acumen or experience to properly assess and question their designer’s decision.
In response, I’ll often try to simplify their explanation and provide the student with supporting evidence to counter the designer’s argument. Here, for example, is how you install WordPress on a Windows server. Or here are some reasons for running your blog locally instead of on a hosted service. Occasionally we’ll actually act as a student’s (or more often, a client’s) proxy and negotiate with the web designer directly.
Creatures of Habit
Why don’t these designers give their clients better advice? I’m not sure. Maybe they have out-of-date information. Maybe they don’t know how to deliver what the client asks for. Maybe they’re just lazy. Most often, though, they’re creatures of habit.
Much like web marketers, most web designers are self-taught. And, like any profession, only a smallish subset of them are eager to learn new technologies or keep abreast of industry trends. Just like humanity as a whole, they’re most comfortable with The Way I’ve Always Done It. This phenomenon is exacerbated, I think, by so many web designers being self-employed owner-operators. They’re not surrounded daily by fellow workers who might be sources of industry knowledge or alternative approaches. It also doesn’t help that the world of web design changes rapidly.
I find that a lot of designers’ reluctance comes where their skills brush up against related professions: search engine optimization, copy-writing, eCommerce and so forth. Often the client’s request isn’t directly related to the aesthetics or functionality of their website, but rather one of these other topics.
Web designers don’t have to be experts in these subjects, but they’re often the only web ‘expert’ a small business owner or marketing manager comes in contact with. It behooves them to understand some common best practices, so that they can make good decisions on their client’s behalf.
In writing this post, I’d hoped to write up a bunch of tips to help non-technical people with Negative Nelly designers. Unfortunately, “get yourself a better web designer” is the best advice I could come up with. What suggestions do you have?
Footnote: I should emphasize that this is not some passive-aggressive attack on any of the half-dozen web designers with which we regularly work. They’re all awesome.