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Order, Order!

The Web is open and free from regulation. This universal freedom has, in an incredibly short space of time, allowed it to become the biggest and the fastest-moving machine ever built by man. There is, however, a problem associated with this.

The pace of web development and the absence of web regulation means that there's nothing to stop a business ordering a website and specifying anything its heart desires. The absence of a web regulatory body means that the person who says no to you won't be a faceless bureaucrat but the very web designer or developer you have personally chosen and this routinely presents a commercial risk of the web professional being perceived as unhelpful, stubborn, awkward or obstinate.

Computer says no

The web design and development community spends an incredible amount of its time dedicated to solving problems; from making websites work effectively on the widest combinations of browsers and platforms through to optimising the performance of individual web pages to maximise sales. When facing a problem we have to design/code our way around it because offering the computer says no excuse is simply unacceptable.

Sub@omic now has more than a couple of architect's websites in its portfolio and the more I learn about the business of architecture the more similarities I find with web development with just the one real exception - that of regulation. An architect's design decisions are informed and supported by building and fire regulations; the regulations don't exist to impede creativity, they exist to save architects' clients from committing bad design decisions: No. You can't put a table in-front of a fire exit - the law says so.

Choosing a design professional

When it comes to website design and development, with its absence of regulation, it appears there is nothing more than a web professional standing between a website specifier and a bad business decision. Pushed hard enough the web professional can often find themselves doing things they've advised against simply because it's what the customer orders and all they'll accept.

If, like me, you subscribe to the school of thought that the customer is always right then you'll find this scenario all too familiar. There are no rules of the Web, just a requirement for order. Building your presence online depends upon the experience and opinion of the web professional you chose to help and support you. If you chose this professional upon any basis other than price then it's time to listen when they say no because there should be a reasoned argument behind it.

It may not feel it but the Web is still incredibly new and the number of people who understand how it works is still relatively small. Smaller still, alas, is the number of people who commission websites and are prepared to accept guidance from their chosen web professional. As a profession I think we need the courage to just say no a little more than we might do right now.

Each and every business proposition differs, websites are not mass manufactured they're individually designed. Like it or not, the function of the web professional is to make your business proposition fit the Web and not the other way around. If you find your website professional saying no to a request then there will be a reason for it and it's incumbent upon both parties to establish and understand why something can't or won't be done, in a timely fashion, before taking umbrage.

Whiting's waffle

I have a hard-earned reputation for writing long emails; this is a consequence of feeling the need to explain clearly, and in plain English, to those who order/specify a website why certain things with websites are the way they are. In the formative years of my career I found myself in a job that pushed me into the witness box to offer expert evidence in litigation cases. Once you've been exposed to business going wrong you'll do everything in your power to ensure you'll never experience it again. The absence of web regulation does not mean anything goes, it means there's a need for reasoned order; trust your chosen web professional to build your website and reach your business objectives within regulation.

The practices and standards (the regulations) our business develops and works to are our own way of keeping you safe. As this business plucks-up the courage to say no a little more often, please be mindful that it's not a computer says no but a no, because it's what's right.

I believe that, given the absence of regulation in the web business, writing non-salesy blog articles and long, but helpful, emails puts my customers in command of as many facts as are required. I work to help customers make informed business decisions that'll keep their websites at the top of the search engine rankings and out of the dock.

For once Steve I have to take issue. In my personal experience, the customer is very rarely right, but they normally think they are! Part of my job as a supplier is to persuade, explain and motivate my customer to buy the thing that is best for them, or to put it another way what they "need" rather than what they think they want. The two are often at odds. Part of the skill of "sales" (and I hate to use that word) is the ability to explain to your customer in a tactful way, and in words they can understand and buy into why they should do it your way and not the way they think they want. If you like your job is to change what they want to what they need.
Simply saying no is not the answer, because if they are convinced they are right (and they normally are!), there will always be someone unscrupulous (or stupid enough) who will give them what they want. It is much better to change what they "want" so that what you supply is not only the best solution for them, but also so they think they have purchased what they wanted!
guy avatarguy11th October 2014Whether you're looking for print and copy; worldwide parcel delivery, courier or postal services; mailbox rental or a virtual office package, you can trust the experts at Mail Boxes Etc.
I had a curious (yet all-too-familiar) debate this morning not with my Customer but my client's husband; my client and I met last night to discuss the look and feel of the website - all went swingingly. This morning, said client's husband phoned to say that his wife wanted a different style approach to what was agreed the night before - this is more than OK as everybody has the right to sleep on it and change their mind. Yet the story the husband told seemed to imply that these design reservations were harboured before yesterday's meeting.

Our discussion then begun to explore what our Customer does actually want and it transpired that what they wanted was nothing like we'd agreed upon for these past 3 months. Then I began to hear the 'yeah buts': yeah, I know what you're saying's right but I just want..., yeah, but why can't I just have...?

Sub@omic was hired for this project on the basis of my experience, design freedom and my firm belief in doing the right thing. In this particular instance, the right thing is designing a website that our client's Customers will identify with, warm to, enjoy using and love to come back to.

There's a very strong argument for giving the Customer what they really need and that this isn't always what they think they want. Sometimes it's the duty of the professional to save the Customer from themselves - even if this means awkward design discussions.
Steve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd avatarSteve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd2nd May 2015Author of 'The Art of Search' - the SEO strategy book 2,500 years in the making.
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Sub@omic is an independent web consultancy developing cognitive designer websites, based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK