The Site Owner's Attitude

Just how friendly and easy to use a web site is likely to be will depend to a large extent on the attitude of the site owner.The more the owner tries to dictate how the site should look and function, the less user friendly the site is likely to be.

I have seen a large number of forum posts where newbie web designers have clients who want all sorts of specific things for their web site that are going to be both difficult to actually supply in the first place and which are likely to make the site unusable for at least part of the potential audience if they do succeed in implementing it.

You can tell that these are newbie designers because they are asking how to do something that they really shouldn't be trying to do in the first place. If they were experienced designers they would understand the reasons why such things are not a good idea and would be educating their client in what they should and shouldn't be doing on the web since often what the client asks for will be directly opposed to the overall goal that the client is trying to achieve from the web site.

These newbie designers probably shouldn't be working for themselves as designers in the first place since they obviously don't know enough about web design to know that it is as much a web designers job to educate their client as to what is and isn't appropriate on the web as it is to create their design for them.

The most obvious first step in gathering information from the web site owner about their proposed web site is to ask them about the purpose of their having the site. Once you know what the site is supposed to be there for you can use that information in guiding the client as to how best to design a site that will achieve that purpose. Where the client asks for something that will make the site harder to use and which will work against that purpose the designer can advise the client as to why that particular idea of theirs is not going to be appropriate. You can explain to them how because of the way that the web actually works that while their idea may be appropriate to other media that doing that on the web will make their site harder for people to use and will actually work against their purpose instead of complementing it.

It then comes down to the web site owner's attitude. Do they want a web site built to achieve their purpose and are employing a web designer so as to use that designers knowledge to ensure that their design does meet that purpose or are they more concerned with getting their site to look a particular way even though it will make the site completely unusable and simply want to employ someone to convert their unworkable design into something masquerading as a web page? The vast majority of site owners should be in the first of these two groups where they are relying on the expertise of the designer to ensure that the design achieves the purpose even if it turns out that the site doesn't end up quite the way that the owner originally hoped for. Those in this first group are by far the easier to work with. With those in the second group the best that you can hope for is that you will identify the situation as early during the analysis stage of the project as possible. Where a client is going to insist that you create a site that will actually work against their stated purpose just in order to get it to look a particular way then you are probably going to be better off to walk away from the project as early as possible since if you do give the client what they ask for then they will be complaining afterwards because it doesn't achieve their purpose and if you don't give them what they ask for then they are going to complain sooner and probably refuse to pay and so the sooner you walk away the less you will lose from that project.

Of course it isn't only the owner that can be the difficulty in getting an appropriate web site designed. There is also the issue of the owner giving the job to a designer who has sufficient experience to do the job properly. There are a very large number of people who work as web designers who do not know how to do the job properly.One indication of this are all the questions I mentioned earlier where so called designers are asking how to implement things in their design that either can't be done or where the only way to do them will make the page unusable for some groups. Another good indicator of all the people creating web sites who know nothing about web design are all of the sites out there where the HTML used is inappropriate for the content and may not even validate. Another type of request that I see reasonably frequently is where a web site owner wants a small change made to their site which with a properly designed web site would involve minor changes to the CSS in order to apply their change to the entire site but where because of the way the site has been built their minor change will require that the site be almost completely rebuilt in order to implement the change.

So this introduces another area where the owner's attitude will make a difference. They don't know web design and are looking to employ someone who does know it in order to have a design for their site produced for them. One difficulty that they have is in determining whether the "web designer" they are considering is someone who knows web design and can do a proper job for them or is just someone claiming to know web design who will just throw something together for them. There are clues to the level of web design knowledge that a person has that the owner could use to help them to pick an experienced designer but they need to be aware of just what these clues are if they are to actually make use of them. Firstly, does the designer have a contract that they want you to sign? Any experienced designer will have a contract that sets out both what they are going to do for you and also what information you need to supply to them in order for them to do their job. What questions that they ask before they even quote on doing the job is also a good indication. A newbie designer is unlikely to either have a contract or ask you about the purpose of your site.

Another clue to whtether they are experienced or not comes after you have signed the contract during the analysis stage. If the designer is doing their job properly then they will not be agreeing with the owner on all aspects of the design. They will be providing the owner with feedback on what aspects of the owner's ideas are actually likely to work contrary to the purpose for which the site is being created. They will be able to give reasons for why their proposed design is laid out in a particular way.You should be able to work with them so as to get an end result that includes ideas that originated not only from you but also from the designer. A newbie is more likely to just collect information on what you want and then figure out how to produce that for you whether it is actually going to work properly or not and you will only find out how poor the site is after you have paid them.

Designing a web site involves two people - the owner and the designer - and both need to have adequate say in what is going on in order to achieve the best end result - a web site that achieves its intended purpose.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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