Design vs the clueless CEO

Mikey no comments
Design vs the clueless CEO

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about the compromise between web site design and the client's personal taste. The reason behind this thought process is recently I have come head to head with a client regarding the web site concept I have designed for them. The design itself is most suitable for their business, I have utilised a good navigation system and the general theme and colours are appropriate. Anyone would be happy with this web site. Well, almost anyone.

The client thinks that there should be more colour, and there are other aspects of it he doesn't like. This begs the question: Should a designer be compelled to build a completely new design concept or make several changes to the existing one simply because it does not appeal to the client's personal taste? My instincts scream 'no way in hell' but my business conscious says 'just do what they want and get on with the job'.

The way I see it is I have based this design (and all designs I do) on the many years of experience I have acquired doing this for a living. Clients often think that building a web site is about designing something that looks great and impresses them. What they do not realise, is a good designer will design the site primarily to impress a large audience and try to make the site look attractive along the way. The designer's personal taste rarely plays a role, which is why no designer can safely say they are 100% happy with every web site they have ever built.

Want an example? The face of Yahoo boasts some of the most ordinary, lamest designs in recent memory. It is essentially the most basic you can make a web site. No designer is his/her right mind would be satisfied with it's look and feel personally, but they realise that the site is intended for a particular purpose - not to 'wow' the company CEO's.

So when a client says 'I think we should have lots of bright primary colours' on their web site, they are essentially saying 'Let's forget the fact that you have a long history of building web sites for countless satisfied clients, and forget the fact the advise you have given me is also based on years of said experience. My favourite colour happens to be Red so please fill the site with lots of red'.

If I was to go ahead and fill the site with lots of red tones, I will not be giving them the best site I can and that has the potential to affect their business in several ways. This has made me seriously think about getting the client to sign a disclaimer stating that if the client wishes to intervene into the design process, then I will not be held accountable for any negative feedback or loss of revenue caused by having a sub-standard online appearance or unsuitable navigation system, or worse. My experience has taught me that anyone who finds sending an email challenging should not be telling a web designer how to build a web site. Some client's perception of what is actually good on the web is usually as outdated as the marketing strategies they still employ from books they purchased in 1990.

The bottom line is if you own an engineering company and you want your web site look like a used car sales yard with brightly coloured balloons and tacky banners, then you really need to sit down and think really hard about yourself. If you are in the children's entertainment business then avoid using corporate colours or shades of grey on your web site, even if that means it doesn't match the colour you just had your Porsche painted.

I strongly believe the client's personal tastes have absolutely nothing to do with the way a web site should be designed. Far too often I have seen companies surround themselves with professionals with the explicit intention of doing certain tasks, only to completely ignore their advice. If you are going to hire a professional design company to build you a web site and then ultimately ignore their advice, then what exactly is the point? You don't want a designer, you just want a Photoshop monkey to click and draw what you tell them. This very mentality is the reason why there are so many lame looking web sites that appear to have been whipped up by the Boss's 12 year old son, and I can tell you for certain that a lot of them are. Anyone with the slightest bit of common sense should understand that this is not the best way to conduct business. And while I am on this subject, let me tell you that making your logo fill as much of the screen as possible is not going to bring more people to your web site, and is not going to help them remember it any better. I strongly urge you to throw away those 15 year old marketing books now!

I clearly remember one particular instance about 3 years ago when I attended several meetings, designed and coded for several weeks based on a spec which the client and I worked out together. Everyone was happy and the site went live. No more than 2 weeks later the site had been replaced by the lamest, slowest, ugliest web site I had ever seen. It was so bad that I would have considered sending the URL to 'world's worst web', but there was always the chance that my site may have been put back in its place and my face would be red.

Although I had already been paid for the job, I was curious to know what had happened to our weeks of collective planning and research, not to mention my hard work. I called my contact and he informed me that the Boss's son had just started high school and was doing a basic web course, and liked playing around in Macromedia Flash. A man who was easily impressed by Power Point slideshows thought it would be cool if his son could do something similar for their web site. I kid you not when I tell you I felt nauseous when I saw what was in place of my original site. My site has since been put pack up (more than a year later), no doubt after some embarrassing exposure and feedback from their clients.

Thankfully I have been fortunate to have a large majority of clients who do listen to (and have understood) what I have to say, not because I like hearing the sound of my own voice, but because there is an actual purpose for the advice I give.

Ultimately, although against all my instincts I am going to concede to this particular client's wishes, for no other reason than fighting him from every angle will drag the project out longer than I would like. In a business world often driven by ego, common sense is a rare commodity.

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