What’s Happened to Web Design?

Imagine what it would be like to live with an elephant in your room right now!

Even a friendly elephant would be an immense problem. It would do a lot of damage every time it moved; it would eat you out of house and home and shit on the furniture.

This would be something “up with which you would not put”. It would be intolerable.

The friend who pointed out that in the right environment elephants can be really helpful would be given short shrift.

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“The elephant is not in the right environment, it is in this room and if I could get it out through the door, out it would go.”

It may be true that elephants are wonderful animals but not here in this room!

Cartoon elephant trashes room

For many organisations, their website is the elephant in the room. It is a costly embarrassment; a topic everyone avoids because they fear it will take a massive amount of time and money to get it working properly. (And anyway no-one quite knows the best way to do it.)

  • Often the person who developed it is long gone.
  • They did it on the cheap with little understanding of what it was for or how it might support their organisation. Indeed no-one has ever asked: “what is our website for?”
  • Often this person has scarpered with the passwords (to be fair if you’re moving home, someone else’s passwords are the last thing on your mind) and no-one can find out where they are.
  • Even if you can find them, it was not always an amicable parting and so it can be difficult to re-establish contact.
  • Sometimes the "owner of the keys" is a web design company, adept at designing stunning sites but not interested in what you want to do with it; tying up your sites with all sorts of safeguards to stop amateurs wrecking it and prohibitively expensive if you want them to do anything with it.
  • Many such companies host their sites, own the domain name and use some obscure CMS that does everything WordPress can do but only they know how to get access to the plug-ins, at a price.
  • I don’t know which is worse: either you’ve worked out they’re charlatans and are reluctant to pay them another penny or else you have a trusting relationship but somehow the site never seems to reach its potential because they are interested solely in the technical side of the site and if you want to do anything new find all sorts of obstacles.

If your website is an utter pain then it is a liability.  Too often we allow the wrong people to control our sites.  You would never allow a cat to look after your fishpond so why allow a technician to look after your business or cause?  It is your responsibility and you need to take it on.

If the website that should be supporting your work is getting in the way of it, why do you invest time and money into what is actually a liability?

A few years ago most people would go to a web designer. The designer would take down some details and then design a nice site. Often they would, for a small retainer, stay around and help you update the site now and again.  Few of them know anything about organisations or marketing and so could not help when the site proved to be useless.  If you asked why no-one was visiting or clicking on the links, they would say there was nothing wrong with the site, it is in perfect working order.  And they were right!

Everything has changed:

  • Websites need to be constantly updated if visitors are to return to them.
  • They’re interactive
  • They need traffic (visitors to the site) and conversions (where visitors who are interested respond to the site as you want them to)
  • It is much easier and cheaper to do it yourself. You might hire a designer if a really first-rate design is essential but for most purposes you don’t need to.
  • Most people are not aware of the things they can do themselves that were not possible just a few years ago.

Not everyone will want to do it themselves of course, so let’s be systematic …

First, remember it is not necessarily all about websites. There's a lot you can do online without a website. Social media and communications applications, eg Skype, do not need a website. You can make videos and display them on YouTube without your own site. There are plenty of applications you can use, which can help you collaborate with others and carry out many tasks in the cloud.

Now, I’m not saying you don’t need a website. So, why might you need one? It can be used as the hub for your online and offline operations. If you want to sell something or you have a cause, it is the place where you can do that in your own way. Set up properly, your site is your space and not subject to decisions made by the owners of online applications. There are plenty of stories of people who have lost their business overnight because of a decision made by Google or Facebook owners. There are big advantages to using these applications but you use them to drive traffic to your site. If something changes, you can respond and work out a new way of driving traffic whilst your site and contacts remain secure.

Second, you can do a lot more than you think! Things you would have paid someone else to do are now possible to do yourself, at little or no cost. Of course, it depends on what you want. Your first attempts at anything are likely to be OK but not brilliant and you may never produce something that rivals the very best practitioners’ work. But if quality is what you need, you can still pay for it.

Videos for example can be effective even though of low quality compared with something produced by an experienced video producer. You are likely to have the means to do it in your pocket. So long as you have good sound quality, and your lighting is OK, you can produce a reasonable video. You pay someone else if quality is important or if you don’t have the time to do it yourself.

But remember, no-one knows everything. You will never find a single person who has detailed knowledge of everything you need to do. A brilliant website designer may have little knowledge of videos and will certainly not understand your business as well as you do. So, you really have three options to choose from:

  1. ​You can hunt around for quick answers to straightforward questions. Search engines might take you there and if not there are plenty of online forums. Also, if you use applications, especially ones you have paid for, there may be good support services.
  2. ​Which brings me to the second option, which is finding access to a range of experts. You will find there are people who will do simple jobs (simple for them) at a reasonable price and for more complex jobs, there are people who offer expert consultancy services.
  3. And non-directive consultancy is your third option. This will help you dig deep into your business and work out what you need; design,prioritise and schedule your work. Many combine non-directive and expert consultancy but their expertise may not always be what you need.

The big advantage of do it yourself (DIY) is it keeps costs down. You can most likely find all you need to know online and teach yourself how to do it.

But this is not for everyone. You might not have time, you may not be that interested in learning what happens behind the scenes but just want the right site so you can get on with your business.

Other options include Done for You (DFY), which is the most expensive or Done With You (DWY), where you work alongside a consultant and learn the ropes as you develop the site together. A DWY consultant might help you learn how to DIY, so that you can go forward to develop your site on your own. Or else they can work alongside you as you develop your site. The more work they do on the site, the more they are likely to charge. Generally though they offer a reasonable cost compromise and will train you so you need less support in the future.

DWY means you develop the site with support. DFY means an expert develops the site but you need to thoroughly brief them and test the site to make sure it does what you need it to do. So, DFY still requires a good working relationship and you will need ongoing support from your consultant. DFY makes sense for large organisations with little time and large budgets. For this reason I recommend DWY for most local businesses and organisations. DIY will work for many groups and a low-end DWY package can help DIY practitioners plan their work and do a better job.

Whichever option you choose, you should be in control. You must be able to change experts at any time, effecting a smooth transition with minimum fuss. Of course you can pay a retainer to someone to look after your site security and troubleshoot problems but they should not restrict who else you bring in to help with specialist tasks.

With DWY you control the amount of help you receive. Some people need their feet setting on the right path and perhaps occasional support. Others will need a closer working relationship, especially if they are starting out.

My Consultancy Offer ...

... covers all aspects of marketing your cause or business. Sometimes your website doesn’t work for you because you have organisational problems or we’ll find you don’t really need a website. I am an experienced development worker and can help you organise, finding traction between online and real life.

I offer four types of consultancy:

  1. ​A free consultancy session. In 30 – 60 minutes we’ll work out the outcomes you are seeking (something of value for your to take away) and then I’ll explain what I can offer you. If I can’t help you we will discuss other options and I may be able to suggest someone who can.
  2. Local Economy and Online Partnership Transformation is a package for those who need help setting their feet on the road to effective DIY solutions.
  3. ​Project Development Success is my DWY package where I walk alongside you as you work out what you need online and in real life and then we implement it together. (If you need a DFY package we can discuss your options during the free consultancy session.)
  4. I offer a low-price monthly retainer which could include ongoing consultancy and/or technical support for your website once you have completed one of my packages.

If you think this is worth exploring further, please visit my page about my free consultancy offer. That way we can meet and discuss what you need, whether I can help you and other options open to you. My policy is to take on only those people, businesses or organisations I believe I can really help.