Getting Real With Design


Dead Trees

You ever read a blog post from someone on the top of their game, especially in the design arena and think, yeah that’s great, but I work in the real world, clients will laugh at that idea.

Take for example the presentation  Jason Santa Maria gave  at the recent An Event Apart San Francisco (see Jeremy Keith’s post, which is what I’m going off third hand). Jason suggests that we start making web sites tell a story.

I can see where he is coming from.  It’s a good idea, design wise, get the web site to progress and tell the story, via the design aspect alone focusing on the core deliverable.

If you are selling cars you link the experience of selecting the car with a series of visuals on the discovery and exploring of the car features, leading finally to contentment and satisfaction.   Or if you are fostering community involvement and acceptance, you could project a tale of community inquiry, knowledge exchange and then acceptance.  Like a series of micro designed flip books working off the emotive state of the visuals.

Okay now that is great in theory, but unless you have a high profile client I’m pretty sure it’s just not going to impress them.   Remember all they want is the corporate web site within x days, not some piece of pie in the sky arty design (I’m being a little hard here). The board room is usually very conservative.

Lost Reality

I’m not saying the idea’s bad overall, it’s just that lately time and time again I seem to be running into a-list (hate the term)  people in the web design community that are putting forward ideas that frankly will only work if you have large budget to play with.  It seems they are losing touch with the reality of the industry, of what we in the trenches are dealing with day to day.

Now let’s get a little real,  we all don’t have large design budgets to play with.  We all know that we regularly run into clients that try and take over the design process and will demand, beyond your recommendations,  that flashing banner,  dynamic hover menu or some other horror.

Sure you can put your foot down and remind them why it’s  bad idea. Yes they will disagree with your user research, even the user testing. If they want the menu labels a certain way then frankly the CEO will override all your recommendations. Why, because it’s their site not yours.

If they still disagree they will implement it with or without you, the latter infers you will get no repeat business. Do this too many times and you will be out of business.

Reality Bites

At the end of the day the top end of town may be recommending all these cool ideas and the hard core implementation of best practice.

But let’s be a little real, gauge the client,  if they aren’t going to accept it, then the critical thing is to give them  what they want within best practice, and then over time educate them as to the correct ways of web design leveraging accessibility and usability. 

The more clients you educate over time the better it’s for the entire industry. 

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  1. You’re right – being pragmatic is key to the slow process of educating our clients about designing user experiences that works best for them and their customers. This is still important even with clients with big budgets (and key when dealing with Government!).
    I actually had a draft blog post about being pragmatic that’s been sitting in draft for the past year (how embarrassing). Need to publish that soon.

  2. I think there’s a flip-side to this, but—as an ex-gun for hire—I totally appreciate your take on Jason’s talk.

    As you say, working a story into a client project is super difficult for all but those rare few clients with the time ($) and vision.

    However, spare a thought for those who work full-time for a company on that company’s website/s … it’s a different ball-game and I think some of Jason’s ideas are a decent fit for in-house designers who work on good websites and want to make them great.

  3. FWIW, I would never suggest the idea unless it’s warranted for a design or a client.

    My talk is not just about storytelling, but the means we use to tell stories, what stories are good for and not good for, as well as differences in the ways we connect to our users through print and web design.

    It’s fine if you want to talk a bit about the place of storytelling or upselling clients, but please don’t lump me in with people who are recommending style or technique over substance 🙂

  4. @Adam: I can see your point, in house designers would have more time to bring the greater design ideas into play as appropriate.

    @Ruth: yeah softly softly is always good.

    @Jason: like I said, I liked the idea. Okay to be fair, as I said I was not present at the talk and was going off third hand comments. In a way your talks commentary by Jeremy Keith was the catalyst over my concern of style over substance, yes that is true.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re not into promoting style over substance, that puts you as one of a rare few of late. Many seem to loosing sight of the real world of the web designer, where upselling is a hard and painful slog.

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