Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good Design Influences People

Never design by committee.

Most of you know what I mean. The CEO or manager wants a website design. So she calls several people together from every department. The belief is that they all have a stake in the website and should have a say over what goes into it.

After the first day it becomes clear that everyone has a vested interest in the design and content of the site. The technical folks want it known that their part is very important, and they imagine visitors wanting to know the latest technical achievements of their department. Then the folks from advertising want to make sure the site sells the products the company produces. Then the people from the finance department is concerned about the availability of their financial forms and data over the web. And on it goes — even to the folks in the mail room.

By the end of their time together, it is agreed that they all need top priority on the homepage. After this conclusion they may find a web designer or developer to put together the site of their dreams. (Of course, they are looking for a cheap solution.) Then this designer begins building what they want. Typically this means lots of links on the homepage (because you don't want people to have to click too much), lots of pop-up menus, and very little graphics to get in the way of the text-heavy content.

The site is up and running, and everyone is happy — except the CEO. She realizes that she hates the design. But she still doesn't realize her customers hate it too. The problem shows up much later, because visits and sales from the website decrease sharply over time.

What's the problem? They worked very hard to produce a site that made themselves happy. Yet, no one is compelled by it — internally, or externally. It is an exercise in people-pleasing. Therefore the result is uninspiring.

Design that is good design always has the end in mind. Who is the customer, and why should they care? Without the answers to these questions, it becomes an exercise in making an organization happy that it has a website, rather than raising the value of an organization through a business asset.

This is the 9th out of 11 articles discussing, in detail, each point in my philosophy of design. My philosophy is discussed in my previous post.

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