So, what I ususally do in a nut-shell is creating websites. It is not exactly what I do, I try to come up with new ways how to create them, and how to manage them. I love that kind of work, finding ways to make something complex easier. Having my background in usability design, by education and about 15 years of in-the-field experience, I actually have a love-hate relationship with it. Next to that, I am am art-director. And you know what, if you are thinking of getting into one of those professions because you like it so much; DON’T. Go to any designer or art-director and ask about their work, how they deal with their clients. I give you about a 90% chance that they complain;’ they created a perfect design and now they want to make these stupid additions/chances!’.
Design is something personal and someone that designs, usually grows attached to a design. At least, if you deal with a ‘real’ designer. Believe me, if you have a designer that does not care, get rid of him/her. And if you are proud of your own work, every change that is requested is like the love of your life says she/he loves you, but you need to change. It hurts, because what they say is your personal work is ‘not good enough’.
But, that is what you have to deal with in the commercial world. If you can’t stand the heat…
But that is not what this post is about, there is a segway coming up. This is because people or companies who set up a web site, think design, and then the technical platform, are the lionshare of building a website. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is not. Although it has impact, design is actually the least of your worries for a succesful website. True, it has to be done correctly, and reflect your identity or a product’s identity. But to be honest, and this is to whoever wants to hire a designer, stick with your design as soon as you have approved it. Because then you have to focus on more important things. The technical layer of your production should simply work without problems. It should not crash and get people to the correct content easily.
But what I try to tell people that I meet professionally; focus on content. Content is by far the most important part of your site! And I am not talking about a 30%/30%/40% share in design/technical/content, but more like 12%/8%/80%. Of course, once you are building the site, it is all about look and feel and that it actually works, but in the end, just the wow-factor will not get people using your site. It is what it eventually has to offer. I am not telling something new here, you see it everywhere; don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
If you check the most popular sites on the internet, it is not the most gorgeous sites that are in the top. Is the NY-times the most beautiful news-site you have ever seen? Myspace or facebook are not examples of technical merit. Has anyone ever taken a good look at Craigslist? Please… still, these are the succesful websites. Good examples to prove my claim is easy in news and, well, pornography. Why do you actually go to a news site? Is it important that it has a wonderful design? Or that is has the latest news in the way you want it? Pornography, well, of course none of us every surfed to such a site. But come on, are people really going there because they like the way the navigation work or what?
Content is the magic word. I have learned to appreciate that a lot. But content has a serious issue, it can get outdated very quickly, so even though you can get away with keeping the same look and feel of your site for a while, your content should be completely up to date. Compare it to writing your resume, you cannot leave out the last – oh – six months. Nobody will hire you without very thorough questions about those six months, or maybe not even interview you at all. The same goes for a website. And keep in mind, the more content you have, the more there is to manage.
Let me say it for the last time to anyone who is planning a massive content-based website… content-management is the most work-intensive, expensive and time-consuming part of running a site. Especially because it is never finished. And you cannot let it go to waste; it is the killing blow of your site. Imagine, the NY times site not delivering the news for one day. Immediately they would spread the imago of not being a reliable news provider, which could be a neckshot for such a company.
If Roger Ebert – personally my favorite movie-critic – would miss out on the big movie coming out this week, he would feel less professional to me. IMDB missing out on the next Disney film? Think not.
So, if you would ever plan such a site, make sure you don’t forget your content. Also, make sure you have the correct content-writers on board and listen to their expertise of writing text for the right audience. If you get into such a project, take that responsibility if you want to have a succesful product. Yes, it requires a lot of attention, time and money, but once it is succesful, you will get the revenue out of it and it was worth the effort.