Design Versus Development: The Suck Factor.

design vs. development

When I was young, not only did I have to walk 6 miles backwards in the snow to school, but I learned a valuable lesson that things simply look better on TV and that the end product doesn’t always come out the way you envisoned it.

I had asked Santa for the Six Million Dollar Man, Misson Control Center.  It looked so cool on TV.  True to his word, Santa delivered.  But when I opened the box and set everything up, it looked nothing at all like it did on TV.  My dad had to build a contraption with coat hangers just to get the dome to stay upright.  He had to build a custom wireframe to help support it.

Flash forward…2013…things still look better on TV, wireframes are no longer made from coat hangers and there’s still a divide between how things should look vs. how things are developed.  Enter the suck factor.

A client comes to you with some amazing visual concepts, they spent a lot of money on a designer to create something really unique… awesome.  The problem is, the designer didn’t consider the development aspect.  So now the client with their great design becomes confused when you tell them that the design might have to change a little bit to accommodate development.

The designer isn’t going to say anything. They, and rightfully so, want to get paid.  They don’t want to confuse the situation by telling the client about possible issues they may face with developing what they have just designed.

Developers know all too well about these issues, but they’re not the best at communicating with clients.  So, it typically falls on the shoulders of the project manager.

The project manager is now tasked with telling the client that their awesome design just can’t be developed the way they want it.  Enter the suck factor.

But you’ve already taken on the client, the check has been cashed, and you’re doing whatever you can to convince your developer to “try harder”. This typically means you have to pay them more money.  So what started out as a nice profit for you is slowly being sucked away because the client’s designer never took development into consideration.  Or they did, but they just didn’t care because they just cashed their check too.

So for the next project that comes in, make sure you either A) get your team to do both design and development B) if they already have the design, make sure you let the client up front the challenges that may lay ahead.  Because nothing is worse than over selling and under delivering.  I’m looking at you Steve Austin!

article: Design versus development and the challenges faced by project managers.

The Tangled Knots of Good Web Design

design-thinking-a-new-approach-to-fight-complexity-and-failurePhoto credit: String Theory by Michael Krigsman

Alice Rawsthorn is an internationally renowned journalist and currently writes the design column for the International Herald Tribune, the worldwide version of the New York Times. *Her column from January 6, 2013 starts out with the best of intentions: it seeks to answer the question of what constitutes good and bad web design. Rawsthorn expresses her frustration at trying to navigate a bewildering site like that for the Tate Museum in London, and states that a good website should be both efficient and engaging. Stylish software and animated menus look lovely on the designer’s computer, she says, but takes ages to load on an older machine with a slower Internet connection. Rawsthorn’s examples of well-designed websites include the Milwaukee Police Department’s interactive live-sourced site, and a London bistro called Quo Vadis, which is made to look like an old-time newspaper.

While she brings up some excellent points about bloated website design and the need for usability, Rawsthorn’s opinions have drawn criticism from the web design community for over-simplifying the issue. A website’s design has to function as a marketing tool as well as a source of information, drawing customers in and ensuring that they return. But the world of the web is not like conventional architecture or interior design. While the basic framework of a building has remained more or less constant for millennia, the web is constantly evolving to accommodate new technologies, and web design is still a relatively new medium, a form-function mishmash that must play catch-up to a changing wave of customer demands. It’s important to recognize that the issues of good and bad web design are far more complicated than just laying blame on a bad designer; there are many stages where a website can flounder, including a bad wireframe or an outdated content management system. It’s also worth recognizing that web design has had a very chaotic history.

Computer technology has grown more complex with each generation, and has done so at a shatteringly exponential rate. But web design wasn’t nearly as streamlined in its infancy, even compared to the Wild-West days of 1980s hardware options. The World Wide Web, in its modern iteration, burst into homes in the early 1990s, riding a wave of amateur hackers, engineering experiments, and self-made experts. Programming languages were hardly standardized, but that chaos paled in comparison to the larger philosophical problem of what could be done with this brand new Information Superhighway. The web is ubiquitous now, but in the earliest years it was a baffling new toy; it’s not surprising that most people and companies didn’t really know how to wield it. Anyone who lived in the era of Netscape Explorer and free Geocities web pages will remember with a shudder how a standard web page looked; even official pages for movies or universities looked like they had been thrown together in an afternoon. Modern websites look much better, but they still have to accommodate new mobile requirements as well as older browsers like Internet Explorer 6.0. It’s a delicate balancing act, and it becomes even more precarious when you take potential content management systems and server issues into account.

With each new generation of desktop or mobile device, web design must refine itself to fit increasing consumer demands. Does this excuse a bloated site with confusing navigation or impossibly long load times? Of course not. However, the idea of “good” design is more than just what can be seen on the surface. Art museums with confusing navigation and handbag designers with eye-rolling animated menus may have misstepped, but they’re trying to figure out how to stand apart from the crowd in their niche, and they’re working with whatever resources are available. The Milwaukee PD website, which Rawsthorn adores, is technologically impressive but far fussier than it needs to be. In the end, good web design is the culmination of the mistakes of the past, the possibilities of the future, and the best fit to present-day demands.

Web Site Design with Conversion Rates in Mind

First of all, what is conversion?  A website’s conversion rate is the number of visitors versus the number of sales or inquiries the site receives each month.  There are many simple tips and tricks to implement that will help streamline a site and aide clientele in finding the product or service they seek.Here are a few elements to consider when designing a new site:

User Experience
The key to user experience is trying to not only visualize the website through the end user’s eyes, but also interpret what the customer is looking for. Having a good grasp of the industry and making sure the most sought after products and information are easily accessible will be vital.  Using things such as mock-ups and wire-frames in the first stages of the design process can help organize the overall appearance.

Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools will help pinpoint the most visited pages onsite, allowing the most sought after information or product on the website to be prominently showcased.

Heatmap and Eye Tracking Software
Utilizing heat mapping and eye tracking software can help target problem areas.  This software allows an understanding of what users do on the site. It offers a digital visualization of where visitors click and what portions of the site they interact with, information which can then be used to make changes that increase conversion.

The K.I.S.S. Principle
By following the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle your site really will be “made for loving you”.  Bogging the homepage down with too much information, widgets, images, music and animated objects can detract from how users interact with a site and cause confusion about where the pertinent information can be found. Keep it relevant, keep it simple and keep the design clean.

Content is one of the most important factors when building a website.  Font choice and size, terminology, and action words are all very important. When using action words such as “click here” be sure to keep them un-cluttered and clearly visible.

In the world of SEO “content is king” but be sure to use proper formatting when building a website. Small paragraphs with headings and bulleted lists can go a long way in keeping content organized and easy to scan for popular information.

Contact Information
Make it easy for the client to make contact with the company. Most sites have a “Contact Us” page but is this enough? Consider putting important information such as a phone number in either the header or the footer.  Burying contact information can often lead to a frustrated user experience resulting in a loss of sales. Neglecting to include contact information on a website is just as foolish as not including it on a business card.

There are many studies about the psychology of color, and when it comes to brand identity color is crucial. If the company logo or brand has definite colors, by all means use them! If they are bright colors, use them sparingly or as accents.  Using hot pink as a background color on a site might indeed fit with the company branding scheme, but remember not everyone has the same monitor settings. Although it may look like just the right shade of hot pink, a client could find it distracting, blinding or it could make the text difficult to read.  When designing, the use of white generally indicates simplicity and is very eye catching. Whereas colors like red are used as an attention grabber and better for “calls to action”.

Fine tuning a website for higher conversions can be a time consuming process, full of revisions and testing.  Keep the end goal in mind, have patience and it will pay off!

Browser Compatibility

It may seem obvious enough, but you need to make sure your website is compatible on “every” browser.  This means your website looks and functions the way it’s supposed to, the way you intended.  I put “” around the word, every, because we only test a few generations back.  We go as far back as IE7.  Any browser further than that would not be able to run most scripts written in 2012.Statistically, there are main 2 browsers; Firefox and IE.  Everyone has their opinions, but Firefox is certainly the preferred browser for heavy web users.  But of course if your website is not resolving in Chrome, then it doesn’t matter about opinions.  You need your site working.  That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Of course, the most blatant example in 2012 is the whole Flash / iworld issue.  As most know by now, some more painfully than others, Flash does not work in the iworld.  So if you’re looking to build or rebuild your site, stay away from Flash (unless you’re building a gaming site).  A lot can be accomplished these days without using Flash.  HTML5 as the obvious example.

So before you get started, or sign on the dotted line, make sure that when finished and uploaded, your site will be working across board.

Nothing stings more than getting a call from a client or partner letting you know that the “contact form” on your site is not coming up… 10 minutes after the site went live.