Recently I was approached by a potential client who wanted a quote for a custom website for his business. I’ll call the potential client Brian; his business is making beautiful, hand-crafted widgets.
Brian’s brick-and-mortar business is well-established, but only has a very small web presence. Due to pressures from web-based competition in the last couple of years, he now feels he needs a larger, more comprehensive and content-rich website to compete effectively.
Brian has put a substantial effort into mapping out his new site. His content is solid and focused and based on his keyword research over the last few months and an understanding of how his competitors are using their websites. He feels that he can compete based on the high quality of his products, and I believe he’s right. He has many testimonials from satisfied customers.
You might think this is a dream client and you’d be half right. It’s rare that a small business owner puts this much effort into content before even beginning to look for a designer.
There’s one complication, however. As part of Brian’s efforts, he designed each individual page of his new site. Things are locked down in terms of exactly how long pages will be to avoid any scrolling, how large the text will be, the exact position of items on pages.
Potential Red Flags:
- First, there’s no way to lock down the ‘size of a page’ on the web. It depends on the browser, the monitor, the user’s preferences for text sizes… There are many factors that are out of the control of the web designer, and that’s why flexibility is so important in designing for the web.
- Second, the idea that users won’t scroll below the ‘fold’ of a web page has been shown to be false. Users are sophisticated enough to understand the need for scrolling. Of course it should be kept to a reasonable minimum, but there’s nothing wrong with a little scrolling.
- Third, the design was, to be blunt, not so great. While Brian’s widgets are really gorgeous, the product is rather expensive. It’s custom, hand-made work and Brian shows it off very well throughout the site, with photos of finished installed widgets, photos of the widget-making process, and detail photos of all the different finishes and options for widgets. There’s also a section on the site that shows accessories for widgets. Overall, the way the widgets are presented is very thorough and well thought-out. They look so good that you want to see more.
The design, on the other hand, does not echo that feeling. Frankly, it looked like something I would have expected to see 10 or 12 years ago – very flat, a clipart logo, left-hand navigation. I understood what Brian was saying when he pointed out that he wanted the widgets to speak for themselves, and did not want to put off potential clients by making them look so expensive that they were out of reach for normal people.
The design was a conscious effort to tone down the elegance of the site and appeal to a lower common denominator, but in my opinion it made the site look old and unappealing.
I disagreed with his proposed design. I pointed out that design can be used to set the mood for the site in a way that better complements the widgets rather than causing a distraction. It also didn’t need to look over-the-top elegant; it could instead have a clean, crafted look and feel that reflects the high level of craftsmanship of the widgets themselves.
I told Brian what I thought; that the design was more likely to give a negative impression of the business than having the effect for which he was hoping. There was a disparity between the design and the product.
Given that he’d put so much work into the new site already, I was not surprised that he pushed back, insisting on keeping the design pretty much just as it was. I respected his opinions – it’s his business, after all – and didn’t entertain much thought of winning the project.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. I did win the work – along with some extra time to make some subtle changes to the design to improve the professionalism of the site.
I think it’s going to be a fun project on all accounts – a little bit of client education and some give-and-take on both sides to keep the basic intent of the original design intact while making it more in tune with the product. I expect that our combined efforts will result in a website that truly does its job in appealing to the target audience in a positive, engaging way while simultaneously putting the product in its best light.
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