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Web Design Direction vs. Open-ended Chaos   
by William Szczepanek

Article 23: July 17, 2009

Web design, like many other creative processes, needs input to generate suitable results.  People first starting business endeavors are advised to write a business plan, get a lawyer, find an accountant and produce a Web site.

A good business plan takes a lot of work.  It forces the individual to think about everything that relates to making a business successful. Where is the market? Who are your competitors?  How much time do you have? Where do you want to be next month, next year and three years from now?  Lots of input and reasonable judgment can produce a plan that may work, but one that will most likely be revised many times over during the course of the start-up.

Finding the right lawyer or accountant can also be a challenge.  You didn’t quite have confidence in the accountant who kept twirling his handlebar mustache, and the lawyer in the Armani suit seemed a bit too pricey, though he promised he could help you make millions.  Lots of input, lots of output and lots of requisite decisions can make for confusing and frustrating times.

Creative Forces

Then comes the need for a Web site to sell your widgets.  Google the term widgets, and you get 142 million widget Web sites to view.  They all propose to have the best widgets in the world. So, what do you do?  Just slap a Web site together since there’s not a chance of getting noticed anyway, or maybe find a Web developer who can help me.  After all there are millions of them out there.

The range of available talent is now mind boggling. Designers, artists, photographers, content writers and programmers are a just a mouse-click away.  After an exhaustive search, you finally find a Web designer who has a nice site, they have good references and they appear to be professional and creative. You can take your design requirements in a few different directions.  One extreme is to give the designer carte blanche creative license and instruct him to get it done the best way possible.  The other is to provide intense detail with no viable options to the point that you will not get any creative talent from the designer, but only an implementation the matches your description. In general, the more direction, the more information, the more time you spend, and the more open you are to change, the more you’ll get for your money. Otherwise, you may get lucky. To get the most from a designer you must give the creative mind a place to start, otherwise it will most certainly go its own way.  Creative design must be guided, not controlled.

An excellent example of the power of good description to drive the creative implementation is the creation of the initial Harry Potter motion picture.  The motion picture matched images painted by the book on the minds of the readers because the talented director, Chris Columbus, had extremely good, highly descriptive text and guidance from J. K. Rowling.

Many people search for designers by getting bids and go with the lowest bidder.  A better approach would be to give the designer all of your well-defined specifications and tell them your budget, then let the designer tell you what she will do for the money. This allows you to scale back or expand based on how well the designer can meet your needs.  You now have the potential to get a lot more for your money than just a Web site.  You just might get someone who can work with you to make a site that can compete with all the other widget sites out there.

The detailed approach is a lot harder. You must be more prepared and more disciplined in your interaction.  But, the results of creative people working with a lot of information can be very rewarding.  The process is also less likely to produce results that will be a total surprise to the Web owner and require a lot of rework.

Established Web Design Conventions

Another design consideration has been that many people entering your website are people who are new to this experience and need to be taught how things work. Being creative while following user standards takes a great deal of knowledge and experience. Web designers who have been around for a while have learned from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others.

We are at the point in the Web experience where the highly inexperienced Web user is at a tremendous disadvantage.  Younger, new Web users, age 3 to 4 years old, adapt quickly and learn with relative ease and no fear.  The problem lies with the older, new user.  Adults, who have never used a computer or surfed the Internet are no longer a concern for designers who have experienced the establishment of standards and understand the user interface.  However, inexperienced developers consistently make mistakes in design that cause navigation problems and present an unprofessional appearance without even knowing it.

An example for comparison purposes is the design of the automobile.  Anyone who has never driven a car will have a tough time initially getting used to it.  Driving a car requires a certain amount of muscle memory and mind conditioning to become adept at it.  Car makers are not going to change the design of theirs cars to meet the needs of the new driver. Not that cars will not have design improvements, but the improvements are not directed at new users. So, the issue isn’t one of designing for new users, but rather to ensure that the design meets certain acceptable standards, and these standards can be difficult for someone to learn if they haven’t been through the design process multiple times.  The fact that the Web is anything but stable in its features and uses compounds the problem.  It is still in its infancy.

It Takes Teamwork and Decision Making

At present, there is a glut of multi-disciplined talent in the Web design pool. Millions of Web pages are changing the world and how we work.   The appropriate blend of teamwork, creative input and educated decision-making serves the design process best.