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Who is Responsible for the Design of a Web Site?
by William Szczepanek

Article 9: March 3, 2008

Roles and Responsibilities

The Web has been around for awhile now. Creating a Web site for someone else or for a particular business should a straightforward process. Most people feel that the designer is responsible for the design of the Web page.  What about the developer, the Web owner or even the customer who will use the Web site?  Obviously they all should have a role.

There are some people who can learn a programming language, have a detailed mind, and still be creative and manage things well.  Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind, but a Leonardo only comes around every 500 years or so and we don’t know if he would like working in HTML.  He’d probably design his own programming language for each assignment.  Cost didn’t seem to be a factor in his projects.

RACI Diagrams

We should define a few terms.  The roles and responsibilities of people and teams in delivering a project are defined in the Wikipedia definition for RACI diagram as follows:

As Donna Designer, what do you do when the customer just wants a quick and dirty Web page?They don’t want to spend much money and they want it ASAP?

“Okay.  Just give me the content and I’ll see what I can do,” Donna Designer says, trying not to show the pain that is traveling down her neck. 
The customer says, “Okay, I’ll work on some wording while you work on the design. That way it’ll get done quicker.” 
“You don’t understand,” Donna Designer responds, starting to explain and then realizing that the whole process needs to be better understood.

Content is King 

Content is king.  It is a crucial part of the Web experience. Is the designer supposed to be a writer also? If the words aren’t engaging and meaningful, the snazziest design in the world won’t make up for it.  But as an industry, writing for the Web has become boring and lifeless.  To change we must establish some new rules.  When the team members work separately the purpose of the website is lost.  Not only do the pages end up not being designed for reading, the content itself isn’t worth reading.  Over time, Web readers have become lazy and have come to expect dry uninteresting writing or summarizations.  Rule of thumb - keep it short and avoid scrolling at all costs.  But, what is the cost?  Typing “Next” every time you want to read more?  In general, vertical scrolling is not a bad thing.  A scroll of the mouse wheel with one finger is all that is necessary.  Horizontal scrolling is a bit more bothersome to deal with and should be avoided.

Designing a Web site is not like designing a car.  Cars are designed by the companies that produce them based on what they think the consumer will buy, regardless of whether the consumer really wants it or needs it.  But the consumer has many car models and styles to choose from.  The consumer can say, “I like the sporty blue one with the navigation system,” even though they don’t need the navigation system because they never leave their neighborhood.  They still buy the car. But once they buy it they understand that they will use it for a number of years.  With a Web site, if the customer has not played a significant role in the design, they will probably want to change it within a week of launch, and even if they have played a major role, things can change in their lives or their businesses to necessitate immediate change.

That’s why the customer, the designer, the writer and the developer all need to work as a team, and the ground rules for getting the job done need to be explicitly communicated before the project starts. In addition, it would also be great if a sampling of Web customers or users could provide feedback before the site is launched.

Communicate with Your Team and Yourself 

If you are the designer/developer/programmer/graphic artist then you must talk to yourself.  Allow me to talk to myself for a minute.

“I need to define the project before the project begins?  I ask myself.
“Yes, before,” I answer.
“But doesn’t that take time and time is money?” I counter.
“Yes, it does, and it costs even more if the Web site never attains fruition.  But it does give us the best chance of getting the project done in a way that satisfies me and meets my schedule,” I conclude. 

This is the type of discourse that needs to occur when any of the teammates are one and the same person.  I talk to myself a lot.  Sometime it’s a great conversation.  Other times I am wrong and end up mad at myself.  But that’s all part of the process.  Even with a detailed plan and schedule there will be glitches, misunderstandings and surprises.  Warning the Web owner of these things, rather than promising the moon, can go a long way toward a better working relationship.

The Web Site Owner is Accountable

In the end it is the Web owner who is accountable for the design.  The owner must provide the input for the designer.  Ultimately, it is the Web owner who hires the designer or developer, so the owner is accountable for those actions also.  The designer, developer, graphic artist, and programmer all have certain responsibilities for their part of the job. They can also play a consultative role. It is important that the appropriate people are kept informed. 

If you are handling the project alone, then it is even more important to get impartial input. And, if you are all of these people then you know for sure who is accountable and who is responsible.