Yesterday I went to the Brighton hub of <head> – the global web conference that is largely being carried out online, reducing the need for travel. It was especially easy for me to get to the Brighton hub because it was at The Werks, where I happened to be yesterday.
I saw three talks which were all interesting and relevant to a web copywriter, but Andy Budd’s was particularly interesting.
Architecture and the web
Andy drew parallels between the architecture of buildings and the design of websites. Andy suggested that by understanding the way architects plan structures, and the spaces within those structures, we could all build better websites.
If web developers put the same kind of thought into designing digital spaces as their physical-world counterparts, every website would be useful, pleasurable and effective. Web developers would research, plan and test their websites. The purpose of each website would be quantified, pursued and achieved.
The ideal world meets the real world
In many cases, little thought goes into a website. Clients want a website, and developers provide them. Colours, fonts, graphics and copy may all be judged and evaluated, but mostly in the sense of ‘oh that looks nice’.
Are clients naturally thinking:
‘how will this feel for my visitors?’
‘what are my visitors coming here for?’
‘how will the right people find me?’
Web developers often struggle to appease their non-geek, non-expert clients, for whom a website is something like a business card, a letterhead or a sign on the door; it’s one of those things that a business has to have.
I love Andy’s thinking, and similarly believe that people should put more thought into their websites – asking themselves what people will actually want to use them for – but I can’t help wondering how this kind of deep-thinking fits with small-budget projects, and the small businesses that need small, cheap websites.
Of course, cheap doesn’t have to mean stupid. And I suppose a great deal of the thought, research and planning needed for a beautifully-designed website can be expedited by an astute web developer, but still, I wonder if there are systems or tricks for making the potentially slow and expensive process of researching, planning and testing quicker, and more affordable. How can you provide time-consuming services to someone who cannot afford the time?
Do you have to be loaded to have a great website? Or can you work around a limited budget and still create an online experience that users will love – and benefit – from?
One way for small business owners to get more from their websites is by them getting personally involved. Perhaps that’s the key. If you want an amazing website but haven’t the budget to pay for one, you’re going to have to get involved.
If businesses want to improve their websites, they may have to become web-masters of their own domain.
I suppose the biggest cause of websites that suck is owners who don’t understand the web. Many people don’t appreciate the complexities of the medium, don’t respect the culture that they operate in, and don’t get the very nature of the web.
I’ve blogged before that having a website is like running a farm, because websites need regular care and attention. But if we take Andy’s ideas about architecture, and try to think about websites as being similar to buildings, we could start to think of websites as actually something like a farm that’s open to the public.
Perhaps the questions that should start the relationship between client and web developer should be:
- What is this website for?
- Who is going to use this website?
- What do you want to achieve with this website?