Archive | August, 2012

The ‘design by committee’ disaster pit

24 Aug

I have to admit that I am a slow learner!  I’ve been in web development for more than 15 years and it’s taken me about 13 of those years to realise just how damaging it can be to allow design to evolve by committee.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that good design can be created in a vacuum.  I am a firm believer in listening to user and stakeholder input.  Not only that but, by monitoring user behaviour on a site we are privy to intimate clues as to where we, as designers, are going wrong.  However a web site owner needs to be bold, to make informed decisions and follow through with those decisions. As long as your decisions are based on sensible principles, you will always be able to justify your reasons and decisions to stakeholders.

While this may all sound very obvious, it is so easy to get caught up in the need to satisfy everybody’s needs, to be accommodating to stakeholders without thinking about users and to be side-tracked into making mistakes that will land up affecting the overall success of your web site.

One thing I know for sure is that you simply cannot please all the people all of the time.  As a web site owner you absolutely have to be confident in your vision.  Keep up to date with all the latest technologies and tools and engage with your web site users.  If you are truly hands-on and work closely with your site and your team, you can only succeed.

In conclusion,a friend recently quoted Sting, saying that “Art is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship”.  I know that will sound rather harsh to the uninitiated, but for me it is a new philosophy to live by!


In-house development vs subcontracting

22 Aug

I write a lot.  I  really like to write.  I write for my own recreation and I write for my job.  Yet sitting down to write my first blog entry seems daunting.

Give me a moment to get over myself…right, thank you!

I am often involved in discussions where the question of whether to contract or manage an in-house project is raised.  Each time, a slightly different variant of the old argument is presented and each time, the outcome seems a little surprising.  So, what I’m trying to say is that there is no right or wrong answer to this seemingly innocuous question. Like most things in life, the answer depends on the situation.

Before I continue, I should warn you that I belong to an in-house web development team, so my answer may appear somewhat biased.  I like to think of myself as unbiased, but thought I should clarify that point upfront.

To my mind, an enormous amount of value lies in experience and an intimate understanding of how a company operates.  This is particularly true in today’s social-media frenzied world, where the slightest hint of a lack of authenticity stands out like a sore thumb. If a company is trying to promote it’s brand, I believe it is vital to have in-house experience, not to mention someone with a vested interest, deliver the message to the masses.  This is equally true of engaging one’s customers and partners through social media.  A contrived message sent via subcontractors will never make the grade.  Your customers want to engage with you – not a third-party.

However, there are times when resources are low (or possibly lacking in a particular skill-set) and time constraints dictate that additional (or more specialised) resources be brought on-board. Any manager worth his/her salt should be able to recognise when the requirement become necessary and make allowances for contractors/experts to be included into the team.  And herein lies the key to the point I am making.  Make the contractors a part of the team – that way you really do get the best of both worlds.  Make sure to manage the expectations of the staff who would usually be working on the project so that they are fully aware of the reasons why the contractors have been brought on board.  This should ease any territorial issues that could potentially arise.

Any web site owner/manager knows that we are in the enviable position of ‘specialising in being generalists’, so it is impossible for a smaller team to have specialised skills in all areas. External resources can bring that skill-set to the party and can be used on either a temporary or permanent basis. Be sure, however, to be committed and involved in the project yourself, throughout the duration of the project.  This way you have everything to gain, by learning more and very little chance of the project taking a nose-dive.