Rawnet on web usability

Posted September 9, 2008 in projects  |  2 Comments so far

I don’t take issue with the broad thrust of Rawnet’s 2008 conversion report, which found that 78% of respondents had been put off companies or services by poor web usability. However, I do take issue with the quote from Adam Smith, their managing director:

“companies are losing out on a massive amount of potential business simply because their current web design agency has either focused too much on what looks great, or too much on non-essential technical features…”

This quote paints a misleading picture of web agencies working in isolation, free of input or direction from clients, who are in turn innocent victims who have unusable and design-heavy sites inflicted upon them. In practise, however, this very rarely happens. Clients tend to be deeply involved with the design process and must therefore assume ultimate responsibility for the successes and failures of their websites.

Image result for web design

Why is this? Well, firstly, responsibility lies with the client because the client decides which agency to commission. The client decides scope, budget and timescales, and goes on to exercise power of sign-off on all major deliverables. And rightly so.

Why rightly so? Well, it’s not just due to the fact that they know their business and their customers more than the agency does. It’s also because it’s their business that will ultimately be impacted by the quality of the delivered site. If it’s successful, it will contribute to the growth of their business. If it fails, their business will suffer and customers will not express their dissatisfaction with the agency but instead with the company itself. So the fact that the client’s bottom line is at stake is a very compelling motivator for their wanting to be involved.

In my experience (although not on every project), agencies tend to put forward ideas for sites which are informed by an understanding of things like usability and accessibility. Clients approach web projects from various perspectives but chiefly from those of marketing and branding. With the DesignRush agency directory you can find the best help you need for your marketing strategy and branding service, you need to work with a professional as this is the first impression to make it memorable on the consumers and it allows them to know what to expect of your company and appeal them to come back. There are many areas that are used to develop a brand including advertising, customer service, promotional merchandise and all of them can be worked by a digital agency.

Most successful web projects result from a productive synthesis of these two sets of interests, and any implication that clients aren’t involved in the process—and therefore aren’t responsible when things go wrong—is highly inaccurate.

2 comments so far.  Post a comment

  1. September 9, 2008 at 5:53 pm [ Permalink

    Hi Brendan,

    You raise a very interesting point, the final website is very much a joint responsibility between the client and the agency.

    To further clarify the point I was making about agencies ‘focusing too much on design or non-essential technical features’, I’m refereeing to some agencies taking the easier route of designing the website for their client, not their client’s customers.

    It’s an agency’s job to challenge the client, let them know that the websites goal is to drive business, designing it for their customers, not them directly. What the client thinks is great design or a must have technical feature, isn’t necessary great for the end user or usability.

    The easy route is to just take on all the feedback from the client which may or may not improve the look of the site, but it may impact the usability, something a client may not have a huge amount of experience in. How many times has a client said ‘make my logo bigger’? They say it all the time, that’s a classic example of designing for the client, and not necessary for the users of the website.

    Another classic example, a client may ask ‘I want all text above the fold, if there’s too much, add a scrollbar so that my logo and contact details are always on screen’. Maybe this ‘could’ looks nice, but bad usability.

    So yes, Clients are indeed ultimately responsible for a website’s success, but it’s the agency’s role to reign in the client if required. While they may understand their brand and clients better – the agency will have much more experience in usability. That’s what they’re buying, the added value of an agency’s experience.

    I guess to summarize, companies are losing out on potential business because their web agency hasn’t challenged their ideas enough – focused too much on pleasing the client, which in some cases is not always delivering the best solution.


  2. September 11, 2008 at 4:04 pm [ Permalink

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for responding to my post, you’ve raised some good points.

    Projects that harness what I described as a “productive synthesis” between client and agency are best-case scenarios. In the worst cases, this synthesis is far from productive and the end result doesn’t work for anyone – agency, client or (most importantly) the customer who has to interact with the result.

    I’ve got to admit that I myself have, at times, decided to take the easy option and not challenge the client hard enough on projects where I’ve led the design process. But those days are behind me – those of us on the agency side need to assert ourselves.

    One positive trend I’ve noticed in the last few years is that clients are increasingly willing to see agencies as ‘advisers’ and not just practitioners. The best clients expect to be challenged and are disappointed when agencies kow-tow too much.

    The key to success in any client/agency relationship is for it to foster impassioned, creative discussions that don’t become fractious or personalised. Ideally the client/agency distinction should only be a contractual one, and people working on a project should view themselves as a single team with a common goal, that shares the credit when things go well—but also shares responsibility when things go badly…


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