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you don’t know what you want until you want it November 2, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Seen Elsewhere.
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If you haven’t yet seen Digital Survivors’s excellent “If Architects Had To Work Like Web Designers”, take a few minutes and read it. Here’s an excerpt:

Please don’t bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the house: Get the big picture. At this time, for example, it is not appropriate to be choosing the color of the carpet. However, keep in mind that my wife likes blue.

The whole thing’s like that. Seriously.

Is this the floorplan you signed off on? Then you're stuck with it... unless your architect is a web designer. (Floorplan mocked up by That Guy.)

Is this the floorplan you signed off on? Then you're stuck with it... unless your architect is a web designer. (Floorplan mocked up by That Guy.)

Web designers — in fact, all art-focused designers — are in a peculiar place as far as dealing with client desires. The clients tell us what they want, we turn it into what we think they want, and they proceed to tell us how wrong we are. But because we’re not on their staff, we aren’t subject to the whole “let’s tell them politely that this sucks”.

A prime example of this is the redesign I did at my last job. Surveys of the users were done and the results presented to us by the survey company. I took that information and mocked up three different versions of a new website, which the Big Boss promptly shot down and railed against me and four executives for a good 15 minutes.

I came back a week later with three more mockups, and he picked one he liked. Then he handed it to the art department, who made all my sleek lines into big blocky graphics, and I was told “okay, here’s what you’re building now. Go for it.”

By the time the whole project was done (on time, thankfully), I’d redesigned each type of page (homepage, section page, article page, photo gallery page, e-mail form, and so on) at least five times to comply with the requests of five different people. It was a nightmare. But because the only resources we needed were digital — that is, hard drive space and enough time for me to redesign the website — I guess the company thought they could go ahead and keep tweaking things.

Meanwhile, when my parents bought their first (and, so far, only) new house, back in the 80s, they were given a set of basic floor plans to choose from, allowed to make whatever tweaks they wanted — in their case: “garage on the left, no sunken living room, vaulted ceilings, tile throughout except in the bedrooms, wallpaper in the bathrooms, shower stall in the master bath, no pool, circular driveway” — and that was it. The architects submitted the plans; the contractors and subcontractors built the house, and they’re still living there. They’ve made changes since then — added a pool, redid the kitchen, put in hardwood in places, wired it for surround sound — but each time they had to sit down and seriously consider how much time, money, and work it would take to remodel. And once it was done, it was done; their kitchen is a little hard to get around in because of the island, but they wanted a kitchen island and now they have one. It’s going to be a bit of a hard sell, I fear, especially if the new buyer is of the large persuasion, but that’s what they have to live with. Likewise with the pool — they removed the screens when they redid the deck, replacing them with a fairly-decorative fence, but now leaves and other detritus can get in the water. Screens might have been a better option, but again, that was their choice.

Whereas, when designing a website, if the client doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it on someone else’s site, he can call you midway through and force you to make changes, and you have to make them or risk losing the client to someone who will bend over backward to please him.

I should’ve gone into architecture, I think.

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