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Web Design is the Star


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#1 RisaBB

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 09:23 PM

Itís not because Iím a web designer that I feel this way. Itís true.

A great website has all the right ingredients. It has great usability. The site has been optimized with carefully researched keywords. The content was written by a professional copywriter or a great writer. The dynamic content was coded by a great programmer. It has a lot of incoming links because of itís great content and from link-building. And it has a beautiful, appropriate, functional design with a nice logo and graphics.

Now all of those things are important to a great website. But itís the design that pulls it all together, that makes it work, that makes it special, that makes it stand out, that leaves a mark, that makes an emotional connection, that creates a mood, that conveys a message, that invites you in, that takes you by the hand and leads you along.

Not every site has to be beautiful. It just canít be offensively ugly. Plain sites are fine - if that is their purpose. Some sites are packed with information and it is plain, boring, simplicity that works.

A great movie, like a great website, has a great supporting cast. It has a great script, great lighting, sets, costumes, music, and a director. But a great movie wonít fly without great stars, who are really the eye candy of the whole thing. They are just one part of the movie, but they are the most important part. They make it fly. Itís the movie star that pulls it all together, that does justice to the script, that makes the scenes and costumes look good. The movie star carries the movie, they show up at the openings, and are on the covers of magazines. Even though everyone else worked so hard, and whose roles were so important and indespensible, the movie star is the star of the show.

And so it is true about websites. The design is the most important thing of all. Everything else is the supporting cast.

And so now I come to the reason for my conviction, which Iíve felt for a long time, but it was never so clear to me as now.

I am re-designing the site of an old client of mine. Iíve learned a lot since I first designed it 5 years ago, and Iíve assembled a top notch team complete with a usability consultant, keyword research consultant, SEO consultant, a copywriter whose specialty is my clientís field and has written a book about it, and a great programmer.

I presented 10 designs to my client, which the marketing people narrowed down to 4. They took one design and had me modify it, against my will, to an abomination. They made me do 4 ugly variations of this ugly design. They presented it to my client today to make the final decision- their 4 designs, and my 4 designs. I never commented because I thought for sure, my client would not choose the ugly design. Well he did.

So despite what a content rich, search engine friendly, and usable site this is going to be, itís going to be ugly, and Iím not going to be proud of it. It made me realize how incredibly important the design is.

Well, I'm going to try to convince my client otherwise, and maybe Iíll prevail and Iíll show it off one day.

Risa

#2 dgeary9

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 10:07 PM

Well, I'm really sorry you're having a bad experience with your client.... It is really difficult when they want to do something you oppose for good reasons!

That said, by my standards for a good site, I think I have to say that users are the most important thing of all. Kind of like that philosophy question about art - is it art if no one is looking at it? The best websites are ones where the website owners and users find a way to dance together :blink:. Design is a great facilitator.

I'm fascinated to see what others think...

Edited by dgeary9, 16 June 2006 - 10:08 PM.


#3 Ruud

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 10:12 PM

Ouch, that's not the purest form of fun, eh? I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder :blink:

I understand what you mean with the design, the mood. It makes me think a little bit of other such situations. The play is so much less without the correct lighting. The message of the acting comes across so much worse without bad sound. What's a movie without a good set?

I love how happy you feel about it. What do you think of not-so-beautiful sites such as Slashdot or del.icio.us? In their previous incarnations not so beautiful, in my eyes, yet wildly popular?

#4 yannis

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 10:17 PM

The best websites are ones where the website owners and users find a way to dance together. Design is a great facilitator.


I hate to sound cliche but beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But I agree with Risa it is disappointing to see a bad design come alive and a good one die. Risa make a template out of your designs and submit them to a free template directory. You can check this way as to how other people feel about your designs. In my line of work I see a lot of beautiful building designs changed by commitees. In the end the final product is so poor! I am not good at graphics at all. If I give this part of the work out, I always stand back and let the designer make the final product. I know she has a better taste than me!

#5 RisaBB

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 08:22 AM

I disagree that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder (for websites only). Is usability in the eyes of the user? Or SEO in the eyes of the search engine? No. There are elements that work and others that don't, and it's not really subjective.

I think there are some common standards that must be complied with to make something work. While there is a great range of things that work, there are things that just don't work, no matter what.

For ex. alignment, if you are having 2 columns on a page, the top lines of each column should both start at the same point. If one item is a little lower, no matter what the font, or color, or graphic, it will look wrong. Things should have the same top alignment.

And white space. If things are too cramped in, it won't look right. A little white space makes a big difference.

And color. A bright orange background with purple words just won't work. And fonts - maybe 2 or 3 per page, but 7? That is way too much.

And if somebody likes all that? Well, it's not beautiful. It just says that that person doesn't know what he's talking about, and they should know it, and defer to people with a better design sense.

I think the del.icio.us is very nice and neat and clean. I think the slashdot site is OK. I'm not crazy about the black and dark green and pale green together - it gives me an ominous feeling, but it's OK. It works. The layout and white space and font are good.

Thanks, everybody, for your feedback.

Risa

#6 Black_Knight

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 08:35 AM

Web Design is the Star, Everything else is the supporting cast

Nice analogy - which makes Marketing the Director of the performance and makes the Business Plan the Producer of the whole production.

Yup, sounds about right to me.

But a great movie wonít fly without great stars, who are really the eye candy of the whole thing

Here I have to disagree. Since you are in a web related field, perhaps you have heard of a little moderately successful movie named "Star Wars".

Most 'stars' are launched into that stardom through being cast in a well-produced and brilliantly directed production. Many of the greatest movies made their stars, not the reverse.

#7 RisaBB

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 10:07 AM

Ammon,

I don't think we disagree.

Many of the greatest movies made their stars, not the reverse.

I never heard of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher before the movie. But the casting director picked a handsome, rugged guy, not a skinny, chisel-faced, glasses-wearing, straight hair part guy. They decided that Princess Leia should be pretty, have long black hair, and white skin, not a Wicked Witch of the West type (which was fine for The Wizard of Oz but not Star Wars), and not too skinny, or bleached blonde. Darth Vader had to have a deep, deep voice.

So, when I say that the stars are "eye candy," it's because I believe that they were carefully chosen, and molded, and dressed, and coached by the supporting staff. A great movie needs great stars, even if they are unknowns, because they fit the bill.

They become great because they did a great job and they were perfectly suited for the role, and then they become famous, but they're still the stars. And Star Wars wouldn't have been so successful, even with the great script, and sets, and computer generated spaceship flying scenes, if Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford, and James Earl Jones with his deep Darth Vader voice weren't chosen for the roles.

Great stars (even unknowns) have to be cast in the appropriate venue, and if they are mismatched, it won't work.

It's a pleasure to converse with you Ammon. Hope all is well over the ocean.

Risa

#8 bragadocchio

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 11:07 AM

Does a great star, and a great script make a movie great, or does a great director and producer bring greatness out? I imagine in some productions it's more one or the other, but in all cases, the parts need to come together to not harm the whole.

There are some websites that are beautiful to look at, and almost impossible to use. Other sites are ugly yet easy to use. Craig's List won't win any awards for its design, but it does what it needs to, and does it well.

I've seen a number of instances where a great design has been changed to the point where it's not as attractive as it could be, yet the client preferred it for one reason or another, sometimes not because of the design but rather because of something that the less preferred version showed.

It's never fun when that happens, especially if you are really proud of what you've accomplished, and become attached to one or more of your designs. But it does happen.

One of the passages of an old classic on business, David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man (some of which hasn't dated well - but it's still recommended) came to mind as I was reading this thread.

What is a good advertisement? There are three schools of thought. The cynics hold that a good advertisement is an advertisement with a client's OK on it. Another school accepts Raymond Rubicam's definition, "The best identification of a great advertisement is that its public is not only strongly sold by it, but that both the public and the advertising world remember it for a long time as an admirable piece of work." I have produced my share of advertisements which have been remembered by the advertising world as "admirable pieces of work," but I belong to the third school, which holds that a good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader's attention on the product. Instead of saying, "What a clever advertisement," the reader says, "I never knew that before. I must try this product.

It is the professional duty of the advertising agent to conceal his artifice. When Aeschines spoke, they said, "How well he speaks." But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, "Let us march against Philip." I'm for Demosthenes.


Does this translate over well into web sites? Maybe some of it does. I think that design has to be a good fit and match for the message that is being presented, and by doing so strengthens the message. It can give it an air of credibility, professionalism, and trustworthiness.

I guess we could try to get into the heads of clients a little in trying to figure out why they might choose one design over another.

Some clients might be a little intimidated by a design that stands out too well, that may look too professional, and too remarkable. They may be concerned that the message of the site is taking second stage to the look of their pages. That's probably the thought that caused me to recall the Ogilvy passage.

Sometimes personal preferences overweigh issues involving aesthetics. To get back to our movie metaphor, some people like movies that are bright and brilliantly filmed. Others prefer old grainy black and white movies, where the camera sometimes even bounces around. What looks like a great design to many of us, make look too slick and polished to many others.



I never heard of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher before the movie.


Harrison Ford was really great in American Graffiti, which was also a George Lucas film from three years before Star Wars. I wondered if the part was written with Harrison Ford as Hans Solo from the start. The truth, at least as told in the wikipedia, appears stranger:

Harrison Ford's work as a carpenter would land the actor his biggest role to date. In 1975, director George Lucas, who had cast Ford in a pivotal supporting role in "Graffiti", hired Ford to build some cabinets in his home and used him to read lines for actors being cast for parts in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It was Steven Spielberg who first noticed that Ford was well suited for the part of Han Solo.


edited for typo

#9 RisaBB

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 11:37 AM

Hi Bill,

I like that Ogilvy quote, especially school of thought #3.

...the parts need to come together to not harm the whole.

It is the design that decides how much of each element is required.

For ex., in a National Geographic special, it's important to have a good narrator and a good descriptive script, but it's the photography and video that is the most important part. And this is all part of the design - how something is presented.

The design is what you see in the 6.5 seconds it takes to decide whether to stay or move on.

Risa

#10 bragadocchio

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 11:42 AM

I agree with you completely, Risa.

It's just that there are sites that people will use, and stick with in spite of the design.

Myspace is one that comes to mind.

#11 DCrx

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 11:48 AM

Some actors said to have been considered for the role of Han Solo: Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone. Can you image John Travolta as Luke? ...C3PO as voiced by Mel Blanc?!

If I recall correctly, there were five sets of actors. Lucas would mix and match the member rehearsals so just about everybody played against everyone else as an ensemble. The group chosen had the best chemistry as a group.

And that is what design is about. Not the movie, this or that actor, the script. It's about the interaction between elements. And designing is about testing this and that combination to secure the best interaction between each. Great acting comes from who the actor is acting against, in addition to script, set, etc.

Before Lucas, sci-fi was squeaky clean to the point of being antiseptic. The Lucas universe was more notable for looking like somebody actually lived and worked there. Backwater cantinas looked like backwater cantinas -- dirty, gritty places where anything could (and does) happen. Lucas saw his job as making a documentary, not a sci-fi movie. In other words, the focus is off the technology and on to the objective. And that's what you've got to do when you have a ten million dollar budget to shoot a Hollywood movie.

Otherwise it just has to look good or worse.

The article 7 More Reasons Why Web Apps Fail somewhat put its finger on the problem "They donít think holistically." Design will always be about tradeoffs ...otherwise you call it art.

#12 yannis

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 12:13 PM

Risa

I hope this quote will make you feel better.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.
Miss Piggy
US Muppet and Pig



Personally I am sick of seeing women in the media and glossy magazines that look mass-produced. My strongest objection is that I am expected to find them 'beautiful' because they comply to a formula. Same for website looks. Beauty is imperfection. Individuality is what you need to fall in Love. I am sure your designs fall into the latter.

Yannis

#13 MaryKrysia

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 12:11 AM

My strongest objection is that I am expected to find them 'beautiful' because they comply to a formula. Same for website looks. Beauty is imperfection. Individuality is what you need to fall in Love. I am sure your designs fall into the latter.



I agee with this statement. Art is very individual, a very personal expression of the artist, whether it's fine art, graphic art, music, writing. The most attractive web site designs to me are often those which are extremely creative and do not fit any mold and may not be especially search engine friendly or user friendly (see www.remembersegregation.org -- imperfectly beautiful to me -- part of it is the message).

I studied fine art at a world class art school when I was young and believe I understand and have experienced the "pride of authorship" many times in my own life. Unfortunately in the real world of getting paid for the work I create, I often sacrifice the true creative expression for the taste of client or what is necessary for the web site to be successful. I have studied and understand SEO and user-centered web design and often do make artistic compromises for the sake of the success of the web site for the client who is paying me.

On the other hand, I do save some time for myself to create what I love that comes from within me, that which has the "higher artistic standards" which I hold onto. The reality is that the only web sites which you can have complete control over are your own or the occassional client who gives you complete control. :)

Regarding the analogy of the actors: they would actually be nowhere without a producer or director, sound technicians, camera men, etc. They all need each other to make the movie work. Producers are needed to provide funding, screen writers are needed to provide a story, directors are needing to create order out of chaos, actors are needed to bring it all to life, etc., etc.

Web Design is the Star, Everything else is the supporting cast

I would change that to "web design is in front of the audience, everything else is behind the scenes but just as necessary.

Mary

#14 RisaBB

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 09:30 AM

Thanks, Mary. Your post was beautiful and passionate and poetic.

I think the real star is the content. That's where it all begins, and that's what ultimately makes people buy, or return to read more, or participate more. Content can be photos, or movies, or text.

But, it's the website designer that makes the photos big or small. And lays out the products, and figures out the navigation, and decides what goes where, and what to emphasize.

I guess a lousy web design won't break a site with truly great content, but a great web design can make a great site even greater.

Happy Father's Day all you Dads.

Risa

Edited by RisaBB, 18 June 2006 - 10:56 AM.


#15 bwelford

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 12:56 PM

Risa, I guess most Dads aren't here today but perhaps I can speak for the absent ones in thanking you for the good wishes.
:cheers:

#16 A.N.Onym

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 07:43 PM

Sometimes I think that clients shouldn't be entitled to pick a design from many samples, because they don't often understand what is required to suit their visitors. The site, including the design, is for the visitors, not for the client, right?

#17 RisaBB

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 09:54 PM

I was just quickly flipping through today's New York Newsday. I saw photos of the most futuristic buildings I've ever seen, and read an article called, "A Modern Marvel: Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid's blueprints for the future are on display at the Guggenheim."

Besides being fascinated that Zaha is an Iraqi woman (she studied in Switzerland and practices in London) who was the first woman to receive architectureís most prestigious award, the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, I loved a quote in the first paragraph. It read:

When the Guggenheim Museum lavishes its platinum-and-pomp treatment on an architect, you can bet that person lives by the credo, "Give the client anything I want."

I'll be speaking with my client in the next few days and intend (hope) to do just that. We'll see...

Risa

#18 bragadocchio

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 10:43 PM

Good luck, Risa.

I hope that it goes well.


Regarding the analogy of the actors: they would actually be nowhere without a producer or director, sound technicians, camera men, etc. They all need each other to make the movie work. Producers are needed to provide funding, screen writers are needed to provide a story, directors are needing to create order out of chaos, actors are needed to bring it all to life, etc., etc.



Analogies can only go so far sometimes, but I don't think that you've crossed that line, Mary. It is the whole that needs to be looked at, and all the parts need to work together. Some of the parts may be more important than others, but all of them are essential.

There are actors or actresses that can take a plain humdrum movie, pick it up, and carry it on their shoulders.

There are directors, like Robert Rodriquez, who can film a movie like El Mariachi on a $7,000 budget (paid for with credit cards), with unpaid amateur actors and actresses who are friends of the director. It was intended as a demo to send to production companies within the movie industry - and one of them liked it so much that they decided it should be released as it was. It won a few prestigious awards, too.

Loved the reason # 7 from DCrx's link - 7 More Reasons Why Web Apps Fail.

#19 Ruud

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Posted 18 June 2006 - 11:07 PM

I disagree that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder (for websites only). Is usability in the eyes of the user? Or SEO in the eyes of the search engine? No. There are elements that work and others that don't, and it's not really subjective.


Hm... <_< Yes, usability is in the eyes of the user. No matter how well researched my interface is, it is they who decide whether it is usable or not. And yes, SEO is in the eyes of the search engines. I can think that ALT tags get me ranked #1 but it is they who decide.

I'm sure certain design elements are universal but most design isn't. I like Hawaii shirts. My wife doesn't. I like bright colors on a site; many don't.

What, in the end, would a beautiful Star web design be then? One that appeals to the largest number of visitors? Is that beauty?

I tend to see web design as the dress-up. Robin Williams did an incredible job in What Dreams May Come. One of the most visually stunning movies his acting would still stand without it.

#20 RisaBB

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:15 AM

OK - I think that might have been a lousy analogy.

I think there is an incredibly wide range of web designs that are good, and colorful websites and plain simple ones all fall in that range.

I think there is a smaller range for what is acceptable for usability, and an even smaller range for what is acceptable for SEO.

I think if you're in this range, you're OK, but there are things that are definately unacceptable that can't possibly be in the eye of the beholder, and although that doesn't make it outright wrong, it doesn't make it acceptable, unless good design, good usability, and getting found in the SE's are not goals of the website.

Mary gave an example of a haunting website, www.remembersegregation.org which is all in Flash. The site has a very nice design, the usability is good, but it probably won't rank high in the SE's, but maybe that's not a goal of the site. It doesn't make it wrong. It's only wrong if SEO is a goal of the site.

While beauty is a personal choice, the goal of a website is to appeal to the masses, so design errors (like 6 different fonts in a 740 pixel x 200 area - unless it's a font website) just won't work, and will taint an otherwise beautiful website.

Risa

Edited by RisaBB, 19 June 2006 - 08:07 AM.


#21 Adrian

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:29 AM

I guess a lousy web design won't break a site with truly great content, but a great web design can make a great site even greater.


It is a fact that with web design (and some other things too) ugly can work. An ugly site with great content will probably easily beat a great looking site with poor content. It's not the deisng that makes a site successful, but I certain agree it can make it more successful. And yeah, in cases, a design can be so bad, it doesn't really matter what the content's like.

#22 bwelford

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 08:11 AM

Perhaps another analogy is that graphic design is like creating a sculpture and web design is like building a bridge. You can do almost anything as you create a sculpture. You're in control of all the important elements and there are almost no imposed constraints. The user can like it or not like it, but they can never say it doesn't work. That's a matter of personal judgement.

When building a bridge however, you're in to detailed engineering to ensure the bridge does the things a bridge should do. There are many constraints. A user can measure how well the bridge does what it's meant to do. Of course the really great bridges turn out to have an elegance of design as well as being great ways of getting from A to B.

#23 sanity

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 06:57 PM

Sometimes I think that clients shouldn't be entitled to pick a design from many samples, because they don't often understand what is required to suit their visitors. The site, including the design, is for the visitors, not for the client, right?

I was thinking along the same lines.

RisaBB may I ask why you presented 10 designs? That seems an awful lot.

I prefer to present only my best design solution, created after much discussion and research with the client to work out their requirements, brand image etc. Sure we can make some changes to that design but to be honest that hardly ever happens.

IMO providing a number of designs leave you open to clients wanting to "mix and match".

#24 RisaBB

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:55 PM

Maybe you're right and I should re-think this for future design presentations. If this is overkill, I could save time on future designs. Even though there's tons to do on a website, I find coming up with designs the most challenging part. Nothing else (for me) requires such intense creativity.

You're right about the mix and matching. My clients might say, "I like the layout of design 1, the fonts of design 4 and the colors of design 7." I usually go through 3 rounds of drafts. I never really thought of this as a nuisance or not the way to do things, but the more I think about this, the more I think you're right.

For this client, there were really only 3 designs with 10 different color schemes, and even those 3 designs were very similar - a 3 and 4 column layout.

This problem would have happened even if I presented one layout, because they changed the header of the page to use a lousy un-aligned logo, which also doesn't align with the 3 column layout. The whole header, which they gave me the graphics for, looks like a tag sale, which doesn't work for a distinctive lawyer's website.

But, we'll see how my call goes with my client tomorrow at 8 am...

Risa

#25 RisaBB

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 09:44 AM

Bwelford, I like that analogy with the bridge. I live near a bunch of stunning bridges. I was just wondering the other day how those cables could hold up two levels of the George Washington Bridge connecting NY and NJ. I live near the Brooklyn Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge. Although the GW Bridge is stunning for its engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge is a beautiful design, which probably gets it more attention in the world.

Well, I spoke directly to my client this morning. Not his Marketing Director, or his assistant, or the secretary. It went great! What an empowering feeling. I started off by saying that I didn't know how blunt to be. He said, "Risa, be as blunt as you want." He didn't pick the design; his marketing man picked the design. I told him (over the course of 45 minutes) that I didn't like the header, his logo, his tag line, I didn't like the proposed revisions to the design he chose; he agreed to it all. I told him that I was sure that a lot of time was spent on his logo, even though it looked like it was created in 5 minutes. He said, "No." No time at all was spent creating the logo.

Imagine...I got all bent out of shape, and all I had to do was speak directly to my client.

My client still wants to show 4 designs to a focus group (I questioned the point of this), but I have a strong feeling that he will go with the design that I think is best. I told him that he will have to have a backbone against his strong-willed marketing director (could you believe I said that?) and he said, "Risa, don't worry about it. I will. I make the final decisions. Send the designs directly to me."

It's a good day!

Risa

#26 MaryKrysia

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 10:35 AM

I told him that he will have to have a backbone against his strong-willed marketing director (could you believe I said that?) and he said, "Risa, don't worry about it. I will. I make the final decisions. Send the designs directly to me."



Yes I believe you said that and I can "hear" the happiness in your voice. Good for you for checking further into the situation and being brave enough to say something.

:clap:

Mary

#27 cre8pc

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 11:38 AM

Dang girl! I'm happy to hear this news :)

I don't buy the focus group idea simply because user behavior and environments aren't taken into account. The emotional state of someone seeking legal help, online or by phone, is way different than someone being asked to find directions on a site in the comfort of a controlled environment. In addition, his firm is not trying to persuade the focus group to become clients, or worse, maybe some already are!

#28 A.N.Onym

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 04:25 PM

Yup, natural (as close to) visitor testing would be much better.
In fact, a web dev team, working on a site, is a focus group of some sort. And we know what they can sometimes create.

Good to hear the good news. Too bad not all those who make business decisions are like that.

#29 RisaBB

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Posted 22 June 2006 - 07:26 AM

Thanks, Kim and everybody. Maybe I'll copy and paste you're response (the 2nd paragraph!) into my e-mail to my client when I send him the designs. Or maybe I won't pick this battle to fight. But I agree with you.

When the site is all done, maybe I will convince my client to do a real usability test with real clients to see real responses.

Thanks for everybody's interesting insight to this whole discussion.

Risa

Edited by RisaBB, 22 June 2006 - 07:28 AM.




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