Why your design will never be complete…

With all the good intentions in the world, you’re setting yourself up for a big fall if you think that thing you’re in the middle of designing is ever going to be complete.

A big shift.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve been in the same position, in the early days. Way back when we were designing static websites with just a few pages it was quite easy to work through the process of designing and building. Over the course of a year we might only have to add one or two things but probably nothing which would change the physical design of the templates we had already constructed.

We as designers no longer design websites. FACT. Whenever someone asks what I do, I generally say that I produce the DIBI Conference because avoiding answering the long drawn out answer for what I ‘really’ do is just easier. Answering ‘I design stuff’ just doesn’t cut it anymore and if the person you’re talking to is non-design and non-technical they look at your completely blank anyway. Websites are old news, they’re the 5 pager you designed for your local cleaning service. Due to the huge array of content creation systems like WordPress / ExpressionEngine / Joomla, we as designers could in essence create some templates and then let the user develop the content. That is all well and good if creating content is just what your client wants.

A website is no longer a website. It’s a business, I’d go as far as saying that 90% of websites are predominantly the main money earner in most businesses. Whether that be direct revenue like advertising, product buying or the lead in for a sale. Within every business things change, and when things change adjustments have to be made. Designers need to listen, look, analyze and improve our designs on a constant basis. Just because things might work for the first few weeks after a design has launched doesn’t mean it will in a few months.

Iteration, Iteration, Iteration…

We don’t plan, sketch, wire-frame, structure and architect for nothing. We need to listen first and act, if something needs to scale, it needs to scale! If it’s going to scale then you had better get it in your head that the design will change over due course. Iteration is key, if you’re designing and building something, get it out of the door early and sit back and watch. Analyze how users are using it, what can be made better and just because it is live don’t ever think that its done and dusted.

Tell your clients…

Clients tend to think that once they have their ‘website’, web app or system that everything is finished. They find it hard to understand that just because it is live it’s not actually finished. I’ve tried to explain this multiple times and have ended up with that cold blank stare. I’ve since figured out a much easier way to discuss why the design and development of a system is never complete and this is what I say.

You buy a brand new house, it’s very big and strong. It’s made of bricks, has a sturdy waterproof roof and you’re all ready for moving in. The removal men help you move in putting all of your worldly belongings in the right place. Two weeks later you notice some cracks appearing around the door and window frames. Not because the house is breaking, but its settling in to its foundations. Nine out of ten times these little cracks just need filled over. Over more time you’ll realise that you need a lampshade, carpets and a new colorful wall in the entrance area to the house. Your house is never finished, in the same way as your new system will never be finished.

Take Note

Your design will never be complete because it was never meant to be in the first place. It can only ever be great as perfect is only ever in the future and you’re not there yet.

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Lead Interaction Designer at DigitalDWP. Organiser of Industry, The Practical Web Conference..

21 thoughts on “Why your design will never be complete…”

  1. nice post! it’s really hard to explain to clients the technicality of our work, so I explain to them by making examples just like you did and hopefully they can catch up. great read man!

  2. “90% of websites are predominantly the main money earner in most businesses”

    wow… If this were true there would be a lot of empty office and retail space out there. The worlds largest industries such as food service, retail shopping and automotive pull minimal revenue from websites.

    Maybe that’s why we get blank stares from clients when we try to tell them their site will never be finished. They just paid an invoice on a final payment for site completion and their site isn’t designed to actually make a lot of money.

    I do agree that a lot of web sites are never actually finished these days but unfortunately I would argue how far along we actually are with this process right now. A lot of small business owners are not willing to pay for a site that is never complete.

  3. Nice article Gavin, I agree that websites need to be constantly changing, adapting and improving to the changing elements around them. I’m always surprised when clients understand this and actually come to us with ideas for improvements and changes, especially as I work in the corporate world.

    We seem to be doing a good job of convincing other clients as we have a number of redesigns and improvements in the pipeline. I’m not sure we have a fancy metaphor but that sounds like a good approach.

    1. Hi Tom, granted some people do get it. I’m quite sure that because of everything happening at the moment and the way technology is improving we are now able to do a lot more than we have ever been able. This obviously then means that things have to change with their surroundings. It’s quite a shock for the corporate world to pick that up so quickly. πŸ™‚

      1. It’s possible that non-techie people are reacting positively because they’re noticing technology is fast becoming an increasing component of modern life so they realise they need to keep improving and moving forward alongside it. This probably has a knock-on effect as companies try to keep up with their competitors who are trying to keep ahead in this way.

        This is all off the top of my head so it may be complete nonsense but just what I think may be occurring.

  4. Good read and a nice metaphor,

    Yet another thing to add to the ” must educate my client ” list.

    I think one thing that would help the cause is the payment system and language we use when quoting for web work. At Redup we offer monthly payments and support packages to highlight ongoing work needed to maintain a website or app.

    Another thing is content, we spend hours, days, weeks designing our work and then horrible chunks of badly written copy ruin the structure and layout of the page, I feel those cracks you were talking about come down to content!

    rant over, great article, Cheers @PhilReadman

  5. Your article tells the truth! πŸ™‚ Such an excellent read! The only thing I can add here is Salvador Dali’s quotation:

    β€œDon’t be afraid of perfection – you can never reach it”

  6. Very true! It’s always helpful to give such examples to clients as it helps to explain that their website should not, and cannot become stagnant, and that our role prevents that.

    Thanks Gavin!

  7. Excellent post mate, and I use the “a website is like a house” metaphor constantly. It seems to fit almost any scenario relating to web design.

    That being said, I have a slightly different perspective on this part:

    “A website is no longer a website. It’s a business, I’d go as far as saying that 90% of websites are predominantly the main money earner in most businesses.”

    I fully agree with you. Couldn’t have said it better myself. So why should I be taking a small fee for building what is essentially an entire business for a client which they will profit from for years?

    The answer is that I don’t want to – I want to own the business. Which is one of the main reasons I’m doing a lot less client work and working on a lot more side-projects πŸ™‚

  8. I tend to use the metaphor of a garden. You constantly need to shovel a bit, relocate bushes, cut trees, get rid of weed and old stuff, sow and see things growing, guided and guarded.

    Compared to web, print media are relatively small. Magazines are like a weekly bouquet of flowers, books on a shelf are like plants on a window pane. These are all quite limited in functionality and easily maintained.

    Gardens however, they require a lifetime of perpetual work and attention !

  9. Lovely article! I loved the metaphor you used since that kind of analogy is usually the only way i find to explain these things too.
    The is such a dynamic topic that it takes a special kind of thinking to fully understand it and to make the most out of it.

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