Web Design hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur yet, but User Experience (UX Design) is becoming a crucial adaptation for professionals looking to stay relevant in today’s world of DIY website options.
The online world is always changing. Not too long ago, all websites were static, hard-coded monstrosities. A business either needed a special professional on their staff, or a partner business with great deal of technical knowledge and training to build one and maintain it.
Eventually marketing businesses figured out that if you could offer a proprietary content management system that provided limited ability for site owners to update their own content, it would add another revenue stream. The problem was, you were tethered to that provider’s hosting environment and at the mercy of enormous royalty fees. They certainly weren’t very user-friendly.
Eventually, free open-source software platforms like WordPress, Drupal and others came into their own and changed the game, making website creation and maintenance much more achievable. While the technical aspects of building the site were still beyond the grasp of most, once they were up and running, the average person no longer needed to have their local web design shop on speed dial any time they wanted a word changed.
Now, companies like Wix or Web.com and others are promoting free or low-cost DIY websites. They advertise that people with little or no technical skill can take control of the entire process, creating a website for their business themselves, and thus skipping the expensive step of paying a professional designer/developer to do it for them. Amazing!
The Death of the Professional Website Designer?
So are these DIY website products impacting our bottom line or changing the business? I’d be lying if I said they weren’t. Who can blame anyone for not wanting to pay for something that they can supposedly get for “free”?
Just like Pintrest Fails, the real-life results from people using these DIY website platforms prove that it’s not nearly as easy as they make it look. But when you tell a potential customer that it will cost thousands of dollars to build the website they need, and then that evening they see a commercial during on TV them it’s so they can do it themselves for free, it can obviously have a tremendous negative impact on the perceived value of what you’re selling.
Horse Buggies and Whale Oil
Over a long enough timeline, almost any job or industry will be rendered obsolete by advancing technology, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that web development shops around the world are at the end of days. In truth, some that cling to old business models just might be.
But you may be surprised to find out that for many of us, business hasn’t dried up on account of these new products. In fact, business is booming, and it’s mostly because many business owners are coming back to us after less than successful forays into the DIY world. People who have they learned the hard way that Wix or Web.com’s products are not magic DYI bullet they are advertised to be.
More importantly, they’ve made a major realization; there’s a lot more to creating a successful website than just picking colors on palette or dragging photos and text boxes around the screen.
Being given free software doesn’t make you web genius any more than a free set of woodworking tools will suddenly make you a master carpenter.
So while there now may be less intrinsic value to the technical aspects of building a website, smart and successful designers have adapted to add important value in other phases of the online process. We’re not just Photoshoppers and coders anymore, we’ve become behavior analysts and pseudo-marketers – an aspect which has far more importance on a business’s bottom line than whatever software is used to make a website.
The difference between those of us that thrive and those who are soon to be extinct is that we understand and know how to create not just a website, but a website that target users find effective and efficient based on their specific needs.
Adapting the Approach
Wait, what’s the difference? Well, the Internet is full of millions and millions of zombie websites – a term I use to describe sites that don’t provide their visitors with what they need, nor their owners with any return on investment. They exist, but don’t provide any value.
Though it may seem like a simple idea, good website builders understand how to take a website from a glorified phonebook ad to a finely honed tool for business success. It’s the skill of designing a site that finds the sweet spot in addressing both the needs of specific visitors in the easiest way possible, yet also achieves the goals of the business. You may have heard the term used to describe this process: User Experience (UX) Design.
A successful website starts long before any software is opened. A good User Experience Designer will spend time early in the process talking with their clients and strategically defining success, both in terms of what the visitor needs, and what the business needs.
The key is always to ensure the website accomplishes three things for the target visitor: It needs to be useful, relevant, and valuable.
If your web designer’s strategy session includes questions like “what colors do you want for your website?”, run the other way immediately. This is an obsolete way of doing business – a throwback to when a website with a logo, a picture and a “Welcome to our website!” message was the standard.
Too many designers and DIYers fail their websites by concentrating on “Happy Talk” or long-winded “welcome” messages – self-aggrandizing business-speak that provides no real value. You’ve no doubt read it, a business bragging about how it guarantees the “best service”, or everything else that every business out there promises, when they should instead be focusing what target customers really need to know: How can that business help me fulfill their need, and why should they choose that business to fill that need?
It’s the User Experience designer’s job to understand HOW and WHEN to provide that crucial information to visitors to ensure an optimal experience while cutting through the irrelevant fluff that most websites fall victim to.
Here’s a great example. During the strategy phase of a recent project for a wholesale spice distributor, one of the company’s stakeholders suggested that the site should prominently feature generic information on their home page about the different seeds and spices they sold in case visitors wanted to know.
Do you think that the target visitor – a buying agent from a foreign country who purchases whole shipping containers full of raw commodities is looking to be educated on the basics of the products they deal in? Of course not. That person wants to know how to get the product to his warehouse as quickly and easily as possible.
This is perfectly illustrates that while many business owners are smart people and experts in their profession, they can still go wrong with their marketing. How many times have you gone to a company’s website and been frustrated because you couldn’t find some sort of basic but important information that should be absolutely easy and obvious to find? Or you want to buy a product, yet can’t figure out where the “buy button” is?
Probably many. This happens when business owners don’t take their target visitors into account, and instead plan their online experience around what they think is important, instead of understanding what’s important to the people they want to do business with. Trying to be all things to all people only means your message is going to get diluted. Focusing your website strategy so that it appeals to and helps the visitors who matter will lead to much greater success.
In the end, your website is likely going to be the most important marketing tool your business has. It’s the last place you should try to skimp on costs. A DIY approach may seem cost-efficient and easy, but in the long run, it’s far more beneficial to your business to hire a professional. A good web company will ensure that your site meets the needs of both your business and your visitors, and in turn help your business thrive.