Is Your Website a Camel?

You know what they say about the camel: it’s a horse designed by a committee.

This can happen to websites, too. You sit down with a web firm and provide them with all the information they need to design the best possible website for you — your goals, your resources, your competitors, your target market’s characteristics, your analytics data, your aesthetic preferences — and they take all that data along with their own research and create a beautiful design that does everything you hoped it would.

After the excitement of looking at your mock ups, you share them with your friends and family. Your brother has just seen a website with the blog posts pulled onto the homepage, and he thinks yours should have that feature. Your dentist says that videos are all the rage, and thinks you should have some. Your mom suggests some brighter colors. Your golf buddy sends you a highly detailed drawing that he thinks would be a great new logo for you. That cousin who took a web design class once assures you that it’s really important for web pages to have plenty of bold type and different fonts. Your college roommate reminds you that you had once said you wanted your website to have an animated bird that would swoop down as soon as the site loaded and land on the newsletter sign up form.

These are people you know, love, and respect. You know they have your best interests at heart, so you buy into their ideas. As you receive each of these suggestions, some of which might even be good ideas, you ask for changes to the mockup. At the end of the process, you are fairly dissatisfied and the designer has taken his name off the site.

Why doesn’t website design by committee work?

  • You ask the wrong people. Your friends and family probably aren’t your customer. They, unlike your customers, have your best interests at heart and do not respond to your website the way a stranger who wants to buy your stuff does. They have little to no objectivity, and they probably feel that they have to give a suggestion because saying the design looks great wouldn’t show enough interest in your project. On the other hand, chances are good that they don’t actually know as much about your company, web design, or your goals as your designer does.
  • Committees lack a cohesive vision. While it’s great to get input from different points of view, each narrowly-focused suggestion can put the overall design out of balance. Pulling blog posts into the homepage is a great idea and we use that approach on a lot of the websites we build — but not when there are good reasons not to, including no room for that element in a well-balanced design that includes all the essential features you identified as part of your sales funnel. Often those casual suggestions would require reworking the design completely in order to be successful, and that may not be what you really want.
  • There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Many helpful suggestions are based on personal preference. Some people just really like great big photos and others think any website with cartoon characters is more fun. As the owner of the site and the person who is paying for it, you should get to lay out those personal preferences — and your designer will have taken them into account. There’s no way to indulge everyone’s fancies, because they won’t mesh, and you probably realize that. The danger is in those pronouncements like, “Google likes yellow sites better” or “Search engines only look at the first hundred words on a page.” Insisting that the people you’ve hired should base their work on myths like these will get you bad results.

Actually, a camel is not a horse put together by a committee, but a creature perfectly suited to its environment. This is what you want for your website, too. As the site owner, you will get the best results when you share your special knowledge about your business and let your designer, developer, and copywriter use the special knowledge they have about their work.

Think ahead of time about the people who should be involved in decision making for your website. You should be able to assume that your web firm is including the professional team members they should, so your team should include people who know about your business, your customers, and your competitive environment. Get their input early so it can be included in the discovery stage of your website build. And of course show everyone your mock ups, but think twice before trying to use all the suggestions you receive. After all, you only want a camel of a website if you need a camel, not if you need a horse.

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