Your Want vs. Your Website’s Needs

Rosie and I have, in the past week, visited with clients in three states. It has given us lots of time for far-ranging quasi-philosophical discussions. One such conversation was sparked by what one of the clients said as he showed us a not entirely successful aspect of his website.“I told the designer exactly what I wanted,” the client said, “but I should have asked him what I needed.”

This is a situation that’s familiar to me. Often, it seems to me, people who are specialists in dentistry or car repair or opera or something don’t actually know what they need in the way of a website. Why should they? I figure it’s part of my job to help figure out what they need.

Rosie thinks we should give people what they want.

“But what if they then don’t get the results they want?” I asked as we turned a sharp curve on a mountain road. “They hold us responsible.”

“Oh my God!” Rosie responded. “Did you see that spider? It was the size of a turtle!”

The amazing spider episode got us off track for a bit, but I thought about the question again this morning, because I’m thinking about a proposal for a prospective client here in my neighborhood. I know the company well and I met with them yesterday. I’ve looked at their online presence and delved into their technology a bit. I feel as though I have a good idea for them.

One of our designers says he feels he’s like a doctor: he knows what’s good for the client, and they should trust him. Another feels more like a mechanic, who hears the problem and diagnoses the solution.

But it’s really not that simple. People don’t come into a mechanic’s shop saying, “I think I want a new radiator. This other guy told me I should have a new timing belt, but I don’t really like the look of them, and my brother in law got a timing belt once and he didn’t like it.”

They do come into our shop saying, “I know we’re not getting the results we should, but I really like having an all Flash splash page with automatic techno music, and I don’t want a new design. I just want you to do some SEO magic for the one I have right now.”

Rosie’s idea (as she explained once she recovered from her disappointment at not getting a photo of the Brobdingnagian spider) is that we should do what clients want, and also, once they see that we’re willing to do exactly what they want, suggest to them what we think they need.

Where do you fall on this question? Do you give your clients what they want — or what they need? Or, as a site owner, would you rather have what you want — or what you didn’t know you needed?


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