Getting Flipped Off While Driving & No-Winner Battles in Business Web Design Projects
Not long ago, as I was driving back to the mountains from a Denver web design meeting, I apparently made a couple of young women rather angry.
I was in a left hand turn lane in Denver (trust me, I'll explain how this relates to web design soon) and had a green arrow, giving me the okay to turn left onto the freeway on-ramp. So I turned left and began heading up this particular freeway on-ramp, as I have done hundreds of times before.
As you head up this particular on-ramp, another lane merges in on the right and allows drivers coming from the opposite direction to get onto the freeway as well. Very standard.
Here she comes, trying to squeak past me...
On this particular day, as I was accelerating up the on-ramp, a car whipped up behind me in the lane merging with mine on the right.
Then the car was suddenly right next to me.
The driver of the car then attempted to accelerate past me, though I'd had a good head start and was still a bit ahead. The driver's old mini-van didn't quite seem to have the acceleration power she'd been hoping for.
The lanes merged completely, my car was still a bit ahead of hers, and this caused her to have to slam on the brakes and fall behind me to avoid what would have been a ridiculous side-to-side collision.
She was a bit angry...
A moment or two after this young woman slammed on her brakes, she swerved behind me and got in the single-file line with everyone else to merge onto the freeway.
Looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw headlights flashing at me.
I saw the driver and her passenger screaming silently at me.
I saw them flipping me off very emphatically.
They were outraged.
I would wager a whole lot of money the driver and her passenger both thought I was a horrible driver and/or a complete and total idiot.
Actually, I would wager a whole lot of money the driver and the passenger were 100% convinced I was a horrible driver and/or a complete and total idiot.
The only problem was...
I do believe the driver missed the two big yield signs flanking her on-ramp, indicating that it was she who needed to yield to any cars in my lane already headed toward the freeway.
We're great at convincing ourselves
On the road, in our personal relationships, as we watch or listen to the news, we all make assumptions of which we feel 100% convinced. Assumptions where we just KNOW we're right. Where we're beyond convinced that our belief is categorically, undeniably correct. We know it in our gut, we feel it in our bones.
But we're humans, and so, so often—even when we KNOW we're absolutely right—we're just flat out wrong. Like the young lady driving the mini-van who didn't realize she was required to yield to the cars in my lane, not vice versa.
And I myself could actually be wrong about my assumptions regarding her reaction. Maybe, erm.... well, maybe she wasn't angry at me at all! Maybe she knew she was in the wrong and had forgotten to yield, but was embarrassed and didn't want to admit the fact to her passenger, so perhaps she was trying to cover up her embarrassment—meaning that just perhaps she didn't think I was a complete and total idiot at all.
I think that's all very unlikely, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility.
How this relates to successful web design projects
Design is an interesting thing.
Some people—whether or not they have backgrounds or experience in web—have exceptionally strong beliefs about what is right, what looks good to everyone, what is most effective, and what's unattractive.
Not surprisingly, at our Denver web design company, we used to run into sticky situations where we'd put together designs we felt were exceptionally beautiful and effective, only to have members of a client's team emphatically claim otherwise.
We've watched clients listen to our explanations about why certain design components are critical, and why parts of their web designs look a certain way. We've watched them nod their heads, indicating they understood and our expert explanations made sense. But then they'd pause. And then they'd share a firmly-believed statement along the lines of...
- "The yellow is far too pale."
- "There is too much text on the homepage."
- "The people in the photo look too happy."
- "The headline text shouldn't be so big."
- "We located in Denver, so our website design MUST display a photo of the Denver skyline at the top of the homepage."
- "The links shouldn't be underlined."
- "The text needs to be much lighter, it's way too dark."
They'd make these statements as if they were facts. Not up for debate. They knew these statements were 100% true, and there was to be no discussion.
They required the website design be changed, and changed exactly as they requested—because they were categorically CONVINCED their beliefs were in fact facts, not beliefs.
I feel rather embarrassed to admit this, but...
Oh dear, I'm embarrassed to admit that we used to be no better. We did the same thing right back.
We'd nod our heads as we listened to clients; statements about what they wanted to see happen to their website designs.
We think to ourselves, "We're experienced web designers! We *always* know better than a client what makes an effective web design!"
And thus we'd pause, then share OUR firmly-held beliefs right back—stating them as unshakeable facts:
- "If the yellow was brighter, too many elements on the page would be fighting for visitors' attention, and visitors wouldn't know where to look."
- "There must be more than one sentence of text on your homepage as you offer a complicated array of services, and your website visitors need to be able to know what you do and where in the site they should navigate to next."
- "It's been shown that photos of happy people are more attractive to website visitors than photos of people who look neutral or sad."
- "The headline text needs to be bigger than the main text on your website's pages so people can discern what different chunks of content are about, and so they can skim your content more quickly and easily."
- "Your services are completely location independent and you're looking to expand your customer base outside of Colorado, so it's probably not a large photo of Denver atop your homepage."
- "The links in your website must be visually differentiated from your main website text, or else your visitors won't be able to tell they're links."
- "If the text is lighter, there won't be enough contrast, and though the web design might look more pleasing to you, it will be exponentially more difficult for your potential customers to read—especially your aging customers with poor vision."
We'd state these responses to our clients as if they were always 100% true and never debatable.
At this time the gridlock and frustration would ensue.
The clients were CONVINCED their opinions about their web designs were correct. Simultaneously, we were convinced OUR opinions about their web design were correct. Not surprisingly, these situations typically didn't generate warm, fuzzy feelings on either side.
Best practices are not facts that work for everyone all the time
As experienced Denver web designers who've kept a close eye on the industry since 2002, we know our industry's best practices. We read articles daily on what makes effective web design. We've built and tracked the results of enough websites over the past decade to see the trends come and go and evolve, and to learn what typically works and what doesn't work.
We aren't afraid to say we know what we're talking about when it comes to web design. BUT...
Best practices are not facts.
Best practices don't work for everyone all the time.
And certain combinations of best practices have, on occasion, been known to result in less-than-optimal results.
There's a MUCH better way!
As much as they don't like to admit it, even the most experienced website designers can be wrong. Often.
With every new design they create, web designers use their knowledge, creativity, and talent to come up with effective designs.
Sometimes they nail it.
Sometimes they don't.
Sometimes they insist their decisions are best.
Sometimes they integrate the requests of vocal, adamant clients who want design changes.
So here's what web designers should be integrating into their project processes: TESTING. We can't know whose opinions are correct until they're tested.
This is exactly why, on projects with appropriate budgets, we recommend testing the layouts and/or designs before they're turned into functioning websites and before it takes a lot more money, time, and effort to rework parts that turned out to be less than optimal.
That yellow the client thought wasn't bright enough? Test that yellow.
Removing the underlines from links just as the client demanded? Test those underlines.
Reducing the size of the headlines? Test that font size.
Test, test, test the points of disagreement, the components that don't feel right, the parts of the designs that raise doubt. Do this instead of simply assuming either the client or the web design company is correct.
How do you do this?
You can test quickly and very cost-effectively to discover if opinions are right-on or off-base.
First, create your hypothesis about what you believe to be true about a web design.
Then, test it. Though not quite as effective as in-person user testing (read Steve Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy to learn more), online user testing can unearth valuable information and end religious design wars.
We recommend using www.UserTesting.com to test your hypotheses if you don't have a sample of potential subjects to test. If you do have a sample of subjects to test, consider taking a look at www.IntuitionHQ.com (bonus: it's free).
Testing layouts and designs before they're turned into final, functioning websites can quiet the people who insist their beliefs are absolutely true. The results of testing can help move everyone forward toward the project's primary goals and the client's overall vision of success—which is hopefully why the project began in the first place.
Everyone wants the same success for a website design project, and testing people's strong web design beliefs can be a quick, absolutely invaluable part of almost every project.
The results from user testing often surprise everyone involved, and they have the power to make any website design—whether new or existing—more effective.
The angry driver again
I can't do a user test on the young lady who was (likely) very, very angry with me that day when she had to get behind my car while merging onto the on-ramp.
But that's okay.
Knowing the truth there doesn't help me help our clients achieve success, and that's what I'm most focused on.
And besides, I'm absolutely, 100% certain she was angry at me, so there'd be no reason to test, even if I could...