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How to Have a Successful Web Design Project (Part 1)

May 6th, 2009

What determines the success (or failure) of a Web development project?

While there are many important factors (both on the client and developer side) there are two all-powerful prime lynchpins that will make or break even the most qualified participants: Perspective and expectations. In this first of two posts I’ll touch on perspective.

Perspective

A Website, even when built with cutting-edge technology and top-tier design, can at best only reflect the real value that your business offers.”

Unfortunately many Web development request for proposals I see are in reality an afterthought or addendum to an already established business model. A common misconception is that a Website or application is some sort of magic accessory that will improve the effectiveness of any business to which it is applied. Revenues down?  Slap up a new ecommerce storefront and watch the numbers climb. New customers declining?  Have your existing Website optimized for search engines and all will change. We refer to this as the Field of Dreams syndrome or the “If you build it, they will come” mentality and it is probably the number one cause of failure and lost effectiveness for Web development projects.

The most essential key to a successful Web development project is not about the Web at all. It’s about defining a competent strategic perspective and then determining the optimal role a Web asset should play within a business’s overall strategic business plan.

A Website, even when built with cutting-edge technology and top-tier design, can at best only reflect the real value that your business offers. Conversely, a high value solution, even when wrapped in subpar quality design and development, can be wildly successful. There’s no better example of this than plentyoffish.com which serves up an antiquated template design, a blurry logo with a tagline too small to read, and a site full of distorted images — all while earning over $10 million of year with only a staff of a few people. Plentyoffish.com focused on the essentials of business and has proved its truly unique value proposition to its market space.  (see And the Money Comes Rolling in, Inc Magazine)

Don’t get the impression that quality graphic design and Web development aren’t important . . . they’re critically important. They just have to be backed up by legitimate value. Very few sites, even those offering stellar value, can get away with sub-par design and features; sites like plentyoffish.com and craigslist.org might but they are definitely an exception. In fact Stanford University reports almost 1/2 of the new visitors to your Website will make an immediate judgment call about the credibility based on your Website’s presentation alone. So, the optimal approach is to first develop a business plan that delivers unambiguously unique value and, second, deliver that value proposition professionally including quality design and Web applications.

So for a client and developer to position a project for success, they need to both commit to intense reality therapy so they can view the project from the same, or very similar, high-level and objective perspective. This can be tough for a number of reasons. On the client side it’s often more than they bargained for and they’re not prepared to invest the time and effort into delving so deep into the soul of their business just for a Web development requirement. They may agree intellectually that it requires a thoughtful strategic approach, but succumb to the “just get it done and off my plate” urgency while fooling themselves into thinking they’ll come back and fix it later.

On the developer side of the coin, it requires a commitment to a deeper type of relationship than that of just a self-interested transactional service provider. The developer needs to define themselves first as a business advisor and secondly a service provider and then only for those services in which the developer can represent themselves as an established expert. It’s only if the developer can truly be objective, and not threatened about recommending 3rd party involvement, that a genuine shared strategic perspective with the client can be reached.

To be continued . . .

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