Design management

Clusterfuck, despite its saucy name, does not refer to a pleasurable group activity. Its origins are military, its antecedents bloody. The Urban Dictionary offers ten pages of definitions. Our favorite is a double entendre on “cluster bomb” and the oak leaf or star cluster insignia worn by incompetent military brass whose bad decisions result in a needless bloodbath—a “clusterfuck.”

Most web design and development projects turn into clusterfucks. The problem is not unique to web-based client services. Advertising projects, graphic design jobs, architecture assignments, filmmaking, and pretty much every other professional creative service usually begins with smart, talented people shaking hands across a table, and ends in finger-pointing and regret—like a Country & Western love song.

Great work cannot emerge from such environments. Not even good work can crawl from that wreckage. If a fine portfolio, a delightful career, and the satisfaction of earning your bread by providing a genuine service are to be had, you must first learn to manage your clients and colleagues.

Managing your way out of a paper bag

Although I teach this skill, I confess I am not nearly as good at it as I should be. The trick to great projects, I have found, is (a.) landing clients with whom you are sympatico, and who understand language, time, and money the same way you do, and (b.) assembling teams you don’t have to manage, because everyone instinctively knows what to do. I have been lucky at those two things, and thus poor at coping when a design job very occasionally lights its own genitals on fire and leaps into a bucket of oil.

For those who have no control over which clients and projects come to them, there is still hope, because everyone on the web (not just professional designers and developers) has the ability to produce meaningful content, and every designer and developer additionally has the power to create products and services. As your own client, working alone, or with a carefully hand-picked team, you can produce great things. If you suck at management, you’ll have problems, but not the kind of problems that create mediocre websites while emptying your company’s bank account and draining all the joy and color out of life.

Producing a well-edited zine or a useful and skillfully designed web application may produce income. It will almost certainly generate job satisfaction. And once it finds the right audience, it should yield more sympathetic clients, resulting in fewer clusterfucks, and a greater ability to get on the phone and straighten out a mess if you still occasionally fumble as a manager.

[tags]business, webdesign, project management[/tags]

Let there be web divisions

We are still crunching numbers on the Web Design Survey—with over 32,000 responses to 36 questions, there’s a lot to crunch. But in one area, preliminary data supports what anecdotal experience led us to expect: almost no one who makes websites works in their company or organization’s web division. That’s because almost no company or organization has a web division. And that void on the org chart is one reason we have so many bloated, unusable failures where we should be producing great user experiences.

Ponder. No matter how critical the web experience may be to the organization’s mission, the people who design and build those mission-critical sites work in divisions that have nothing to do with the web, and report to leaders whose expertise is unrelated to web design and development.

It’s a startling fact with profound implications—and as such has gone unnoticed by the business community and press.

IT or marketing

From law firms to libraries, from universities to Fortune 500 companies, the organization’s website almost invariably falls under the domain of the IT Department or the Marketing Department, leading to turf wars and other predictable consequences. While many good (and highly capable) people work in IT and marketing, neither area is ideally suited to craft usable websites or to encourage the blossoming of vital web communities.

Competent IT departments handle a dazzling array of technical challenges requiring deep, multi-leveled expertise. But tasks such as equipping 20,000 globally dispersed employees with appropriately configured PCs, or maintaining corporate databases and mail gateways, don’t necessarily map to the skills required to design great user experiences for the web.

Large-scale systems expertise takes a different mindset than what’s needed to write usable guide copy, finesse markup semantics, or design an easy-to-understand user interface employing the lightest and fewest possible graphic images. Moreover, nimble development and support for open standards are not the hallmarks of large IT departments (although undoubtedly there are noble exceptions). Additionally, developers with a background in IT (again, with some exceptions) tend to create from the point of view of technology, rather than that of the user.

What about Marketing?

Organizations that don’t entrust their website to IT tend to hand it to Marketing. The rationale for doing so is easy to see: Marketing has been briefed on the organization’s business goals (at least for the next quarter), and the division is staffed by communications specialists who know at least something about writing and art direction. If nothing else, they know who to hire to write their copy, and they are comfortable telling the in-house graphic designers to make the logo bigger.

Like IT, Marketing has valuable organizational knowledge (plus certain skills) to contribute to any serious web enterprise. The leaders of Marketing, like the leaders of IT, should be frequently consulted in any web effort. But the skills of Marketing, like the skills of IT, don’t necessarily map to what is needed to create great web experiences.

For one thing, as anyone reading this knows, the web is a conversation. Marketing, by contrast, is a monologue. It can be a great monologue—for examples of which, see The One Show Winners or the AIGA Design Archives. But a monologue and conversation are not the same, as an hour spent with your windy Uncle Randolph will remind you.

And then there’s all that messy business with semantic markup, CSS, unobtrusive scripting, card-sorting exercises, HTML run-throughs, involving users in accessibility, and the rest of the skills and experience that don’t fall under Marketing’s purview.

If not them, then who?

Business and non-profit decision makers, for your users’ good, consider this request. Stop separating the members of your web team. Cease distributing them among various (often competitive) divisions led by people with limited web expertise. Let the coders, designers, writers, and others charged with creating and maintaining your web presence work together. Put them in a division that recognizes that your site is not a bastard of your brochures, nor a natural outgrowth of your group calendar. Let there be web divisions.

[tags]webdesign, webdevelopment, design, development, web divisions[/tags]

ALA 237: client school

Generally, Issue 237 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, is all about education. Specifically, it’s about educating bosses and clients to approve good design and make better strategic decisions.

Stand and Deliver

by David Sleight

You’ve got thirty seconds to sell your work to the well dressed nemesis who’s paying you. Handle the next few moments gracefully, and the project will be one you can be proud of. Flub an answer, and you can kiss excellence goodbye. Are you prepared? Can you deliver?

David Sleight is the Deputy Creative Director of BusinessWeek.com, and writes about design, the web, and anything else that strikes his fancy at Stuntbox. When he’s not pushing pixels or punching code he can be found exploring the wilds of New York.

Educate Your Stakeholders!

by Shane Diffily

Who decides what’s best for a website? Highly skilled professionals who work with the site’s users and serve as their advocates? Or schmucks with money? Most often, it’s the latter. That’s why a web designer’s first job is to educate the people who hold the purse strings.

Shane Diffily is author of The Website Manager’s Handbook and webmaster with one of Ireland’s largest companies. He also publishes regular features about the challenges of website administration on www.diffily.com.

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles or find out more about the magazine.

[tags]selling design, design, development, webdesign, webdevelopment, education, client education, project management, alistapart[/tags]