If Architects Had to Work Like Web Designers

Many web design customers would deny that they show any resemblance to the description below. Be careful of the one who “doth protest too much.”

As with most things, you get what you pay for. Because there are WYSIWYGs (what you see is what you get) and free templates available, people think it’s a snap to put together a website. The fact is that it’s easy to put together a bad website, but for a functional, attractive, user friendly website – that takes into account the visitor, the client, and the target market – it takes education, skill, and business experience.

I am often hired by clients who have previously paid for cheap websites. In addition to receiving a substandard website for $500, $1,000, or more, some of these clients have lost their domain names from the lack of professionalism on the part of the previous web designer or relative (from either neglect or outright greed/vengeance/meanness). Starting over with a new domain name has forced these unfortunate business owners to have a much lower SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standing.

A few points are a bit over the top in regard to web design, but you get the gist.

I applaud the anonymous writer of this, and thank him/her for their clear metaphor. I have yet to find the original author or their website, but if you have a lead, please let me know, as I would like to give them credit for their piece.

By: Unknown
January 10, 2002

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can arbitrarily pick one.

Keep in mind that the house I ultimately choose must cost less than the one I am currently living in. Make sure, however, that you correct all the deficiencies that exist in my current house (the floor of my kitchen vibrates when I walk across it, and the walls don’t have nearly enough insulation in them).

As you design, also keep in mind that I want to keep yearly maintenance costs as low as possible. This should mean the incorporation of extra-cost features like aluminum, vinyl, or composite siding. (If you choose not to specify aluminum, be prepared to explain your decision in detail.)

Please take care that modern design practices and the latest materials are used in construction of the house, as I want it to be a showplace for the most up-to-date ideas and methods. Be alerted, however, that kitchen should be designed to accommodate, among other things, my 1952 Gibson refrigerator.

To insure that you are building the correct house for our entire family, make certain that you contact each of our children, and also our in-laws. My mother-in-law will have very strong feelings about how the house should be designed, since she visits us at least once a year.

Make sure that you weigh all of these options carefully and come to the right decision. I, however, retain the right to overrule any choices that you make.

Please don’t bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the house: Get the big picture. At this time, for example, it is not appropriate to be choosing the color of the carpet. However, keep in mind that my wife likes blue.

Also, do not worry at this time about acquiring the resources to build the house itself. Your first priority is to develop detailed plans and specifications. Once I approve these plans, however, I would expect the house to be under roof within 48 hours.

While you are designing this house specifically for me, keep in mind that sooner or later I will have to sell it to someone else. It therefore should have appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers.

Please make sure before you finalize the plans that there is a consensus of the population in my area that they like the features this house has. I advise you to run up and look at my neighbor’s house that he constructed last year. We like it a great deal. It has many features that we would also like in our new home, particularly the 75-foot swimming pool. With careful engineering, I believe that you can design this into our new house without impacting the final cost.

Please prepare a complete set of blueprints. It is not necessary at this time to do the real design, since they will be used only for construction bids. Be advised, however, that you will be held accountable for any increase of construction costs as a result of later design changes.

You must be thrilled to be working on as an interesting project as this! To be able to use the latest techniques and materials and to be given such freedom in your designs is something that can’t happen very often.

Contact me as soon as possible with your complete ideas and plans.

PS: My wife has just told me that she disagrees with many of the instructions I’ve given you in this letter. As architect, it is your responsibility to resolve these differences. I have tried in the past and have been unable to accomplish this. If you can’t handle this responsibility, I will have to find another architect.

PPS: Perhaps what I need is not a house at all, but a travel trailer. Please advise me as soon as possible if this is the case.

3 Comments

  1. I think your right Lynn, and to follow a little different vein here, this is especially good information and insight for the designer like myself who at this point isn’t really going to compete on a global level yet with awe-inspiring works, but will be able to create an attractive usable web site at a reasonable price understanding the needs of local businesses more than someone at some high-priced web design firm across the globe somewhere. So at this stage of the game my time and energy would be better served focusing on cultivating relationships with local businesses and on a more personal level than say on twitter etc. Did I stay within the parameters of your line of thought or did I get off on a tangent? Of course the great advantage of the web is you can be seen and heard around the globe and you definitely want to expand your services to the farthest possible extent, but one has to start somewhere.

  2. Wow, Roger – those are great questions to ask your client! And your first client, no less!

    Yes, I’ve talked with some of my clients who thought the same way in the beginning, and now that I’ve educated them that a website is not the same as a one-dimensional Word document, they get it. And they’re more appreciative because they are better informed.

    It’s also hard for most people to step out of their bubble and understand that not everyone has the same opinion and ideas as them. Many – I would dare to say most – websites for the self-employed are best used as an extension of their business card. Some want interaction. Others want to sell items or services. The ones who are really savvy and have been in business longer know that their best use of their website is to make it an extra service or educational tool for their current clients. Those same clients will pass the info onto their friends and associates, and the word of mouth thing works itself, instead of hiring someone or spending precious time on twitter, etc.

    One of a businessperson’s most important jobs is to educate their clients. Sounds like you started off well and I wish you great success with your future clients!

  3. I enjoyed this writers musings Lynn. Thanks for posting it. He/she obviously recognized the problem of the lack of awareness, on the part of clients desiring a web site, of the importance of them (the client) becoming an integral part of the design process.

    My first client and I had a real problem in our initial meeting with their willingness to spend the time to think about their site in order for me to be able to capture a vision for the project. This process is an art form in itself, and an important part of the design process; that is, drawing out of the client his/her vision for their own site and the importance of them thinking about things such as, “A description of the company” or “Describing the concept/product/service their site will provide..” or “Who’s coming to the site? What different types of visitors will come to the website in as much detail as possible.” My client seemed to take for granted that I knew all of these things already. For instance I asked her, “What is the goal you want to achieve with your site?” Well she looked at me sort of funny like I should know that she wanted a lot of people to come to her site and spend their money on her service. So in order to get the client to start thinking more in-depth I agreed with her, but encouraged her to break it down into smaller chunks of information. I said, “Yes, but in order to inspire people to use and stay at your site buying your products and services we need to present a good perception of your company, So how do you think your audience perceives your company and the services you offer right now? Why will people choose your site over others? Are there any special features you want on your site? How do these features support your business goals, and the goals of your user? Once the client engaged in the thought process along with me I was able to get a better vision for the project, and they became more aware of the design process and the details that are required to make it happen.

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