Separating the Why from the How
The New Decade of Design Thanking

How Can You Not Afford It?

The Three Year Slump

The email arrived at 2:43 PM, marked high priority. It ended with the following words: "We're going to postpone our web site redesign until our sales pick up." Hmm... could there be an causal association between sales volume and the quality of their website experience? (That was a rhetorical question.)

I was tempted to write back the following one-sentence response: "How can you afford not to?"

Yes, I know that embarking on a holistic redesign of your corporate website isn't about waiting another day to eat the chocolate cherry crinkle cookie sitting expectantly in the larder. Large-scale redesigns are heavy-duty, overwhelming, emotional experiences that rarely ends in everyone sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya" and slinging back shots. The hard costs associated with a redesign—the fees we charge over a length of time for services rendered—are just a facet of the time and energy clients withhold in order to find the "right time" to engage. And if there isn't a firm content strategy or IA plan in place for future growth, they're going to outgrow the thing faster than a white hare being chased by a polar bear.

But begging off a redesign on a weak web presence, especially when your customers are sobbing for it, can have dramatic consequences on revenue and web traffic much further down the road. (Read: Catastrophic.) And most clients can't look that far ahead, especially if their business isn't 100% contingent on the Interwebs. Short-term tactical gains are fairly easy to squeeze from limited means—i.e. more aggressive marketing and promotion—but the substandard quality of a lacking user experience will eventually shave down possibilities for long-term growth.

The only way you can articulate this to a client, beyond hand waving and terse pronouncements over a crystal ball, is to take a page from the playbook of all those MBAs. At some point, your clients are going to have to invest not just in the new website you can help deliver, but the long-term plan that said website is only beginning to fulfill.

So do these activities as due diligence, right out of the gate.

1. Ask for a letter of intent. If the client's 100% sure they want to work with you, but it won't be for a few months, see if you can secure a bucket of time and energy that will allow you to do the appropriate level of site scoping and due diligence. This way, you'll be ready to dive right into the work when the client signs off on the full budget.

2. Figure out how your potential client really makes money. Glean it from their sales process. Fake your way into almost buying something. Troll the communities that form their customer base. See what they love, and what they gripe about endlessly.

3. Choose a set of 3-4 critical benchmarks. Find out what important tasks happen on their site, whether it's asking to be contacted by a salesperson or fulfilling a sales flow. Determine what's broken.

4. Ask for access to their site metrics. Some prospects and clients won't give you carte blanche on this information right off the bat, but any large-scale site redesign—and by extension, any proposal attached to it—should be informed by some baseline metrics to confirm the ways in which an existing web property is being used and abused.

5. Quantify the gains for task improvement. Give them tough love. Point out how much money is not being earned in failed task completion.

6. Then, talk about the gimmes. Now is when you can stop ignoring aesthetics and begin to add in the talk about showing mood boards and establishing the content strategy and so forth. All of those things can contribute to improving how people move through a web experience, but those are deliverables that govern what needs to be created, not benchmarks for quantifiable outcomes.

Most clients that are savvy about web design know how badly they're bleeding potential profit. They work iteratively to try and staunch the wounds.

And then there's everyone else. Chances are, those are the people you'll be helping most. And as a first part in the process of partnering with them, you're going to need to let them know how many pints of blood they've lost wandering around the emergency room parking lot.

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About today's graphic: I scrawled this chart in my notebook in an attempt to qualify what I've seen happen over and over again with potential enterprise website clients (as well as products and services): a judicious short-term decision by the team to forgo the redesign, buckle down, and attempt to ease the possibility of illiquid cashflow. In 12 to 18 months, this then leads to utter and complete panic. After three years, things tend to hit DEFCON 5. Add in a hurried redesign with little of the forethought necessary to support a long-term web strategy, and repeat the cycle. Call it the "Wait for the Nosedive" Business Strategy.

Just add a CMS for completion's sake, and you can destroy your long-term yield too!

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