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Website Design: Got Your Magic Wand?

February 16, 2012

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Karen Euler, director of marketing at TRO Jung|Brannen. A dedicated member of SMPS Boston, she enjoys conversing with readers via Twitter [@karen_e] or LinkedIn.

Via Twitter, I recently asked some smart tech people for recommendations for designer-developers for a website overhaul. I got a curious reply from Charlie Crystle, a serial CEO who currently serves as Interim CTO at a consumer web startup in NYC (I have met him once in real life). He tweeted back, “Click heels three times. Rinse, repeat.”

“There’s no place like (a good) home(page),” said Dorothy while wearing her ruby slippers. An architectural portfolio should look shiny-haired and beautiful, just like the shampoo label suggests. So begins the fantasy-filled voyage to a new website.

Since the website for my firm was launched several years ago, developer technology has changed dramatically; since then, too, online communities that index and link to these portfolio websites have flourished. Today, we want to be able to manage a site’s content from the comfort of the marketing department without going through a developer every month. Most recently, we expect a website to be optimized for enjoyable viewing on an iPad and even a phone, not just a desktop computer.

The U.S. bear market of 2007-2009 changed our industry, too, of course. After rapid crisis management and downsizing, firms got caught holding expensive, high-maintenance sites weighed down by Flash movies that cannot be viewed on popular tablet devices. Looking for stopgap measures, some firms developed microsites that served as updated brochures and others launched blogs in order to feature fresh content.

Our firm has changed so much in recent years that a website redesign is nothing less than a critical retelling of our story. We went through a merger a few years ago that made for an exciting portfolio mix; the cultural integration was difficult, however. Then the recession hit. Despite such major bumps in the road, we have settled into our authentic self as a company. Our customers brand us better than we can ourselves: they see us as healthcare experts, which we have been since the 1940s.

We are also tackling the essential question of defining the firm’s personality in order to reflect it visually in the new site. It is my hope that we can show our mission and values through the design and content of our website more effectively than we could by posting a manifesto in large type. We stand for the betterment of the human condition; we achieve this through a combination of century-old heritage and innovation. Can we show this rather than say it? Likewise, rather than be trapped by the promise of an artistic visual design, I would rather the user experience be so great that it is itself art.

At this early stage of choosing a designer, taking a content inventory of our existing site, developing essential use cases, looking at social media modules, and collecting inspiration, we dream of waving a magic wand over the whole kit and caboodle. Perhaps that’s what Charlie meant in his tweet. Seeking a website designer is like shopping for fairy dust.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012 12:50 am

    Hi Karen,

    Great article, and a timely assessment of where most professional services firms are with respect to their websites. Many marketers will have to revisit their web content when it’s finally pulled out from underneath its Flash frippery and stripped of its design.

    Fantasy-filled voyage? More like an artful climb up a rickety flight of stairs where you know there are some missing treads!

    A big fantasy is expecting to find a web designer who “gets it” when you haven’t gone through the process of defining what “it” is. Just as The Wizard Of Oz told Dorothy and company to find what they sought inside themselves, most web designers wisely say the same thing.

    With website projects, most design professionals (and marketers) are a few bricks shy of a…road!

    I think design professionals (and their marketers) are overly preoccupied with this “Can we show this rather than say it?” question, with an obvious bias against telling because they don’t trust their own facility with words, nor do they trust their visitors to have attention spans longer than their own (which can be regretttably short), or curiousity about their work beyond how it impacts the client’s bottom line. Too often, text is either long and lofty, or short and ham-handed because marketers avoid the missing stair-step!

    While your firm’s metamorphosis has been more dramatic than most, it’s still a truism that anyone contemplating a web re-brand has a whole new story to tell, and is anxious to escape the “me-too” staleness of yesterday’s trendy market positioning.

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