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Why you need to be firm with website stylists

I look at so many websites and think that the designers should really be called stylists. In product design, a stylist can play a critical role, but it’s always in partnership with the engineers who make the product work. No stylist would be asked to engineer the product in the first place. Yet in website design, that’s exactly what often happens, and it’s why so many websites are bad. The budget for the design was so low that the only way anyone can meet the brief is for a stylist to take an off-the-shelf existing piece of engineering and force it to meet the brief with a bit of individualised decoration.

The main problem is that whoever created the off-the-shelf website template in the first place had no idea what it was going to be used for, and probably put in all sorts of features to make their product’s capabilities seem comprehensive. The stylist then takes the content produced for the website, and crowbars it into the template, often using features which aren’t at all necessary or appropriate, just because it’s easier to leave them in than remove them.

Examples include the rotating carousel slideshow on the home page, which is a poor idea at the best of times, and simply pointless when there’s only really one message to get over. Another is having ‘tabs’ in the middle of product pages, which hide really good information from the viewer. As humans, we’re great at scanning a document for important information. Putting information behind ‘tabs’ on a product page is the equivalent of putting it behind a scratch-off panel in a brochure. Why would you do that?

My final pet hate is website stylists ignoring fundamental considerations such as legibility, and throwing away web conventions such as links being underlined, or at least seriously highlighted. These people are like the architects who blight our cities with hideous buildings in an attempt to be unconventional and win awards. Neither group has to interact with the end user, but as their customer, you do – so be firm with them. Recognise when they’re doing something just because they can. You do know best.