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Paul Boag: web designers must iterate more

Headscape founder says it’s time to ditch 'build it and you’re done'

As part of his web governance series, Headscape founder Paul Boag has written about website monitoring and iteration, providing a number of tips for monitoring and tweaking a site.

Boag argued that many website owners (and by extension designers working for them) retain a “print mentality”, setting sites in stone until an inevitable redesign a few years later. But the web, he said, is a place where small, ongoing changes can make a big difference. An example was offered in a site replacing a Verisign logo with reassuring text, after which sales rose by six per cent.

Boag talked to .net about his latest post and why web designers should be iterating more - and convincing clients to do the same.

.net: What inspired you to write this series of posts?
PB: It was borne out of frustration we’ve been feeling at Headscape. We’ve gotten fed up of doing beautiful designs that take months to be implemented by a client, or building wonderful sites that are neglected and decline over time, or recommending strategies that are never implemented. So we’ve ended up going above and beyond a normal web designer role and almost becoming business consultants. We’re recognising that so many organisations aren’t really set up to handle the web, which is a multidisciplinary thing that requires different departments within an organisation to work together.

.net: What inspired this particular article?
PB: The boom-bust cycle that happens with clients. They launch a lovely new website and then they leave it. Content decays and becomes out of date. Technology becomes redundant over time. The design begins to look dated. Eventually, someone in senior management throws their toys out of the pram and yells: “Our website’s terrible! We’re not pointing anyone at it because we’re ashamed!” And then they redesign and repeat the process, meaning the site’s only effective for a short period of time. My post aims to address breaking that cycle.

.net: Do you believe designers and agencies should be doing more to promote frequent, iterative updates?
PB: Absolutely. The best relationships between clients and designers are ongoing. If I look at the most successful sites we’ve worked on, it’s those we’ve kept tweaking and improving. A good example is Wiltshire Farm Foods, which we worked with for over a five-year period, massively increasing its sales. We were able to do that because we were constantly monitoring analytics, and doing user and multi-variant testing on an almost weekly basis.

.net: So what’s the way forward? Should designers still working up fixed-price sites and offering ad-hoc updates redefine their client relationships?
PB: Well, you still need a solid foundation to do ongoing iteration. So, if a client’s site’s been neglected for years, they may still need a fixed-price redesign. But after that, the client needs to move from a big capital expenditure every few years to a lower level of ongoing investment that should prevent that redesign cycle.

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