by Vicki Jeffels | 14 June 2017
At the beginning of the semester I am often asked by web development students ‘how do I develop the perfect website’, to which I reply succinctly. You don’t.
To understand my answer, you need to go right back to the beginning and consider the reason behind your desire to develop a website. For some that reason is because they want a place on the internet to express their story – whether as a company or as an individual – and for many others that reason is to sell something online. Whether that something is a thing or a service, their motivation is to be successful at selling it and to create an online presence. After all, the online streets are paved with gold, aren’t they?
So, the web developer sets about getting together their best ideas, designs and code and they start getting the code down and after some considerable time a website starts to emerge. If that website is built on self-hosted WordPress as over one quarter of all websites worldwide are, then it is highly likely that the website will look attractive and be clearly coded. The use of well-developed plugins (I call them little packages of code) will ensure the website is secure, runs smoothly and presents well. Maybe the website employs a modern theme with all the whizz, bang, dash of modern web dev magic. Gorgeous parallax imagery will woo, social media proof will be easy to acquire with reaction buttons and comment systems, and of course the website itself will be whippet fast.
But will it be perfect?
It’s at this point that the web developer’s confidence falters, they might even look to hanging up their Learner plates for good and decide to never, ever touch a piece of code or plugin ever again. Encouragement is required at this point, so this is when I often give the ‘aim for the moon’ lecture and remind them, albeit gently, why they started developing the site in the first place.
They wanted the site to be seen. Whether blog, corporate site, or ecommerce shop the website is always developed to be seen by as many people as possible. Ideally, by customers or consumers who will start to interact with it and start leaving comments, and reviewing products and sharing the site with their friends and family.
In-order-to-be-seen the website needs to grab the attention of its prospective consumer or customer. It must be designed to ensure that the user’s experience is ideal and that they can easily get the information they require from the website, irrespective of whether they are using a desktop, tablet or are out and about and are using their mobile telephone.
User experience (UX) is a practice that is fast-growing and dovetails nicely into the associated area of design thinking and customer journey. It’s for that reason that all our web dev students look at the concept of the website and evaluate the best customer journey and user experience requirements before they even crack a code. They consider colour palettes and corporate ID and create mockups and wireframes as part of their web dev preparation.
And it’s not just the bones of the website that needs attention. What about the flesh? The substance? The content? That is really the reason the website exists. Without content – both written, and visual, perfectly created to entice, delight and inform the customer, the website is superficial.
But our learner developers have covered all of that and here they are with the website almost complete and yet I need to advise them that no their website is not perfect. It is not finished. It may have all of the design that modern page builders can provide, all the content that clever content creators can piece together, all the speed and security and community and SEO a website could ever require, and yet it will not ever be perfect.
It will never be finished.
When I told the current students in our Websites and eCommerce class this truism a few weeks’ ago there was considerable tension and just a little gnashing of teeth. The perfectionists in the room were confounded. What on earth could they do for it to be just right?
The simple answer is really, nothing. They just need to accept that the whole nature of a website is to represent your brand online until the day is done. The very nature of a website is akin to the very nature of all corporate communications. It develops, changes, evolves, and grows just as the relationship with the customer and prospective customer grows. There is always new material to be added to the website – a new blog post, new pages, new product details, new examples of how our customers are using our services and products. It is never done. Website development is an organic somewhat eternal thing. It’s dynamic, it lives and breathes, the very heart of the website itself breathing in tune with the relationship with its customers.
Last night we had the first presentations of the websites Class 4 has developed from scratch over the past ten weeks. Wow! I am once again blown away by the skill and style demonstrated by the class. Most of the presenters mentioned that their website was not finished, (though all without exception could be used commercially) and yet I noticed there was no tension when they said that. Over the past ten weeks they’ve learnt how to build a website but more importantly than that, they’ve learnt that when you aim for the moon even if you miss you’ll end up amongst the stars.
And most importantly of all, they have learnt that websites aren’t made to be perfect and complete, they’re created to be real, ever-changing, and alive.