You can't build a quality website in a factory

Best practices in web design are not unmovable absolutes. Rather they are tools we can choose to draw upon and apply to our projects.

Most of us know that building a website is not something that can be done on a production line. Unless you are talking about small template-based websites for a particular sector, every website is different.

Each website consists of its own specific audiences, business objectives, design considerations and other unique factors. A cookie cutter solution is not going to do the job.

We desire structure.

However, despite knowing this we long to turn web design into a process. There is something reassuring about working through a pre-defined process. If we check the boxes and go through the motions we will emerge at the other end with the perfect website. We like structure, order and predictability. Unfortunately, as with most of life, building a website does not work that way.

Too much process can be damaging.

In fact being too process orientated in the way we approach our websites can be damaging. One example of this (although not the only one by a long stretch) is the WAI accessibility guidelines.

Companies love the idea of having an accessibility checklist they can follow to produce an accessible website. The problem is that the guidelines were not envisioned to work in this way. They are ‘guidelines’ to help you along the road to an accessible website, not a ‘set in stone’ route.

Absolutes can be dangerous.

Turning best practice into absolutes is dangerous. It leads to narrow thinking and poor quality solutions. Sure, usability testing is a good idea but may not be right for every project. Validating our code is important but not for its own sake. Making our sites responsive is good practice but there is the exception to every rule.

Best practice should be seen as a toolkit.

We need to view ‘best practices’ as a tool kit that we can use appropriately, rather than a process we work through religiously.

The reason I bring this subject up is because of some constructive feedback I have received on season 2 of the podcast. Some have been confused by the fact that on a number of occasions I have stated best practice and then ignored it. To many this comes across as hypocrisy. Unsurprisingly I don’t see it that way.

When I was studying art at University one of the things we were taught is that before you can do the more ‘abstract’ forms of art you first need to know how to draw ‘properly’. I believe the same is true with web design. Once you know and understand best practice you can pick your moments to disregard the ‘rules’ and make the best decision for the particular site you are working on.

The lesson here is to know best practice and use it. However, if you have a justified reason for taking another route then do so. Web design is not a factory line and we cannot treat it as such.

  • http://onwebdev.blogspot.com/ Gabriele Romanato

    The point of this article, unfortunately, cannot be applied to all cases, especially when we have to deal with institutions and government sites. Accessibility is a good example of this scenario: in Italy we have a law (dated January 2004) which concerns the accessibility of web sites of our public administration. In such case, the best practices of accessibility (not to mention the WCAG 1.0 requirements) are treated as mandatory: links must be spaced by 0.5em, the base screen resolution must be 800 x 600, colors must be accessible, the DTD cannot be HTML5 yet, and so on. I’d like that also our administration one day will be able to realize the importance and intelligence of what you said in this article. I really hope so. :-)

    • http://boagworld.com/ Paul Boag

      Those are some very strange requirements you have there. Link spacing, screen resolution and document type are not mentioned in WCAG 1. Where do those requirements come from?

      • http://onwebdev.blogspot.com/ Gabriele Romanato

        Honestly, Paul, this is exactly what all Italian developers who have to make websites for the public administration ask to people who wrote this law. It’s like a cabal: some people interpret the law in a way, other people in another. I can’t say more because I’ve followed this issue only from the developer’s point of view. Formally, they say this law is also inspired by the Section 508 of the USA, but I don’t know if they’re right, because I know very little about this specific US law. I admit my ignorance, as many Italian developers, about this law, officially known as Legge Stanca. But, and this is a fact, if you want to make a government site accessible in Italy you must honor this law. :-( That’s a no-no situation. If you need more info about this topic, I’m here.

        • http://boagworld.com/ Paul Boag

          That doesn’t sound dissimilar to here in the UK. We do a lot of work for UK government and there is strict laws about what they have to do too. Its just that as you say these laws are never that specific and so open to interpretation. I can pretty much guarantee the law doesn’t specify line height or screen resolution. Somebody somewhere is making some bizarre interpretations of the law. Its worth finding out what the actual wording is.

    • http://boagworld.com/ Paul Boag

      Those are some very strange requirements you have there. Link spacing, screen resolution and document type are not mentioned in WCAG 1. Where do those requirements come from?

  • http://8gramgorilla.com/ Gordon McLachlan

    Thank you! In my opinion, one of the biggest issues (and ironically, most beautiful aspects) of the web industry is its low barrier to entry. It really is incredibly easy to, say, set up WordPress with a stock template and then call yourself a “web developer”. Ultimately this leads to massive competition and end users (and clients) devaluing the web industry as a whole. Fact is though, there are a huge amount of subtle nuances – everything from professional design to engaging copy to proper SEO and well-written code – that turn a basic site into something amazing and, at the end of the day, create a truly valuable and effective product for the client. Problem is getting people to recognise and appreciate that.

  • http://twitter.com/Webegg Webegg

    That hails a little towards a post I wrote earlier this year – http://t.co/12BXKPh

  • http://twitter.com/Webegg Webegg

    That hails a little towards a post I wrote earlier this year – http://t.co/12BXKPh

  • http://blog.rickmonro.com Rick Monro

    Could. Not. Agree. More.

    Much of what we see and hear online from the major players in our industry suggests that absolute best practice is an immutable component of anything ‘worthy’.

    We need more designers to be more vocal about what real world design involves – budgetary constraints, time constraints, and compromise with clients.

    By all means shoot for the stars and aspire to best practice but know that falling short does not degrade your status as an effective designer.

  • http://blog.rickmonro.com Rick Monro

    Could. Not. Agree. More.

    Much of what we see and hear online from the major players in our industry suggests that absolute best practice is an immutable component of anything ‘worthy’.

    We need more designers to be more vocal about what real world design involves – budgetary constraints, time constraints, and compromise with clients.

    By all means shoot for the stars and aspire to best practice but know that falling short does not degrade your status as an effective designer.

  • http://www.bigseadesign.com/ Andi

    Amen. I have been listening to the podcasts and was thinking:  Wow. I’m so relieved to know that even PAUL BOAG breaks the rules sometimes.  

    We have many long-standing, happy and fruitful client relationships that are based on knowing when and where to break the rules.  Sometimes, a project requires fully-loaded due diligence; sometimes you’ve done it 200 times before and know when to skip a step.   Part of our expertise is knowing when it’s alright or even advisable to skip a step.

    • http://boagworld.com/ Paul Boag

      I actually don’t like to think of it as steps at all but rather a selection of different techniques one can draw upon.

      • http://www.bigseadesign.com/ Andi

        Agreed.

      • http://www.bigseadesign.com/ Andi

        Agreed.

  • http://www.bigseadesign.com/ Andi

    Amen. I have been listening to the podcasts and was thinking:  Wow. I’m so relieved to know that even PAUL BOAG breaks the rules sometimes.  

    We have many long-standing, happy and fruitful client relationships that are based on knowing when and where to break the rules.  Sometimes, a project requires fully-loaded due diligence; sometimes you’ve done it 200 times before and know when to skip a step.   Part of our expertise is knowing when it’s alright or even advisable to skip a step.

  • http://twitter.com/rodrigonoales Rodrigo Noales

    I agree, sometimes make things “by the book” just slow down the entire process and the creativity that a person have may be affected by all these rules…

  • http://www.pokergosh.com The PokerGosh

    Very hard to overtake it.. Indeed….

  • http://www.pokergosh.com The PokerGosh

    Very hard to overtake it.. Indeed….

  • http://twitter.com/andykinsey Andy Kinsey

    In a factory… how about “you cant build a quality website if your a telephone directory” called either yell.com or thomson local? …. mmm 

    I make no if’s or buts about my dislike of them, as my latest blog post makes clear. But suffice to say you pay hundreds, get a template site that isn’t unique and have to pay hundreds more to make it unique or better … aka you get ripped off. Add to this because they have a reputation and are known by most people they are for some reason trusted … so small businesses use them and independent website designers like myself get forced out of work.

    Factorys that force out templates are bad, big name brands ripping off customers and doing the small man out of work is terrible.

  • Lennie Lenford

    To achieve formlessness you must first understand form. 

  • http://www.blurbpoint.com/ Internet Marketing Company

    For building any website there are many factors work behind it like its look , information you provide , how much you can solve the problem of visitors in right way all this factors are work to build quality website. The major need is information or content which you provide should be fresh and informative. Website structure should be in manner in which people can easily find any demand and solution from the website.
    seo link building

  • http://www.cullmanndesign.com cullmann

    The term factory can be very polarizing. In the cases where your team is larger and you have several specialists, the workflow can seem very focused by task. While this can seem very as though a project is moving from desk-to-desk in a website assembly line, the level of commitment from the team can very much change this working process for the better. 

    As you had noted, process can be dangerous if it doesn’t allow enough freedom for individuals, especially those that are keenly focused (Information Architects, User Experience Experts, Typography Experts, etc), the projects will not flourish. The craftsmanship of the team and the sense of ownership of individuals can help overcome even the most compartmentalized workflow.

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