Public Business

This week on the Boagworld web design podcast, we discuss whether we should make our rates public and if business objectives are more important than user needs.

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Paul Boag:
This week on the Boagworld web design podcast, we discuss whether we should be making our rates public and if business objectives are more important than user needs.

Hello and welcome to boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. I’m Paul Boag and joining me is snotty-nosed Lillington.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I’m not too snotty; I’m just feeling a bit uuuhhh…

Paul Boag:
Yes, I’ve got to say I think you’ve given it to me.

Marcus Lillington:
Really?

Paul Boag:
I honestly do. I risked coming into the barn – the barn, I need to stop saying that – Headscape house.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, Headscape house.

Paul Boag:
Yesterday and I kept my distance from you all day, as I normally do, and yet I woke up this morning and I was just like uuuhhh…

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean, it came on about mid last week, mid-late last week, just a bit sort of tickly throat and a bit snotty and then I properly died over the weekend. Proper man flu Saturday, Sunday and Monday and then I thought yesterday morning oh I feel better now and it was about half way through the day that I just thought oh no I don’t and I’m same again this morning.

Paul Boag:
And so as a result the listeners are once again getting a remote podcast episode and I drove all the way into Winchester for no reason whatsoever.

Marcus Lillington:
I guess not.

Paul Boag:
Because you wussed out.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I just. I don’t feel very well.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
I really don’t.

Paul Boag:
I know it’s horrible, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Can I just not join in?

Paul Boag:
Well, this is the problem, because I don’t really want to be doing this anyway.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, you do.

Paul Boag:
No, I don’t. I don’t care about the listener. I’ve got other more important things to get on with. I feel a bit rough. Thor has come out in the cinema and I want to go and see that.

Marcus Lillington:
What do you want to see?

Paul Boag:
Thor.

Marcus Lillington:
Thor?

Paul Boag:
I love Marvel. Thor, you know the guy with the big hammer.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, of Greek – no, of Swedish legend or Norse legend or whatever it is.

Paul Boag:
Yes, Viking. Nordic.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
So I’ve got no interest in doing a podcast today.

Marcus Lillington:
I quite fancy seeing – oh what so you’re – you would rather be going to the pictures?

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Fair enough.

Paul Boag:
What do you quite fancy going to see?

Marcus Lillington:
Gravity when it comes out.

Paul Boag:
That just looks too tense for me. I think I will watch it when it comes out on DVD so I can turn it off.

Marcus Lillington:
No, it looks great.

Paul Boag:
It does look good, I have to say. What you’ve got going to see, mind, is Ender’s Game.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I read the book and I wasn’t as wowed by the book as everybody said it – as everyone’s like oh yeah I love that one and I was like …

Paul Boag:
Oh right, because I’ve now – I’ve read Ender’s Game and I’ve read Speaker for the Dead and then I read Xenocide and I keep waiting for him to finish, but he doesn’t. And now I’ve got Children of the Mind to read and hopefully it will finish by that point. Sooner or later, the guy has got to die, hasn’t he? He can’t live forever. Well in sci-fi I suppose he can, can’t he?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. I don’t know I just found it slightly – I read it and I had opinions that I’ve forgotten. But there was just something about it. It felt a bit kind of politically in the ‘70s in places.

Paul Boag:
Well, I suppose it was really.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, which didn’t sit well with me.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
That was it, I think.

Paul Boag:
Yes and the best thing about the film is the fact that they’ve renamed the aliens. Apparently it’s politically incorrect to call them buggers.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, quite.

Paul Boag:
So they’re called fromics or something; some other stupid name. So there you go.

Marcus Lillington:
I might watch it. I might.

Paul Boag:
Well, you also don’t want to give him money because apparently they caused a big hoo-ha. Did you about this?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
Because the author has got quite anti homosexual opinions I think. And so this all came out in the news and it was being boycotted and all the rest of it but I figure on that basis you’d never go and see a Disney film—would you?—because he was a fascist. I don’t know where the line is with stuff like that.

Marcus Lillington:
Well I suppose it depends on what was kind of seen – I mean to a certain extent, what was seen as okay at the time and it’s kind of being homophobic now is kind of not okay, so …

Paul Boag:
But I mean, I don’t know when he had these issues. It could have been years ago.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
It is interesting, things like that, isn’t it? Because like standards do change. There was another example of that recently where everybody was very disapproving. Oh, no it’s a very controversial point of view, but they were very disapproving over a certain person’s behavior – I won’t bring it up as who was in the news – and I was thinking, yes but you’re judging him by the today’s standards and this was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s and you think…Yes, it’s a interesting moral dilemma, isn’t it? But anyway what I – I brought it up to talk about explosions and stuff, not about political…

Marcus Lillington:
Oh. Okay. Not about morality and stuff like that?

Paul Boag:
No, I’m not into morality.

Marcus Lillington:
The fact that there is a burgeoning moral arrow as we move forward in time. Yes, this is true.

Paul Boag:
Well, you’re making the presumption – that kind of makes the presumption that our morality is improving.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
You reckon it is?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
But what about the Victorians? Because they were very moralistic.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but there is a difference between …

Paul Boag:
Although they got up to all kinds of things behind the scenes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes and all right, may be moral isn’t the right word. A sense of fairness arrow, I guess.

Paul Boag:
We’re becoming more inclusive …

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
There was a book – there was a sci-fi book that talked about that.

Marcus Lillington:
There was.

Paul Boag:
It was on Webmind, the one about the sentient life on the internet. And he talked about how, it was one stage where it was only white people and then it was black – women and then it was black people and eventually will we have – will animals have rights and he was talking about whether he would end up having rights as somebody that isn’t human.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes, that’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
It is.

Paul Boag:
That’s very good. And that’s a really good series as well if you’re looking for another sci-fi series although, again, you weren’t that impressed at that one.

Marcus Lillington:
I liked the story but it all felt a bit kind of – I know the main character was a teenage girl but it felt all a bit teenage girl.

Paul Boag:
Yes, but it was.

Marcus Lillington:
But a good story.

Paul Boag:
It was a very good story. Interestingly Ender’s Game picks up on some of the same themes as well in the later books.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, right. I haven’t read the later books.

Paul Boag:
No, because you only read Iain M. Banks which could be a problem as he is now dead.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I’ve just finished his last book actually.

Paul Boag:
Oh. What he published another one—did he?—after Hydrogen Sonata?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, under – it was an Iain Banks book.

Paul Boag:
Oh, I’m not interested in those.

Marcus Lillington:
No, no. It is good, very good.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I don’t like the real world.

Marcus Lillington:
But it’s – interestingly it’s a story that he started before he knew he had cancer about – it’s kind of written from the sense of an autistic 18 year old son of a man who is dying of cancer.

Paul Boag:
Oh right.

Marcus Lillington:
And the last sort of – it’s about a weekend when all his ex-uni friends come to the house.

Paul Boag:
Oh okay.

Marcus Lillington:
And yes, it’s good. I mean it’s sort of typical ranty Iain Banks book, but it’s good.

Paul Boag:
Ranty Iain Banks book?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
He is a little ranty, isn’t it? But then I always think good authors are ranty.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, well he rants – most of the things he rants about I agree with. So …

Paul Boag:
Well that helps, doesn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Kind of common sense stuff.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, his political views are very similar to mine so …

Paul Boag:
Yes. What right-wing fascist, Jeremy Clarkson views?

Marcus Lillington:
Quite the opposite.

Paul Boag:
Yes, but you do like Jeremy Clarkson.

Marcus Lillington:
I like his – I like …

Paul Boag:
You like his rantiness?

Marcus Lillington:
I like his rantiness and I like him as an entertainer. I think he is a very good entertainer.

Paul Boag:
He is a very good entertainer, I can’t argue with that. Yes, exactly. So we’re talking about some web design stuff today eventually.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
We will get on to that. As we have to do, as we feel obliged to, and we’re going to be talking about – oh, something that you might get ranty about actually, which is this house proposes that web designers ought to make their rates public …

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
… which I know is something that you have opinions on. And the second one is going to be this house proposes that web designers should acknowledge that business requirements are more important than user needs, which is something I get ranty over.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So between the two of us this could – especially as we’re both feeling a bit ill, we could become really quite obnoxious in this show.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh I hope not. I’m going to be really nice.

Paul Boag:
Oh, don’t be. That’s so dull.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I feel a bit cuddly.

Paul Boag:
People don’t tune in for niceness.

Marcus Lillington:
I got all kind of rah rah rah last week, didn’t I?

Paul Boag:
Did you?

Marcus Lillington:
I can’t remember now.

Paul Boag:
No, I can’t remember.

Marcus Lillington:
I think I was accused of being rah rah rah by you.

Paul Boag:
Oh well, that’s not surprising. I tend to do that. All right let’s move onto rates and discuss that one then.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Should we all share our charge out rates?

This house proposes that web designers ought to make their rates publicly visible.

Have your say!

Paul Boag:
Okay. So as I just said, this house proposes that web designers ought to make their rates public. That’s an interesting one. Right, this came about through something that I was sent by a user. I’m just trying to look up his name at the same time; nothing like preparing in advance. So, yes, Eugene and he basically – well let me read you some of Eugene’s thoughts on it. I wrote I hear some web designers and agencies laminate – laminating? That’s what you do to paper it, isn’t it? Lamenting.

Marcus Lillington:
You make it plastic, yeah, and shiny.

Paul Boag:
Yes, about client’s gravitite – gravitate – oh for crying out loud. This is going to be bad, isn’t it? Right, I’m going to start again.

Marcus Lillington:
Gravitatizing.

Paul Boag:
Gravitatizing. I hear some web designers and agencies lamenting about clients gravitating towards cheaper services. They complain that cheap design undermines the true value of what it is to be involved in this profession. However, agencies and freelancers alike shroud their costs in mystery while at the same time complaining about cheaper competition. How can there be cheap when there isn’t a standard bracket? He goes on to write: if low prices are destroying the market, surely educating up and coming designers on what is considered the norm in terms of cost and quality can help the industry as a whole. So he proposes we all need to be upfront and talk about what our rates are. Marcus, why is that a bad idea? Why would it be a bad idea for us to post on Headscape our rates?

Marcus Lillington:
That wouldn’t be a good idea because it would give our competition an unfair commercial advantage when we went up against them but…

Paul Boag:
Why would it?

Marcus Lillington:
Hang on.

Paul Boag:
Okay, go on.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ve got no problem in all agencies submitting to a kind of central body which does happen. You can – I can’t remember what it is. Chris downloads it every year, where basically it shows you trends in the different rates that you get for different – a designer or front-end developer or an art director and all this kind of thing. And it can give you sort of like London rates and outside rates and freelancer rates and all that kind of thing. I’ve got absolutely no problem at all in submitting to that kind of survey and then people can go and look at that survey and work out what they think they should be charging from that. But I don’t think it should be down to individual agencies to publish their rates because of what I just said that it – you effectively put yourself at a disadvantage by doing so.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So Eugene says on his argument about, well, we need to – it will help us establish what the norms are, that actually is a false argument and I totally agree with you over that, that there are – List Apart do it, E-consultancy do it, there are various other places that collect data together where people submit how much they charge and that’s published and you can go and look at that and that will tell you the norms. So that really is a false argument. But he is also arguing broader than that. He is saying that web designers ought to make their rates publicly visible, all right. What do you see as the consequences of doing that? You say that it will put us at a competitive disadvantage, but why?

Marcus Lillington:
Well, quite simply, people can undercut you. If the idea of having a competitive tender went away, that basically just people picked you, they went and looked at your website and prices were not really – people didn’t select on price, then it wouldn’t be an issue, but they do. So therefore it is.

Paul Boag:
But isn’t it pretty much impossible to compare like-for-like? Because the problem is, talking about undercutting you, yeah as Headscape we are going to be undercut because there are going to be people working out of their bedrooms while working part-time in an O2 store or something.

Marcus Lillington:
We won’t go up against them in a competitive tender. We will be going up against people who are agencies similar to us.

Paul Boag:
Right. But we know that generally speaking agencies similar to us charge similar to us. So what’s the problem?

Marcus Lillington:
Put like that, I guess there isn’t that much of a problem but I think in the real world there is. I can’t do thinking today, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, that’s fine. All right. Well, let’s look at something – instead of you having to come up with some ideas, let’s have a look to see what other people have come up with.

Marcus Lillington:
What a great idea. Yes, I like that idea very much.

Paul Boag:
Right. Let’s see what Clive is saying. He says competing on price is great when starting out or if your business model fits that kind of work, but it’s not for everyone. Why should everyone support and model by sharing their rates? So he is basically saying really price is only a massive issue when you’re starting out and that a lot of us don’t compete over price. We don’t compete over price, do we? We don’t sell on the basis of what our rates are.

Marcus Lillington:
No, but we tend to be – we will enter competitive tenders when we know what the budget is and it’s more a case of what you will do for that budget. Whereas a very expensive agency will only do A, B and C whereas we might do A, B, C, D and E for that budget and that’s the competitive angle to it.

Paul Boag:
Yes. I think there is also – he goes on to make another quite nice statement that I quite like which is: if you’re advertising your rates aren’t you encouraging people to judge you on price, as in you’re competing on price. So perhaps putting your rates up is – has a detrimental effect from that point of view that you’re saying “hey we’re cheap” when maybe you’re not, because you’d only advertise your rates if you were cheap, wouldn’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean, then to be totally honest, I wouldn’t want to put up – because of the reasons you just said I don’t think it’s necessarily something that’s that positive to put your rates onto your website. But if somebody asked me what they were – if somebody wanted to ask – talk to me about what we charge on an hourly basis or daily basis, I’m not that precious about that because actually it doesn’t really mean a lot. Going back to what I just said, it’s about what you can do. It’s how – if you’re charging, I don’t know, £50 an hour and it takes you four weeks to do a job that would take us two days to do, then you’re way more expensive than we are, for example.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
So really hourly rates, daily rates, do they mean a lot?

Paul Boag:
Yes, I kind of feel the same. But, yeah, there is kind of two sides of it here, isn’t there? There is putting your daily rates up, or your hourly rates, and then there is putting up our average kind of project is in this range. How do you feel about putting something up like that? Because it strikes me that you spend – and I know you spend a lot of your time where we get – not a lot of your time, it doesn’t take you that long, but annoying little job that you and Chris have is those people that write in constantly saying can you do my three page website.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but they will do that anyway, because they won’t read it on the website if you put it on the website unless you make it the first thing people see when they come to the website.

Paul Boag:
Well, wouldn’t you put it by the contact us form?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I suppose.

Paul Boag:
I mean somebody – one guy – I don’t know whether I’ve got it here, who actually said – I think it was look, touch, feel but I might be wrong – he wrote that – oh, here we go.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, he is on there.

Paul Boag:
Yes, got it. On our enquiry forms, our budget indicator starts at £2k as a required field so that it has to be made a selection. We often ask budget in the first email/phone exchange. We will give typical budgets when asked, but try to caveat each project is different. Now we do the second part of that. We always discuss budget. Why don’t we put it as a required field on the website? Because I actually think that’s quite a good idea personally.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t because of the kind of work that we – the kind of work that we want to compete for, sort of new client work is – it’s that it will – they will be sending us a 30 page brief for it. It’s not the kind of thing that they will tick a box about this is our budget in a email to us.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
You will put – again, you’re labeling yourself as somebody that does X or Y-type projects by doing that. I don’t mind having to sift through the odd e-mail that’s inappropriate, that’s fine. I think it’s – yes, it’s making it too much kind of like a shop and we’re a consultancy – don’t mean to sound too kind of highbrow about it.

Paul Boag:
No, that makes sense to me. I kind of get that. So let’s have a look at some of the – because we’ve kind of concentrated on reasons against it. Let’s have a look at some positives for that. Actually this first positive, it immediately gets under mine. Chris Cowley wrote: personally I do not think that prices are commercially sensitive unless it means some of your clients are being ripped off, in which case you need to ask why your sales people are giving such big discounts to the rest. Now immediately David responds and says well discounts is actually a legitimate strategic reason and I kind of agree that long-term clients, we do sometimes discount because they come back to us regularly. So I don’t really feel that that stands up as a reason. Do you agree?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
No, okay. I just wanted to check I wasn’t insane over that. Sorry, Chris. We disagree with you over that one, but I can see where you’re coming from but, yes. Michael: so much of the growth in the web industry is based on its community of sharing. We share everything; code and concepts. Learning web design is a process of copying like any art. I just think that the culture should be more open in discussing about pricing. That I agree with actually. That’s a kind of different thing that goes back to what you were talking about earlier, Marcus, about submitting our pricing and stuff like that. When it’s quite an interesting one is because often I – I’m giving talks at conferences and stuff like that and I do find myself avoiding talking about pricing at conferences. Now if you were sitting in the room, Marcus, and I started talking about our charge out rates and our average project value and those kinds of things – not mentioning specific clients – would that make you feel uncomfortable in that context?

Marcus Lillington:
Possibly. What is missing from what Michael said is that yes, maybe the web design community works like that, but all of the potential clients out there don’t. And they’re the ones who are selecting us for the work, I go back to.

Paul Boag:
But you could argue – I can see where he’s coming from because what he is essentially saying there is that well, hang on a minute, we give away our competitive advantage all the time. Every day I blog I am telling my competition how to work like Headscape works.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean you could argue – I mean, it’s the old – the adage of paying £2.50 for a cup of coffee and all that kind of thing, it’s like when did that become the norm. And it’s kind of like people want to pay for – if they’re paying over the odds they are perceiving that they are getting quality. So you could argue that you could – we’re looking at this from being undercut all the time but actually if you put really high rates on your website and talk about huge project values that actually you’re bigging yourself up. So potentially that’s – you could look at it like that. I’m not sure whether I would or not.

Paul Boag:
No. I mean, I’m kind of happy with what we do, which is we don’t talk about money hugely. I would like to able to talk about it more. Like right now I would quite happily talk about what our average project value is and even what our charge-out rates are, but I think you’d be more uncomfortable with doing that.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I know. I don’t know what our average project value is. You have to start saying for this, for this type of thing it’s that. But then you’re instantly – you know what it is like, you can spend a morning doing some testing or you can spend two weeks doing it properly, but it’s still called testing.

Paul Boag:
Yes. That kind of thing is difficult. It’s interesting, I have just written a blog post on exactly that that won’t be out, I don’t think, when this show comes out. But essentially it talks about – I was trying to work out how to deal with e-mail addresses on a website I’m working on at the moment, that they want to display – you want people to be able to contact them and do we go down the form route, do we go down the email route where it’s a mail-to link or is there actually other stuff we can do. And I was thinking it through and trying different approaches and kind of playing around with it and I spent probably a couple of hours thinking about that and how best to deal with that or if I had been building a kind of bog standard low-end website, I would have just shoved a mail-to link on it and I’m done.

So that’s the kind of example of – and you could say well I wasted two hours, but actually I didn’t. I came up with quite a neat solution, or I felt it was a quite neat solution, that really will enhance the user experience rather than just kind of doing the bare minimum. So there are – you do ultimately – it’s the old adage you get what you pay for, don’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, so therefore if you start talking about average project values and hourly rates you’re liable to be misinterpreted, should we say? So I’d rather not talk about them.

Paul Boag:
Yes, because there is a big chance of you getting into the realms of what £30,000 for that and you think well it’s £30,000, but it includes all of these things and these advantages. I’m more happy to talk about – I think I’m more happy to talk about the value of projects where there is a specific return on investment associated with them. But very rarely are you in a position where you can do that. So, yes, I’m kind of agreeing.

All right, Simon. Simon has the last chance to turn us around on this, right. I don’t even know what he has written but I’ve written it – or added it to the note. So let’s see. Putting rates on your site is a great idea as it allows potential clients to understand what they need to budget for. So you cut out the low price requests or major project ones that you can’t cope with. So he is taking the approach of dealing with those annoying emails that come in.

Marcus Lillington:
I guess if you were overrun with them then you might want to consider doing something like that. We are not, so I’d rather not.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I mean, you can tell very quickly, can’t you, just from looking at an e-mail whether it’s appropriate or not and you have almost got a standard response you send out, haven’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, kind of.

Paul Boag:
Okay. He doesn’t even want to talk about that. Apparently that is commercially confidential. So there you go, okay.

Marcus Lillington:
I have to let people down gently.

Paul Boag:
You let them down gently. Yes, you say I’m not rejecting because you haven’t got enough money. We are just too busy. That’s what you do. I’m going to tell everyone. So if you got an e-mail from us saying we’re too busy…

Marcus Lillington:
That’s not – that is so…

Paul Boag:
It means we hate you. That’s what it means.

Marcus Lillington:
At the moment that is a completely true statement though.

Paul Boag:
Oh, yes we are too busy. That is true, yes. But I think you sent it out all the time. All right. Now I’ve embarrassed Marcus although I don’t think I have. You’re really hard to embarrass. I wish you were easier to embarrass. It’s very annoying.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I don’t embarrass easily. I’m too old.

Paul Boag:
You’re just so laid back. Yes, that is true. The older you get the less embarrassed you become anything really.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. I’ve seen it all.

Paul Boag:
Yes, been there, done that. Right, so should we move on to the next thing?

Marcus Lillington:
Let’s do that.

Paul Boag:
Let’s get the show over with.

Business vs. user – where should our prioritises lie?

This house proposes that web designers should acknowledge that business requirements are more important than user needs.

Have your say!

All right. So next up is something that is close to my heart and that is the idea of user-centric design and the fact that user-centric design has almost now got to the stage where it’s damaging business objectives in some senses. So as web designers I think we’ve become so obsessed with what the user wants that we’re – sometimes we neglect what the business wants. So my proposal is – this house proposes that web designers should acknowledge that business requirements are more important than user needs. And this was an interesting one. I think I possibly skewed the conversation by very obviously coming down on one side.

Marcus Lillington:
Or people didn’t dare disagree with you.

Paul Boag:
Yes. It’s interesting. There was a couple of disagreements. Let’s look at the people that disagree with me. Susannah was one and she said web developers provide value to their customers in giving them advice on producing a website that attracts the users and fulfills the customer’s business goals. They have to keep in mind that positive user experiences can be a crucial must-have for the success of a website and a business. In my humble opinion, this is the filter all our work is passing: user experience as far as it is a decisive factor for customer success. So in other words, a site can’t be successful unless it has positive user experience.

Marcus Lillington:
Makes sense.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I can see where she is coming from absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
I think what she is saying is that they’re as equally as important as a – one is important as the other. You can’t say that the business requirements are more important than user needs or the other way round.

Paul Boag:
Yes. I can see where she is coming from with that but actually I think I disagree with it. But we will come on to – maybe I’ll…Well I think the reason I disagree with this argument of well you can’t have – a site’s success is entirely reliant on business requirements – sorry, on good user experience. That isn’t always the case. You can have websites, for example, that are only around for a limited time as part of a campaign and so actually you just – you don’t need to care about repeat business or people coming back to the site.

There can be other scenarios where users essentially have to use the site whether they want to or not. Sometimes you have to make compromises over user experience because of budgetary constraints. So there are situations where those two Venn – think of it like a Venn diagram. There are two – there are occasions when occasionally they don’t completely overlap and in those situations you need to make a call. You need to make a call as to whether we’re going to worry about – more about the users or whether we’re going to be more about the business itself. And I actually think that the business – ultimately the business is paying for the site. And if the website doesn’t fulfill the business objectives, even if it’s the most wonderful user experience in the world, then it has failed in my opinion.

Marcus Lillington:
What about on sites that – I can’t think of an example, that are not-for-profit and they’re being funded by, I don’t know, government or something like that, when it’s not so obvious what the business requirements are?

Paul Boag:
No, I know what you mean. We have quite a few of those, don’t we? Then – see again for me it comes back to – there are lines. Let’s go back to that email example I gave earlier, right? I actually came up with a nice little solution that I won’t bore you with now but was an improved user experience over a bog standard mail-to link, right? But it took me a couple of hours to come up with that and probably it’s going to take a couple more hours to implement that, while adding a mail-to link would take 10 seconds, okay? So I’ve improved the user experience, but there is an associated cost with that and that’s for me the nub of the issue. That user experience—creating a good user experience—does not come free. There is a cost associated with that and so a judgment call needs to be made about whether that cost is worth it or not.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So even with a not-for – kind of one of these ‘we are required to publish this information online and there is not a clear business objective there’, there is still a business requirement which is to come in within the budget.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. True.

Paul Boag:
See what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. I don’t disagree with you, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, I know you don’t. It’s good for you to challenge me over it. Shannon says: my instinct is to prioritize the user because logic tells me that happy users will lead to conversions and word-of-mouth advertising which in the long run is better for business. I’m curious to hear, though, some real-world examples when it’s seemed better for you to prioritize the business goals. So that’s – she is not disagreeing really. She is kind of challenging me to think of some real world examples where that has been the case.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean, for the majority of the time it goes back to what Susannah was saying where one feeds off the other. If you’ve got a good user experience then your business requirements will be dealt with better than if it wasn’t a good user experience. It’s just in those kind of ‘where you’ve got to make a call’. And I’m inclined to agree with you, Paul, on that.

Paul Boag:
And I think, Shannon, if you want a specific example, we have worked with clients before where we’ve been working on kind of part of the site, an element of the site, not the whole site – user experience is still important – but we’ve come across a particular thing where the business has got an objective. I know, I will give you a good one. Dickstein Shapiro. From a user experience point of view, all those – all the people coming to the site want is to get to a staff profile as quickly as possible. They’ve been recommended a lawyer, an individual and they want to get to that individual and see whether that individual has the experience that they want, okay.

But Dickstein Shapiro are aware that from time to time lawyers move on. So they don’t want the relationship to be just between the customer and the lawyer. They want the customer to feel some loyalty towards Dickstein Shapiro and not just to the individual lawyer. And so they want users who come to the site to be exposed to a lot more than just that individual. They want them to see the breadth and depth of the bench that Dickstein Shapiro can offer, they want them to see other services that they offer. So there is now a difference between the users’ requirements and the business objectives and so therefore we had to balance those two and make a decision about how to choose that.

These are the kinds of decisions that are being made all the time. When we go to Amazon, for example, to purchase something, in our heads 90% of the time you go to Amazon with a specific objective in mind: I want to buy X, right? But does that stop Amazon from shoving all kinds of other things in front of our faces as well? Hell no. Of course it doesn’t. If you were just designing a good user experience, you would arrive at Amazon and all it would have is be like Google—wouldn’t it?—with a search box. You type in the product you want, you go to a page that would essentially have the reviews at the top because that’s the thing that we all care about and a bloody big buy now button and that’s about it. But it’s not like that on Amazon, because the reality is there are other business decisions there.

Marcus Lillington:
You could argue, though, that the ‘other people bought this’ actually improves the user experience?

Paul Boag:
Sure. Okay. That is, but that’s not the – they also have recommended products, they have – they have adverts for the kindle on there, they have all kinds of other stuff that is there as well. So – but they make it as good a user experience as they can within the business constraints, is the way that I kind of see it. Right. Now, there is interestingly, mind, there are some people that took almost a more hard line view than me. David wrote: our only responsibility that we have is to make a profit for our companies and shareholders. All activity should therefore be centered around a realistic, sustainable and profitable business strategy. There must be an acknowledgement that is virtually impossible to satisfy all people, all of the time. We just don’t have the time, resources or expertise to do this. We therefore need to make choices about who we serve, what problems we’re setting out to solve and what differences we are wanting to make to the world.

I agree with the vast majority of that. The only bit I don’t agree with is the very first thing that David says which is that our only responsibility is to make a profit for our companies and shareholders. I do think –well this kind of goes back to the ethical conversation that we had – I do think we have other responsibilities beyond just profit. I think we have legal responsibilities, moral responsibilities. We’re back to morals again. This seems to be a recurring topic with us at the moment, probably because we have none. But I do think we have things beyond that. But I do think we have – what he says about acknowledging that it is virtually impossible to satisfy all people so we need to decide where we’re going to spend our time, resources and expertise, I totally agree with. So it’s interesting.

Let’s have a look at what other people have written. Ant wrote: in a perfect world the user would always win but in the real world your business pays you—not users—so you have to prioritize them. Again, I’m not sure I personally entirely agree in a perfect world the user would always win. It depends on your definition of a perfect world I guess. I don’t think my perfect world would be like that because I’m much more interested in – I love the constraints of web design. Do you know what I mean? I love the — if you want to be an artist that produces something wonderful and perfect, then fine. But I think a designer solves real world problems, which have these kind of balancing acts to them and I love that. I love that about it. So in my perfect world, I would still be a designer, not an artist I think, but were all different.

Andrew says it’s a fine line. Ultimately I agree with him – I completely agree with that. But ultimately it is the business that pays my wages and not the user. So yes, totally agree with that. Donovan says my job is to supply the business. The business’s job is to make the customer happy. Or the business may have larger strategic reasons for not wanting to make the user happy. And that’s what I was getting at earlier, that sometimes they are all legitimate reasons for ignoring users’ needs and you need to kind of be aware of that. So yes, that’s that one. I don’t think I’ve got a lot more to say on that really.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
Basically I’m right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, Paul, and no one will disagree with you.

Paul Boag:
But actually, on the first one, I think you’ve talked me round. I would have quite happily posted on our website a rough guide: you know, we deal with projects between £5,000 and £50,000 or whatever. We deal with stuff bigger than that and we probably do the occasional bit of work smaller than that. But I would have happily done that but now you’ve talked me round on that, I have to say.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. I think – and really important, just to quickly go back to the second one here, I think it’s a really important point here is the idea that it’s more than just – it’s not just about paying – making money for shareholders. I think we have more of a responsibility than that. It’s going back to the ethical discussion about if a client asked you to do something that you’re not ethically comfortable with, should you do it. And we – I certainly felt that you should try not to. Obviously, it depends on the severity of it. But that – just that discussion points to the fact that it is not just about paying shareholders.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely. Totally agree. Job done.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Can we stop now?

Paul Boag:
We can stop now, although you’ve got to do a joke.

Marcus Lillington:
I have another one from Wizard.

Paul Boag:
Now just take a moment, Marcus, right. Before you do this…

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Okay. I know you’re tired, but this is your part of the show, right? So you need to make an effort for this a bit. So I want you to put in all your feeling into it.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
No, you just can’t do it? You’re going to just sit there and read it monotone.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t read it monotone but I kind of nearly do. And that’s just part – that’s part of the style.

Paul Boag:
It’s your delivery. It’s your comic style. You’re the Jack Dee of…

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, I so wish I was.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I know he makes me laugh. He should stick to stand up mind. I don’t like his acting stuff as much. Why do comedians always feel the need to become actors? It’s like Eddie Izzard did that; hilarious in stand up but the most mediocre actor. Let actors act, do what you’re good at.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m trying desperately to think of a comedian who has become a good actor.

Paul Boag:
I’m sure there is. There are always exceptions, aren’t there? There is comic actors as well, but that’s a different thing I think. Anyway…Yes, your joke from Wizard?

Marcus Lillington:
An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings which were on display at the time. You know, George, I have good news and bad news, the owner replied. The good news is that a gentleman enquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 27 of your paintings. That’s wonderful the artist exclaimed. What’s the bad news? The guy was your doctor. I thought that was quite good.

Paul Boag:
I thought he was going to be a hit man but doctor is good too. All right. Yes, so that about wraps up this week’s show. I think – I’m noticing a trend, mind.

Marcus Lillington:
What’s that?

Paul Boag:
Which is the amount of comments we’re getting is slowly going down as the season wears on. It’s a good job we’re nearly at the end of this season. I think people are getting tired coming up with cool things to say about all of these things. We’ve finally broken them.

Marcus Lillington:
How many shows have we got to go? I’ve got no idea which show this is. This is the thing …

Paul Boag:
This is number nine we’re on now. Let’s have a look. I’m opening up my calendar. Actually we’ve still got quite a few to go I think.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, God.

Paul Boag:
Oh, God, it’s so hard. Right, let’s have a look. So we’ve got one, two, three, four, five – maybe six to go.

Marcus Lillington:
And we’re going to do a special one, aren’t we? Are we allowed to talk about that?

Paul Boag:
Yes, we can do now. This is really exciting. So we said we would do a joint show with Unfinished Business, which is another web design podcast. But now we’re also doing it with Happy Mondays too. So we’re going to have Andy Clarke joining us from Unfinished Business and Sarah Parmenter from Happy Mondays and we’re going to do the Ultimate Web Design Podcast Mashup. I’ve no idea how that’s going to work.

Marcus Lillington:
With Christmas carols and stuff.

Paul Boag:
With Christmas carols and shit. Although I have – now see you have given me an opportunity. Of course I am not feeling very Christmassy this year because I’m going to the Maldives.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I got it in again. Okay. So that wraps up this week’s show. Keep the comments coming, guys, because we build the show around your feedback and it is such good, you come up with such – some really great arguments and stuff and it’s really good to hear. So we’re posting discussion topics twice a week and you can get them by subscribing at boagworld.com.

Also guys don’t forget that you can also subscribe to the individual blogposts that we put out as well. So again, you can get it that from boagworld.com/show and go down to the bottom and you can find that you can basically subscribe to the little blog posts which are great if you think we waffle too much on the show or if you hate Marcus. Because it’s just me reading out the blog posts that we do but I try and make it entertaining. Actually I fail but never mind. They are there if you want them.

All right. Thanks very much for listening and we will talk to you again next week.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

Paul Boag:
Bye.

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