Do You Have a Strong Vision Shaping Your Decisions?

Paul Boag

Too many of our decisions are driven by short-term fixes and firefighting, rather than a clear vision of where we ultimately want to be. To see success, that needs to change.

Our brains are wired to be on the lookout for danger constantly. As a result, we see everything wrong with the world around us. Every problem, risk or issue stands out in stark contrast, leaving us with a constant sense of dissatisfaction with our world, life and work.

However, this animal instinct has a very short-term perspective. We can be so busy reacting to the immediate problems around us that we fail to move towards anything more positive. I see this in how people run websites all of the time.

Do You Have a Vision for Your Site?

If I asked you to write a list of everything wrong with your website, you would probably do so quickly. However, if I asked you to describe what the perfect version of your site would look like, you would probably find that harder. That is because we are programmed to focus on the negative, on the dangers.

The problem is that this leads to unimaginative websites. Instead of working towards a future goal, we are looking at the current reality and merely fixing the problems right in front of our face. That will improve a site's usability, but will do little to create an outstanding experience.

Instead, we need to step back and visualise what our idealised experience would look like. We need to set aside constraints and practicalities for a moment and focus on what could be.

That could be a storyboard of what a great experience would look like. Or a prototype built free from the constraints of the technology stack or compliance rules.

Alternatively, we could map the perfect customer journey, rather than focusing on the experience today. Even a simple written description would be better than nothing.

When working with the Samaritans, we did not just map the current customer journey. We also mapped what the perfect experience would be.

A vision like this gives us something to aim for, something to aspire to.

Realistically you will not make it all the way to that final result. But, every step towards that vision will be worthwhile. It will also show the cost of barriers that prevent the vision because you can see what would be possible if it weren’t for these constraints.

But this principle of having a vision to aim towards doesn’t just apply to your website. I believe it applies to the web as a whole.

What Is Our Vision for the Web?

I hear a lot of people complaining about the state of the web today. I don’t blame them, I feel it too. Our addiction to social media is detrimentally impacting our health, and the increase in commercial pressure is leading to a proliferation of dark patterns. The web of today is a long way from the vision I had when I wrote my dissertation about it back in 1993.

The proliferation of manipulative techniques is turning the web into an ugly place.

But, focusing purely on the shortcomings of today's web is not enough. We need a vision of what we want the internet to be, not just what we don’t want.

Of course, no one individual can shape the future of the web and neither should they be able to. However we can, and do, make a difference every day in the decisions we make as web professionals.

Do you know what type of web you want to build? Does that shape your decisions and how you approach your job?

For me, I look back to that dissertation I wrote in 1993. I hoped and believed that the web would be a great equaliser, something that provided opportunities for all. I thought it would bring people together, tear down national barriers and broaden people’s minds. But, most of all I believed the web would be accessible for all, allowing those with disabilities to participate in society without difficulties. I thought the internet would benefit everybody.

That vision has driven my career. It has shaped my choices both big and small. It drives my obsession with user experience and accessibility. Heck, it even formed my decision to create a masterclass on persuasive design — a course that offers an alternative to dark patterns, an alternative more in line with my vision for the web.

In short, my vision for the web has shaped my career. But, I have also had and continue to have a vision for my job too.

What Is Your Vision for Your Career?

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is mentoring other digital professionals, many of which run businesses of their own. As with website and the web itself, those I mentor are very good at saying what they don’t like about their jobs, but very poor at describing their perfect role.

Just as we need visions for the web and the websites we run, we also need a vision for our career. What do you want to be doing in 5, 10 or 20 years down the road?

Of course, we don’t even know if our jobs will exist in 20 years, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream. We just shouldn’t hold on to those dreams too tightly.

Not having a vision means you will drift from one job to the next with no real idea of what you want or how to get there.

Take my case for example. About five years ago, I began to realise I was getting older, and that I could not keep up the same pace of work forever. I realised I would need a job where I could share my expertise without lots of travel, stress or hassle.

As part of my work, I came across a gentleman who was coming up on retirement. He spent his days sitting on the boards of various companies, giving advice and helping set organisational direction. I realised that would be perfect for me. That is what I have been working towards ever since.

No, I am not there yet. But my mentorship is a step towards that and has proved to me that this is something I would enjoy and is feasible. However, without that vision supplied by the person I met, I would never have moved in this direction.

Yes, Vision Statements Suck

Yes, I know that all of this sounds a bit airy-fairy. Yes, I know that most company vision statements feel pointless. But that is because vision statements are personal and not the kind of thing that we should be publishing on our websites.

We shouldn’t be plastering our websites with vision statements. Instead, we should be using our vision to shape our decisions on a daily basis.

But they do provide us with motivation. They give us a direction and purpose. So, if you are struggling with your career or are just feeling like your work is pointless, step back from the coalface and ask yourself what you would do if you were unconstrained. What would your sites look like, what would the web be and how would your career change?

Now with that knowledge, make it happen!