03 07/2007Damien Buckley Let there be Web Divisions

In response to some interesting demographics emerging from the 2007 A List Apart Web Design Survey, Jeffrey Zeldman calls for dedicated Web Divisions in business. Its a sad reality that most companies large enough to have either I.T. or Marketing departments tend to let them loose on the company’s website with oft ordinary results.

Competent IT departments handle a dazzling array of technical challenges requiring deep, multi-leveled expertise. But tasks such as equipping 20,000 globally dispersed employees with appropriately configured PCs, or maintaining corporate databases and mail gateways, don’t necessarily map to the skills required to design great user experiences for the web.

Whilst we agree with Jeffrey that there are obviously progressive IT and marketing departments that do listen and are concerned about the user experience and accessibility of their websites, they are in a minority and we cringe every time we’re asked to take a look at a website built in house by the ‘IT person’ or we speak to clients who are having their site built by someone’s friend or husband who ‘is in IT, so they know what they’re doing’ or occasionally worse, their ‘graphic designer’. Print is a very different medium to the web and a sliced and diced photoshop comp should surely be handed to a developer, not posted straight to the web?

More often than not we see graphically uninspiring, tedious to use websites backed by fantastically complicated CMS that the end user has no idea how to use. To add insult to injury, the sites themselves are generally built with no semantic markup, use tables for structure rather than appropriately marked up data or even worse employ framesets and inline html styling rather than making use of CSS.

The net result can be a slow, inaccessible, difficult to use website which will no doubt require a full rebuild in order to bring it up to date in a very short time.

I visited an export forum last week and was less surprised to hear that for most Chinese companies’ looking to do business with Australian exporters, the website is the first and often critical point of contact, rather I was amazed at how many of the delegates had been surprised at this fact and as such were now beginning to take their corporate websites seriously.

With websites forming an indisposable and often front-line part of any business today isn’t it high time that web design be respected as the dedicated profession that it is as opposed to the ‘weekend job on the side’ of someone who services PC’s for a living.

You wouldn’t trust your tax return to your mechanic or have your lawyer look after your car brakes. Why would you trust your website to a database or networking engineer?

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