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  1. #1
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    new school vs old school - the short novel

    I'm an inhouse designer at a small business. My design team consists of me and a college kid. This business has been around since the 80s and we have a lot of customers that have been with us for a long time. Our current website looks like it was made in 1995 (maybe it was?), usability is TERRIBLE, and SEO is not up to speed, so me and my "team" are working on a redesign. As far as content goes, it's going to be nearly identical to the current site, but we are definitely modernizing it (hello responsive! finally!).

    Here's my problem- part of my job is going to be to show our new design to the sales staff. Since they are the ones talking to the customers, and the customers are the ones on the site, sales obviously needs to be on board with the site as well. Since I've been working here, we've had the same reoccurring argument where the sales guys
    1. fight change
    2. insist that their customers (my site users) are old school so "new school" design is just not what they want

    They want a website that looks like an excel spreadsheet. And don't even get me STARTED on how many times they've told me to make the logo bigger!

    This may have turned into a rant more than anything, but I really would like some input on how you guys deal with these situations. Should I just listen to them because they know the customer better than I do? Should I sacrifice good clean design just because the sales people say the alternative will work better? I feel like I was hired to work here as a designer, and I think part of that means they should trust me to do what I know how to do and what I was hired for. Afterall, I don't hover over their shoulder and say "you know, you should really say that differently when you are trying to sell this product." I understand I'd be a crappy designer if I just totally ignored my target audience, I just have my doubts about the sales people knowing the customer as well as they think the they do.

    I'd love your thoughts.

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  3. #2
    WDF Staff mlseim's Avatar
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    If possible, create the new site "on the side", without disturbing the current site. Doing that, when you are finished, or close to finish, you can have many different people looking at your new site and comparing it. Trickle-down feedback from others ... that gets to the sales staff.

    And there are some nice responsive PHP/AJAX layouts that can present data in a tabular format. That could be part of the design for the information the sales staff is concerned about.

    If you can insert some new things like text message integration, or technical things that would help the sales staff, that would be a good thing to do. I would expect sales people have smartphones, even if they are "old school". Website apps (not native apps) would allow some special things to be done for sales staff.

    You're doing the right thing ... keep going with the redesign with or without permission.

    Think outside the box.


  4. #3
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    Don't be afraid to look up and present some data on current design trends. My last couple of contracts have had me in the position your in and sitting down with DATA sometimes is the only way to break thru to them.

    Show them thing like Google Material Design, no matter how you actually feel about it, it will open room for discussion because if it comes from Google, marketers will feel the need to look at these things becauase , in the long run, Google is the god they want to appease ( right or wrong, its still the thought).

  5. #4
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skishyfish View Post
    I'm an inhouse designer at a small business. My design team consists of me and a college kid. This business has been around since the 80s and we have a lot of customers that have been with us for a long time. Our current website looks like it was made in 1995 (maybe it was?), usability is TERRIBLE, and SEO is not up to speed, so me and my "team" are working on a redesign. As far as content goes, it's going to be nearly identical to the current site, but we are definitely modernizing it (hello responsive! finally!).

    Here's my problem- part of my job is going to be to show our new design to the sales staff. Since they are the ones talking to the customers, and the customers are the ones on the site, sales obviously needs to be on board with the site as well. Since I've been working here, we've had the same reoccurring argument where the sales guys
    1. fight change
    2. insist that their customers (my site users) are old school so "new school" design is just not what they want

    They want a website that looks like an excel spreadsheet. And don't even get me STARTED on how many times they've told me to make the logo bigger!

    This may have turned into a rant more than anything, but I really would like some input on how you guys deal with these situations. Should I just listen to them because they know the customer better than I do? Should I sacrifice good clean design just because the sales people say the alternative will work better? I feel like I was hired to work here as a designer, and I think part of that means they should trust me to do what I know how to do and what I was hired for. Afterall, I don't hover over their shoulder and say "you know, you should really say that differently when you are trying to sell this product." I understand I'd be a crappy designer if I just totally ignored my target audience, I just have my doubts about the sales people knowing the customer as well as they think the they do.

    I'd love your thoughts.
    First and foremost...they generally don't. They're salespeople. Having dealt with many, many salespeople over the course of the past 15.5 years, I've learned to pretty much ignore anything they say.

    Why?

    1) They never ask the customers. They just guess to make themselves sound more intelligent.

    2) They don't take any real interest in the website. Want proof? You just gave it to us...the website layout largely hasn't changed since what appears to be 1995 (hint: if you want to know for sure, go to Internet Archive: Wayback Machine and punch in the domain name. If they're not blocking the ia_archiver bot, you'll be able to find out).

    3) Salespeople generally have massive egos. They're sticking input in based on nothing other than stroking their own sense of self-worth.

    So here's how I generally handle situations like that:

    1) I ask the customers directly if at all possible. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

    2) If it's not possible, I ask a manager or the owner to ask the customers. They usually are more concerned about money than being right and will ask customers what it is that they want.

    3) If I still don't get anywhere, I do what I'm thinking and don't worry about the consequences. Either I'm wrong with my redevelopment idea and I'll get fired, or if I leave it alone and the site fails I'll get fired anyway...at least I gave it a shot. It has never failed so far.

    4) I approach it not from the standpoint of design, but of development and features. What can I develop that would make life easier for people? You give them new features, then you generally win the design argument by coming up with "well, I COULD work it with the old design. No wait, it won't work because..." The salespeople usually want the new feature so badly they'll shut up.
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  6. #5
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    Thanks for your input everybody. You have no idea how good it feels to hear some reassurance on this for once! And it's nice to see I'm on the right track according to your suggestions.
    If possible, create the new site "on the side", without disturbing the current site. Doing that, when you are finished, or close to finish, you can have many different people looking at your new site and comparing it. Trickle-down feedback from others ... that gets to the sales staff.
    This is exactly what we are doing!
    Don't be afraid to look up and present some data on current design trends. My last couple of contracts have had me in the position your in and sitting down with DATA sometimes is the only way to break thru to them.
    The problem is, they don't care about data on current design trends, because they don't think it applies to them. We seem to get caught in a "chicken or the egg argument" because they say our visitors just aren't going to be inclined to be using our site on mobile due to the complexity of our products, but I say our visitors aren't likely to be mobile because our site leaves mobile users out in the cold. But, regardless, I've been trying to find some good stats that are specific to our site from analytics that hopefully back me up.
    First and foremost...they generally don't. They're salespeople. Having dealt with many, many salespeople over the course of the past 15.5 years, I've learned to pretty much ignore anything they say.

    Why?

    1) They never ask the customers. They just guess to make themselves sound more intelligent.

    2) They don't take any real interest in the website. Want proof? You just gave it to us...the website layout largely hasn't changed since what appears to be 1995 (hint: if you want to know for sure, go to Internet Archive: Wayback Machine and punch in the domain name. If they're not blocking the ia_archiver bot, you'll be able to find out).

    3) Salespeople generally have massive egos. They're sticking input in based on nothing other than stroking their own sense of self-worth.

    So here's how I generally handle situations like that:

    1) I ask the customers directly if at all possible. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

    2) If it's not possible, I ask a manager or the owner to ask the customers. They usually are more concerned about money than being right and will ask customers what it is that they want.

    3) If I still don't get anywhere, I do what I'm thinking and don't worry about the consequences. Either I'm wrong with my redevelopment idea and I'll get fired, or if I leave it alone and the site fails I'll get fired anyway...at least I gave it a shot. It has never failed so far.

    4) I approach it not from the standpoint of design, but of development and features. What can I develop that would make life easier for people? You give them new features, then you generally win the design argument by coming up with "well, I COULD work it with the old design. No wait, it won't work because..." The salespeople usually want the new feature so badly they'll shut up.
    OMG YES. SO much yes (egos). I am definitely looking into some of your suggestions. I checked out the site on wayback. Apparently this site was launched in 2008 which is a bit frightening. I'm glad it was at least in the last decade, but also baffled that this 1995 looking design was made as late as 2008. I've been brainstorming ways to get some feedback from the customers themselves rather than taking the sales people's word for it, so I totally agree with that as well. I AM the design/IT manager, so I do feel I have the authority to make the ultimate decision on a lot of this stuff, it's just dealing with the complaining and whining from other departments that I'll just have to deal with. The owner of the company usually has his own ideas for design, but at least trusts me enough to just let me give it a shot and has almost always liked the finished product. When I was first hired and was working on my first design project, I remember him saying "this looks great, but I'm afraid it looks TOO good." I can't remember exactly what he said next, but it was something along the lines of "customers might think we are some major national brand and wouldn't get the level of customer service they would from a small business with a slightly tackier website." Thankfully, he hasn't said anything like that since. Unfortunately, the only other manager is part of the sales team lol. Anyway, I know this is just part of the job and I'll just keep working on developing my "thick skin", I just wish I wouldn't have to fight so hard to implement something I KNOW will be beneficial for the company long term.

  7. #6
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    It may not have been launched in 2008...that was just when Wayback initially became aware of it. Still, that's a long time for any layout. I've got a client who is using a layout from 2005 at the present time, but he's also winding down his business for retirement and updating it now would kind of sort of be useless.

    I've run into that problem, although I'm not a designer, where I built something and people thought the company behind it was more than it was. My answer is what it was at the time: "then raise your game, or a competitor will."

    Sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail on some of the stupidest things imaginable. I had to convince a client earlier today not to change 10,000 website URLs. The reason she wanted to do it is because she wanted the word "style" in all of them so that people "knew they were stylish". Yeah...it gets that dumb sometimes. I recommend Advil. Tylenol's a valid substitute as well.
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  8. #7
    WDF Staff mlseim's Avatar
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    ... but it was something along the lines of "customers might think we are some major national brand and wouldn't get the level of customer service they would from a small business with a slightly tackier website."
    wow. I'm speechless.

    I know you shouldn't mention the company or give any links to their site, but can you find another site or demonstrate what the "complexity" of the data and products might be?

    Is there any kind of scripting or database involved in any of this?


  9. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by mlseim View Post
    wow. I'm speechless.

    I know you shouldn't mention the company or give any links to their site, but can you find another site or demonstrate what the "complexity" of the data and products might be?

    Is there any kind of scripting or database involved in any of this?
    Well, I can say we sell raw material goods, as well as use the materials to build custom products per customer drawing and order. Most of our sales come from the custom builds. There are lots of material options, and our products are used in a wide array of industries. On the current site we do have some stock items that you can click and buy, but the previous developers made the shopping section and an information section completely separate. So, if a user wants to both learn about our capabilities and shop at the same time, they have to constantly click back and forth between the shopping pages and the informational pages. The click to buy stuff rarely sells anyway (go figure...) so we are planning on just scrapping the ecommerce portion entirely. We aren't missing out on those potential sales because we have several other sites that sell the same click to buy products and those sites are doing just fine.

    The data isn't all that complex, other than we will have one page that shows all the boring material specs, but that is just one page. The rest is/will be your standard static "brochure-like" site. They seem to think that there is so much important information a customer needs to know that we should just plaster it all over the site so there is no chance of a customer missing it. The result is often a cluttered up design. I believe in keeping layout and design clean and simple. If navigation is easy to use and organized, all the same information is still accessible, just filed away in the appropriate place. Then there is no need to repeat yourself 50 times on every page "just in case they missed it the first time." They also under estimate the power of a beautiful photo. As the saying goes, a picture is worth 1,000 words. However, the pictures they often want to use are usually more specs driven, which are fine and dandy on the specs page, but they do nothing to captivate users or really grab their attention.

  10. #9
    Unpaid WDF Intern TheGAME1264's Avatar
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    Here's a trick I use whenever anyone says so many things are important.

    The more we highlight sections of text in bold, make them larger, or use different colors, the less meaning they end up having. If everything is in bold, a different color, or larger, then what is really important? Is this part any more important than the part before it, or the part after it? How about this part? You really don't know. It can't all be that important.


    ​If you're still questioned after this, I can't really help you.
    If I've helped you out in any way, please pay it forward. My wife and I are walking for Autism Speaks. Please donate, and thanks.

    If someone helped you out, be sure to "Like" their post and/or help them in kind. The "Like" link is on the bottom right of each post, beside the "Share" link.

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