You Can’t Automate Design (Sorry)

I think one of the hardest concepts for folks who have never been through a Website build project before, is understanding where development ends and design starts (and vice versa). For those of us who work in this field every day, that may seem like a ridicules concept. However this confusion does exist and it often shows itself in disappointment in design elements or frustration in lack of controls. I’ve seen this disappointment manifest most often when a client has fallen in love with the look and feel of a large commercial site. This client then hires a developer/designer who says they can build a site like the one they like so much. However here is the catch, the site they love so much is often from a company that has a much larger marketing and development budget, is full of slick graphics, interactivity, and is updated with new promos and graphics all the time.

The Disconnect

So the Website is done and the client is happy for the most part. Then the questions come:

  • How do I create a new banner?
  • How do I change my front page promotion every month?
  • How do I add new section for a special event?

The Web services professional responds in a technical manner; “Well, log into your site and access the banner control module, go to the home page slide control, or simply add a new page.” The client is getting frustrated at this point because they were just told how to upload a new slide, banner or create a new page but not how to create a brand new slick promotion like on the front page of NFL or new banners like Coca-Cola has. The developer/designer replies that they have to design the banner, slide or create a new page template and that stuff is not automated.

Whoa… You said you could build me a site like the one I like so much and they have new stuff every week that looks awesome!

It’s Not Your Designer

Lets say that the designer/developer in this scenario is totally competent, skilled and professional. Sure they can build a Website like Coca-Cola, the NFL or another major big-money brand. They can build a site that includes a lot of the same features, best practices and even some design elements. However the one thing they can’t do is automate design. If a goal of your site is to have new slick graphics highlighting the latest promotion or to have new interactive elements added on a regular basis, such plans need be part of an ongoing marketing budget and not the one time Web development project. I often tell clients that “We can’t automate design” as a way of getting across that there is a line between design and development and one cannot always automate the other.

Post by Shane Larrabee

Shane Larrabee is founder of FatLab, LLC and has over 20 years experience as a business leader, web developer and online communication consultant.