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The Ongoing Nature of Websites

Valley of mountains fading into the distance

More than one client come to me recently to say that the website I designed for them isn't quite doing what they want it to do.

Although they didn't come out and say it, I couldn't help but feel like they were disappointed and they felt that their website was broken.

In contrast to their mood, I'm often delighted—and not because it's an opportunity to charge them, but because this is what I expect to happen with every web project—through adding more content and using the website, the client has come to realise more explicit requirements and higher ambitions.

The fallacy of v1

To be totally honest—as inspired as I am—I never really enjoy building 'version 1.0' websites.

The unfortunate truth is that 'version 1.0' of a website never quite knocks it out the park because there's so much groundwork to cover and so many unknowns. Clients rarely have all the content they need; they'll change course mid-way through the project; the design takes a while to come together because we have different ideas; often the budget runs out, and so I don't have the polish time I'd like. Instead, I look forward to version 2; or heck even version 1.1.

Once we've built your initial site we can start laying on some polish; things are much clearer, we can make up for the course correction that came out version 1, and I can fix all the little niggles.

I feel the same about my website, honestly. Even now as I write this post, I am reluctant to publish it before I improve my site. But I know this post will look better soon when I get the chance to improve things.

In contrast, in my experience clients tend to think of their website as a 'one-off' that they rip apart every three years or so, only to get re-built. I'm writing this blog post to try and convince them otherwise (if they're reading!).

Take the iPhone as a good example—let's compare the original 2007 iPhone to the 2017 iPhone 'X'. The product is still fundamentally the same—rounded icons on the screen, fits in your pocket, makes phone calls, etc. —but they've slowly polished it over the years to great effect.

Apple doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater; they refine. Updating your website is like upgrading your iPhone—do it regularly and make incremental improvements.

Don't abandon your investment

And so the most disappointing thing is when I build a website for a client, and I revisit it a couple of years down the line, only to see it replaced by something completely different. What a waste! And this isn't a personal/emotional thing—I just think it's a total waste of money.

I tend to write down a ton of ideas for improvements and new features towards the end of the project. If only they'd commissioned a v2 of their current website. Maybe the client didn't think long-term, or perhaps they kept quiet about what they didn't like, or they mistakenly thought 'version 1' was my complete and total vision for the website.

What really baffles me is when a client replaces my custom designed-and-developed website with some awful standard WordPress template, which has all sorts of performance problems, and a totally generic design, making their brand seem like a fly-by-night.

If you've done this before, or are teetering on the edge of doing it, instead of taking the 'rip-it-down' approach, I urge you to have an honest conversation with your web designer. If you come to them with a budget, they'll be more than happy to improve things, and won't get defensive about what's already there. As a web designer, I expect your website will be an ongoing conversation, to be critiqued and re-imagined, and so should you.

My dream is for a client to come to me out of the blue and say 'you built this website for me a year or two ago. It's working ok but I've had a good year and want to re-invest. I'm not sure how to improve it, but here's my budget—do you have some ideas?'