Last autumn, we were approached by a multinational company to redesign their website. At the time, taking the project felt like a good idea: it came as a recommendation from an acquaintance, those in charge seemed like nice people and the tight deadline felt like another proof they were determined to work with us in developing a modern online presence. I also liked the fact they prided themselves on being professionals who treasure honesty and good work ethics. About a half a year later and plenty of work down the drain, i know for sure that was just a bunch of baloney that corporate people say just because it makes them feel special.
It’s disappointing that after the initial meeting, all went downhill. It just got worse from then on and i should have canceled the project on numerous occasions. However, i tried to stick to it, knowing that once complete, it would not only look great, but actually look and perform better than the version they were using for their corporate headquarters. While in retrospect it feels like all the warning signs were there in plain view, it’s certainly a different thing when you’re caught in the moment. Hopefully, this will help others avoid making the same mistakes.
Before i go on about the red flags which you might want to avoid, should you spot them early on in the game, let’s get to know our characters a little bit. During this roughly six months period i had to deal with a couple of “managers”. Their rather opposite personalities meant they would often clash, wasting a lot of time on unimportant details and often forgetting significant ones which were previously discussed and agreed upon. The big boss had an awkward way of appearing light headed most of the time, which he tried to mask by a certain arrogance and fake seriousness. The assistant, on the other hand, seemed like a man child projecting the image of a saint always willing to help and empathize with you. Unfortunately, that was just a front for his remarkable talent to lie to you while wearing an innocent poker face. It was a soft case of good cop bad cop which occasionally would turn into a sedated version of Stanley and Oliver. Their lack of knowledge about their company and the means to motivate potential clients is certainly a testament of their ignorance.
Despite stressing how important it was to have the website completed in less than a month, it took them just about the same time to get back to us and sign the contract. Of course, the delay was motivated by an impromptu vacation. Following this, it took them another two weeks plus several phone calls and a couple of invoices lost in the mail to confirm the down payment. Still, more offensive was that they expected to develop the project just on good faith. I seldom do it for people i know for a very long time, let alone for those i barely met.
With this out of the way, the first major issue was building the brief. Up to this day, i believe these two individuals still don’t have a clue about why they need a good website and how it should be structured so that it would increase their sales. This is also why they had no idea what content to include or how it should be different from the antiquated version they already had – copy paste just doesn’t cut it anymore. Although they specifically requested that the website be CMS based, two meetings and several hours of examples later, they still couldn’t make the difference between a normal page and a custom programmed section. This eventually lead them to mistakenly believe the website was still in development, although both the programming and the design were complete. Needless to say, it was futile to debate this issue, since it took them over six months to finalize the content for a couple dozen pages. I guess it’s no surprise by now that the cloudiness in their judgment reflected in their inability to establish an international brand on a local market.
While i stand corrected for arriving quite late at our first meeting, after they unexpectedly decided to change the location, they sure made up for it in the long run. Would a respectable professional manager set an appointment and then make you wait a couple of hours without any sign, only to call later that day and use a schoolboy’s excuse? Would they call you and then have you wait several hours before the general manager showed up? How about blaming the developer for the lack of content uploaded and finally admitting that it was their own fault?
Yet, probably the most despicable thing was their complete lack of respect for our time. Otherwise, why on earth would they request revisions and set appointments, if they weren’t willing to honor their part of the bargain. It was a totally uncalled for attitude, which only a true sociopath would be able to display. However, karma’s a bitch and stupidity is even more dangerous. Point in case, as i checked their website today just out of curiosity, there it was with a brand new face lift that would make any designer stamp their feet in shame. While it’s clear that it wasn’t just a regional change, i still have my doubts why they did it. Instead of looking worthy of a multinational corporation represented in over ten countries, it looks like a design exercise gone bad, put together in a rush by a newly recruited intern who’s yet to learn the basics and obviously lacking any native aesthetics. In case you are wondering here are just a couple of the obvious mistakes i was able to spot:
- seriously misaligned elements and inconsistent alignment patterns (either left, centered or right without a particular reason for it);
- poor spacing and padding between and inside the elements. Just like in the previous version of the website, there was no grid system used which resulted in width and height inconsistency along with unnecessary white space or lack of;
- horrendous typography. While the web may still need a year or two before it becomes type friendly, this doesn’t mean you can’t apply all the other principles to a web safe font. There’s no sense of hierarchy and again the text looks like it has been copy pasted with no subsequent styling. With so little attention to details, there’s no wonder why the content is riddled with grammar mistakes, inadequate translations and stereotypical ideas;
- they didn’t even bother to make sure that the rounded corners of the header blend in with the background of the page.
From this dreadful working experience i take a couple of hard earned lessons: you should never sell yourself short nor should you tolerate others’ disrespect towards you or your work. I’ve also learned that it’s never too late to reassess a project and call it quits, if it’s not in the best interest of both parties. Often, lack of focus or interest is both contagious and hardly ever gets corrected during the span of a project. In the end, dragging your client along when their mind’s not into it, will bring frustration, stress and obviously increase costs which you may or may not recover.