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No-one is off the hook on this
Underachievement is everywhere - in non-profits, private enterprise and government.
The sad truth is that many website owners simply do not know that they do not know how to manage online successfully, because there is no-one on their staff with the skills to tell them.
And it's not for want of money
Lots of organisations regularly spends vast sums on web 'redesigns'.
Maybe this shows that they 'get' web?
What's the point?
Customers crave information and services that are easy to find, read and understand - not prettier layouts.
"I wish you would spend less time making web information clearer & easier to find and more time on nice colours & images" ... said no-one ever!
The problem is that 'redesigns' are something top managers understand. They're projects. They're time limited. They can be budgeted. Most excitingly, they deliver shiny new 'web' things.
And so the cycle goes on.
Launch » neglect » Redesign! » launch » neglect » Redesign! » launch » neglect » ... etc.
But it's even worse than that.
'Redesigns' divert limited funds away from the skills and resources that could actually improve digital literacy and deliver meaningful services. So they're doubly destructive :(
Yes, design is part of the solution. But it's not the solution.
Set yourself the goal of making information easy to find, read and understand - and good design will emerge naturally (as will good content, good code, good management systems, etc).
Perhaps things are changing?
Many organisations are making a big effort to transform digital services. Some classic examples are in government (e.g. GOV.uk, Australia, etc) and Higher Education (e.g. RMIT, Harvard, etc.)
I remember when the strategy was launched. There was a lot of excitement.
"Wow! Real change is coming."
Some people point to the (recently 'redesigned') gov.ie to show that things are happening.
I remain to be convinced. I have yet to see compelling evidence that 'digital first' means anything other than 'redesign' using responsive templates.
The proof is in the people and resources.
Where are they?
Delivering and maintaining large, busy and complex digital services is hard. It requires substantial effort, lots of tools and many full-time specialists in content, design, code, data and more.
So where are the people and tools needed to deliver? Where are the ranks of:
- User researchers
- UX designers
- Content strategists
- Content writers
- Graphic designers
- Accessibility analysts
- Analytics specialists
- Product managers
- Web managers
- and more
There are none (or am I missing something?)
Again, no-one is off the hook on this. This blank space is everywhere - in non-profits and private enterprise too - not just government.
And you cannot rely on consultants or contractors to fill the gap. That means no skills transfer, no digital learning and (ultimately) no progress.
Nor can you rely on existing IT teams as a substitute. For all the excellent developers and technical people in IT, they are not enough.
Repeat after me.
Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT. Web is not IT...
Different needs. Different skills. Different tools.
It's simply not fair to ask a traditional IT team to plan, implement and manage design, content, analytics, accessibility, user engagement, etc. Let them focus on what they are good at (e.g. infrastructure, code) and hire dedicated new skills for new disciplines.
It's not like recruitment would be hard. Adopt a new approach to digital and hiring will mostly take care of itself (as happened for the GDS team in GOV.uk).
If 'digital first' is to mean anything, it must mean putting digital skills and resources first.
As long as 'redesign' remains the default solution, underachievement will be a feature not a flaw.
Read more practical advice....
About Shane Diffily
I am an experienced commentator on web operations. In 2015, I released the web's first online training course in website management and governance. Back in 2006 I published the Website Manager's Handbook, the original guide to online operations.