Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia (or Build a Website for No Reason)

by Greg Storey

48 Reader Comments

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  1. I have to agree — any website that does not have a purpose is always going to run into problems, usually as soon as the design is finished and we realise “Damn, we have to put content in this!”?. It’s a problem I’ve seen happen again and again, now I have somewhere to direct clients to. :-)
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  2. Haha… bet that’s the last time you get invited anywhere ;) Great advice, though. Happens here all the time as well. There is nothing more difficult than building a site that lacks focus, content, and purpose. The president of our company (in Japan) once asked me to build a website dedicated to his dog. :(
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  3. I work for an internet marketing firm designing and developing e-commerce sites for small businesses. I think just about anyone in the company will agree that the biggest reason that a site will fail (and it does happen) is a tremendous lack of focus on the client’s part. Fortunately, most of our customers are retailers with a built-in purpose for having a site in the first place, but in many instances they require a great deal of guidance from us about how to position themselves and focus the main purpose of the site. And even then, some will fail because they’re simply not prepared for the amount of work required to do business effectively online and keep the site relevant. People need to realize that just having a website isn’t a magic gateway to instant riches.
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  4. _The president of our company (in Japan) once asked me to build a website dedicated to his dog._ Sounds like the perfect project for using an inordinate amount <blink> tags and MIDI files.
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  5. FYI, it’s David Siegel, and “Secrets of Successful Websites”. http://www.secretsites.com/classic/index.html Don’t worry, Amazon got it wrong, too:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1568303823/102-2859693-3100903?v=glance&n=283155&s=books&v=glance&tagActionCode=killersitesco-20
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  6. A very nice article, particularly so because it emphasizes how important it is for designers to be able to _write_. The nice thing about this approach is that you don’t have to be Fitzgerald to write a strategy; as you explain it, Greg, anyone can do it. But it does drive the point home that a designer who is able to articulate her intent in words has an inherent advantage in realizing a creative vision.
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  7. No offense to the author, but could you have picked a worse example to illustrate your point?  What is the point of building a fan site for this bank president dedicated to his cars, you ask?  There is none, obviously.  That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have wanted it, the designers shouldn’t have designed it and that it was an idea so ridiculous that the world would have been better had it never been imagined. Get over yourself.  Frankly it’s kind of embarrassing to read your article and see you taking the whole situation so seriously that you can’t look past your rigid set of practices, rules and preconceived notions of what a project should be to allow for a site that will be: * fun for the client
    * fun for the designers Where is it written that every site in the internet has to be goals-oriented with some sort of appealing mainstream purpose?  Where is it written that a guy with money to burn can’t burn it on a personal site that has significant meaning to him, although maybe not to anyone else?  Where is it written that if designers are excited about a project with no “purpose” it must be because they’re interested in the money? I doubt you’d come here and berate someone who wanted a website to show off the photographs they take around town, but you criticize the client in this piece because he was passionate about something (his cars) and wanted a site devoted to that passion.  Was it that, being a middle-aged bank president, he wasn’t cool enough to have his own website in your opinion?  Was it because you didn’t share his passion?  Do you think you’re a good designer if you’re unable to look past those objections?  I don’t. Frankly I’m surprised you were invited along to that meeting because you seem incapable of looking at a project in its context rather than looking at it in the narrow light your experience (which based on your article comes across as being terribly limited and one-dimensional). Way to rain on everyone’s parade because YOU don’t get it.  Which isn’t to say you should have just kept your mouth shut and not spoken up.  But you’re so self-congratulatory about how you saw the imagined farce for what it really was while no one else did. Honestly, after reading the article I think the joke was on you.  Having read the blog at Airbag, I never would have guessed you had so little desire to be involved in anything that was driven by passion rather than logic (or to even allow for such a thing).  You must spend all day designing insurance adjustment systems or some sort of horribly bland and market-driven work to be so pessimistic about an offbeat, creative project. I hope, for all of our sakes, you’re never again privy to the creative discussions of a project that doesn’t fit inside a corporate box. I’m not saying your opinion is wrong.  You wrote an editorial and you’re welcome to do so.  Your main point is very valid, but your anecdotal evidence to support your theory is where it falls apart.
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  8. _What is the point of building a fan site for this bank president dedicated to his cars, you ask? There is none, obviously._ Not sure where you got the idea that I the project in question was for a fan site. The client was looking for a solution that would help him sell his car collection or lease it out—in either case hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake. Not exactly a project to just slap something up and cross your fingers it will work.
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  9. Will: I’m confused by your rant, which seems to have come out of left field. It seems to me that maybe you awoke this morning just wanting to pick a fight. I mean, yeah, it’s been raining here for the last 4 days and I’m grumpy as hell, but let’s reattach our heads to our necks. Why are you so angry? The entire point of the article was to set forth a strategy or best practice. You really shouldn’t get caught up on the example given in the beginning, as it was really just used to make a point.  Maybe you should reread the article and not focus so much on the beginning, the real meat is further down. Also, just because there are methods and best practices in place does not mean it lacks passion, spontaneity or imagination. Anyone that has worked in a corporate environment knows that both need to come into play and the trick is in how to strike a balance.
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  10. bq. I’m not saying your opinion is wrong. You wrote an editorial and you’re welcome to do so. Actually Will, that’s exactly what it sounds like you are saying, in lengthy, demeaning detail. Please don’t attack Greg for his opinions or insult him directly. Criticize his points and the arguments his article brings up, but don’t make it personal. The only thing you will accomplish is everyone writing off your opinions.
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  11. Speaking as a seasoned designer, but one new to web development, Mr. Storey proposes a method that not only helps the development team stay focused, but can help head off ideas that dilute a site’s focus. Few things can undermine a strong execution as quickly as “too much” (IE content, features, target demographic.)
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  12. I refer to my being new to web development, not Mr. Storey. Apologies for not reading my post closer.
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  13. I have just set my strategy “strategy”:http://www.point-studios.com/about.htm .
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  14. Evidently I misunderstood the nature of the project. Your description of the project in the article said: bq. ...hired to create a website about his pair of rare and identical 1964 muscle cars.” Not “_a website to sell his pair of cars._”  No mention was made of the cars being sold via that site.  No mention was made of any sort of business purpose to the project at all.  My previous comments were based on the fact that it seemed as though you were troubled by him wanting to create a “fan” site for himself about his cars - a site to simply showcase them and admire them or whatever it was he wanted to do. It was unclear, based on your article, that there was, in fact, an underlying purpose to the site that you were aware of (to sell the cars) but those at the meeting seemed not to be. As you said: bq. “I’m sorry,”? I said, and put down the sandwich. “But I don’t really understand what you’re trying to do here. I know you want a website that has something to do with these cars, but what is it this site is for?”? If you understood at the time that the intention was to sell the cars, then what didn’t make sense in the meeting?  Selling his collector cars seems like a pretty clear purpose for a website.  Or, if you didn’t know that at the time, an explanation in the article about finally learning that point would have cleared things up immensley.  To me, reading it, I assumed you simply objected to the nature of the project based on it being a personal site with no clear “purpose.” Obviously that’s not the case, and I sincerely apologize for being rude in my previous comment.  But I do think that the tone of your article suffers by what is a good deal of ambiguity about the situation.  It may be very obvious to you what made the meeting ridiculous and what made the project ill-conceived but those points don’t come across in what you wrote about it. Even, for the sake of argument, that you knew at the time the site was about selling cars (which, from the quote above it sounds like you didn’t), what exactly made it such an incredibly disorganized process?  What about creating a site to sell rare cares eluded you in terms of a purpose and an objective?  Why does excitement about design and layout turn into “mental high fiving?” As I said before, your overall point being made in the article is a very valid and true one.  But the example used to illustrate that point (the cars project) doesn’t read to me as being as something that would cause such an incredulous reaction. Your whole tone in the article is very negative: bq. designers furiously sketched layouts to give the client an idea of how the website might look. This wasn’t a meeting, it was the Jerry Springer Show. bq. I watched the circus of mental high-fives bq. The project had no reason to exist except that the client wanted a website and the web designers sitting across from me liked money, so it seemed like a natural fit. Oops.
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  15. It’s obvious to me and may well go without saying for most, but the point that this article makes apply more widely than just web developments: A well thought out strategy is a must for nearly every business initiative.
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  16. Indeed, you to have a point, but you should be looking beyond the example. I know that you realise the point he is trying to make, so why not just take the article for its meaning — not the example used?
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  17. Any website, whether it’s intended to raise $1M in sales, whether its intended to display pictures of your cat, will benefit from having a clearly thought out _purpose_. A clear idea of what the site - _any_ site - is intended to achieve will be beneficial to the end result. It’ll inform what features would enhance the site, which would blur its focus. So: does the colour scheme complement the colours in the cat photos? check! How about adding a screen saver and/or a vote-for-your favourite pic facility? sounds good! What about putting some of auntie Ethel’s poems in too? Probably not. Unless they’re about the cat.
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  18. Oh dear - I actually did a google search for EIEIO thinking it had something to do with SEO :(  It’s been a long day… Nice article by the way.  Always helps to have a ‘why?’ person in the team/business.  Keeps things in check.
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  19. I have to agree with Will here. The article has a point and the point is much more clearly explained in “37 signals’ Getting Real: No Functional Spec”:http://www.37signals.com/svn/archives/001050.php. It’s just the way it’s written that bugs me.
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  20. I’ll probably have more to say later ‘cos this was a great article. In the bank example, you got the client to admit that what he was going for was pretty much a vanity site, even though there was a pretense of some sort of commerce going on.  What if you’re dealing with a client where the commerce isn’t so much pretense, but the client’s ego compells him to hijack the project for the purpose of vanity, even to the detriment of the suposed purpose of the site (commerce)? What if the site has an objective, but the client keeps making requests that run counter to that objective and will not listen to logic, reason, or research?  It’s obvious the official objective and the objective under which the client is operating are at cross purposes, but the client won’t admit it.  What are our options?
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  21. Derek, the situation you describe is never easy but my advice is to fight the good fight and do your best to steer them in the right direction. In the end the client has the final say, that’s the part unpleasant truth about being in a service industry I would say the best option is to continually work with the client towards compromise.
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  22. This is a great article, Greg. It is definitely important for clients to know their Web site’s purpose and goals before getting into creation and production. We have had many clients who I know have spent tons of time and money to develop their business and marketing strategies but have spent little to no time on the purpose and goal(s) of their Web site other than “make it look good and do good.” Hopefully articles like this will help get the word out that having the big picture determined makes designing and developing a Web site much easier, not to mention successful, on both sides.
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  23. No. The best you can do is suggest something and hope that your client might consider it an improvement, and will not hire somebody else to do your job. Period. The client does have it under control, because he has budget to burn on his immanently idiotical vision, and your job as a professional web designer is to suck it up and start coding. The only control you have is to decide, whether you want this job, or not (and your kid goes to a community college next semester, or you house gets foreclosed). If you have principles, you might say “I am not going to build a site for ___ (fill in the blank: porn production company, life insurance company, etc.), because it’s ___ (fill in the blank: immoral, dirty, nasty, etc.)”. That is the only strategy you can successfully implement, unless you are asked to.
    When was last time somebody here hird to develop a strategy?
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  24. Surely any web design agency worth their $$$ would start the project by developing a creative brief? In writing this document it would quickly become clear whether the client’s goals would be best achieved by a web site or some other means. Do web professionals actually start projects without one of these documents in place?
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  25. <<Back at the bank, the conversation started up again. While trying to communicate the reason for the existence of a website showcasing his cars, the client revealed that less than one-hundred people in all of the United States would likely be interested in obtaining the pair of classic cars by rental or purchase. Upon hearing this, I suggested, much to the chagrin of my fellow designers, that the client might consider abandoning his idea for a website altogether and communicate to these people directly through a well crafted print campaign. That, however, is a topic for another article. >> and that is why your opinion is very short-sighted. if someone is interested in buying these cars, no matter where in the world they are, the $1000(ish) shipping fee is small change compared to the price tag of the cars themselves. the web will reach out, and cross all print/address related boundaries and those who are looking. seek and ye shall find. feck, people import $6-8000 VW camper vans to the UK, why not a pair of Mustangs? Why limit your target audience with a limited print campaign? you are smugly doing your client a dis-service by not truley understaning his market. What’s wrong with the wealthy Premier League Footballers? The jet-setters living in Monaco, the rich Saudi oil barons and their sons, who set up their own performance league racing on a whim? Do you have all of these Goal Scorers, Playboys and Sultans addresses in a database? if you did, I doubt you’d be wasting your time writing for ALA…
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  26. I’m not sure what the big deal is. I thought Greg’s article was well written, incredibly organized, and on top of all that - hillarious. It’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it. I think that most of us have gone through similar situations, being asked to throw together a website with either an unclear vision or poor planning. For me, this is going to be a must-read for clients that I don’t feel are grasping why they “need” a site.
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  27. Far too many small web design companies are willing to take client’s money and run.  It may be hard to believe, but not everyone needs a website.
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  28. _Do web professionals actually start projects without one of these documents in place?_ Remember, there are a lot of web professionals who do not freelance, or work for a design studio, buy instead work inside a non-design company. I think this is where Greg’s article really hits home. Let’s take a step back and realize that many web professionals have no choice but to start a project without any documents. It’s a reality.
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  29. What is it about the net that makes people loose the ability to make a contrary point or disagree without sounding like a grumpy old troll?  Is it just the relative vacuum of the medium, text on a screen with no cadence, rythm, emotion, or body language attached to it?  If so, is that a failing of the medium or a failing of those using the medium to understand those limitations? And why is there a statistically small yet signifigant percentage of the population who get really hung up on what ammounts to syntax errors.  They raise one or two good points, usually of the sort favored by the most knit picky of editors.  But these handful of syntax errors do not invalidate the original point.  It’s a logical straw man. I have higher hopes for ALA readers, and let’s be honest, compared to most sites the discussions around here are pretty civilized.  I just wish someone would publish an ALA article I largely disagree with so that I could try to express my disagreement through this medium and see how much of an ass I make of myself.  It would probably be quite large.  So I’m reserving judgement on anyone until I can walk a mile in their shoes.  Except for the logical fallacy bit, that’s just silly no matter what the medium of discussion is.
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  30. Anyway, Greg, thanks for the quick reply.  I always try to compromise with my clients.  9 out of 10 times it works quite smoothly.  I feel a large part of my job isn’t the actual design of the site and the writing of the code, but helping the client understand the target audience as well as what works and what doesn’t on the web (aka the secrets of successful websites).  I want to make sure that both the client and their future site visitors are happy, and education plays a big role in that. The problem I have run into a couple of times ties into my earlier comment about civilized disagreements online.  Occasionally I find a client who doesn’t want to be educated and won’t compromise.  They are paying good money to the firm I work for in exchange for our expertese, but they choose to not listen to us. You wouldn’t go to a doctor and totally ignore his diagnosis.  You wouldn’t demand that your auto mechanic replace your alternator after s/he has determined that the problem lies in the fuel injection system.  You wouldn’t ask an architect to remove an important support column on a new building because it partially blocks the view from the lobby. You may certainly get a second opinion in these cases, and sometimes you’ll find that the reccomendation of the first professional was way off the mark.  We’re all only human after all. But I think that’s a large part of the problem.  It’s very easy to go hire another design firm who will quickly produce whatever craptastic site you request from them, take your money, and leave you (as a client) with a case of the warm fuzzies and a website destined to fail.  So when we make reccomendations or attempt to educate our clients, if they possess a sufficient ego to be offended by us lowely designers daring to voice any form of disagreement, they look for greener pastures; even if the green is really just spraypainted on. I think an earlier ALA article addressed the lack of professional respect web designers get. “Oh yeah, my newphew does that too.  He’s 16.”  How can we foster enough respect among the stastically small yet signifigant portion of problem clients to not be dismissed like uppity help in the old south when we make a recomendation that goes counter to the vanity of the client?  There’s fighting the good fight, and there’s picking your battles.  The line between the two is something I’ve struggled with throughout my entire career.
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  31. @will
    I think you missed the point of the article. The story was in reference to a new (different) way to look at things. Hence the name of the domain A List Apart. Critical thinking plays a pivitol role in separating yourself from the competition. The web is so full of cliche’ ideology, and trendy design. We need to critically analize our methods, to set ourselves apart from the norm. Great ideas Greg.
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  32. So, everywhere around the world the same comedy is playing ;-)
    Hang on Greg! Sure you’re not alone.
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  33. I thought this article was unclearly written and that Storey’s sarcasm greatly detracted from the messages in his piece. However because you are not allowed to have an opinion that disagrees with the digerati in-crowd, I am now at risk for the slings and arrows of one Mr. Santa Maria who will of course jump in to defend Storey, regarless of the quality of the piece he wrote.
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  34. Your first sentence expressed dissatisfaction with the style of writing in the article, which you say detracted from the messages.  This implies you’re at least willing to entertain the idea that a message or two lies burried somewhere in there.  You didn’t imply that using a narrative voice you find displeasing neccesarily invalidates the point the article attempts to communicate, just that the medthod of communication could use some improvement.  You managed to voice disagreement without sounding like an ass, at least for one sentence, then you wandered off topic a bit.  Maybe brevity is the secret?
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  35. Derek writes: _How can we foster enough respect among the stastically small yet signifigant portion of problem clients to not be dismissed like uppity help in the old south when we make a recommendation that goes counter to the vanity of the client?_ That’s a big question and one that plagues the design community at large but I’ll take a swing. In the circumstance you mention I think it helps having your back covered on three fronts: experience in the field, great design talent, and data or number to support or refute the work. Back in the day, before they were Basecamping, Jason and Co. did a remarkable job of not only designing functional sites but they tracked the data to prove that the work they did statistically improved the performance of the site (traffic, sales, less call volume, etc.). After a few years they had amassed enough data to know what works and what doesn’t — not that you and I don’t know our industry but they had the numbers to support their convictions. If you can’t get through to a client on the first two pillars (experience and design) then perhaps the third (numbers) will hit home. That said, working against vanity isn’t easy, if not impossible. You can only be expected to do your best and if the cilent still isn’t listening then you have every right to be uppity.
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  36. “That, however, is a topic for another article.” Can’t wait!
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  37. Forgive me for being so simple minded, but at madbull media we have a very clear focus. We pick hot topics that my partner and I personally have an interest in, we do our research, lay out the scope of the site and then spend 95% of our time applying principles we have learned that make lot money and allow us to have fun in the process. It that fails we learn and move on. Why are we so in your face about the process? Do the math. Our minimum goal is to make $100 a day per site.
    That’s $36,500 per year. Now do that times 10 sites a year times 10 years. That’s why we now pick and choose what to spend our time on. The numbers never lie. And once in awhile you get lucky and get a site that makes $1,000 a day. Now that is really fun. After 10 years owning a new media cutting edge design business, at the end of the day the client did not care about the fabulous images and incredible copy unless we produced a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No pot of gold, no more client.  Not sure why it took so long to figure out, but one day we decided this is crazy making all this money for others so we started applying our experience to our own projects. Now we were Free at Last! Thank God we never had to look back. Someday we may develop sites that make no sense other than satisfying some crazy need to make a point or take a stand that needs to be addressed. Money isn’t everything. We just haven’t quite reached that point yet. In the meantime all of us at (Mad Bull Media) are highly focused on going to the bank on a regular basis. It’s also great therapy and so far has prevented a major case of burnout. We have a system that works for us and believe me we do not cut corners or break our own rules for success. We worked hard to get to this point so now we are just having fun not sharing any more information about how we do it. Someday we may write a book but I may be living on some island in the Caribbean at age 75 because I promised I would teach our little tricks to about six grand kids first. I find no fault with the article. It is very will written and makes a lot of sense. Just keep in mind that at the end of the day, it is always still about the money. It that bothers anyone may I suggest they get a job mowing lawns? Bigkahoonda
    mike@madbullmedia.com
    (Sorry no website—-no interest in telling anyone what we do or how we do it.) That would be extremely stupid.)
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  38. To get my colours on the table right from the getgo, great article, in the fire of the action we sometimes gloss over these basic management principles.
    Any decision, be it getting dressed in the morning or creating a Web site, will be greatly improved by knowing what the mission is and planning how to achieve it. I won’t have the same “dressing strategy” if my mission is to go to a party or if it’s to clean the oven. Clients who want vanity sites also have a mission, it may not appear important to me, but it obviously is to the client. My role is to help him determine what he wishes to achieve (no matter what I think of the idea) so that I can help him reach HIS goal. If his goal is to impress a new girlfriend with how much money he can throw around - so be it, impress his girlfriend is what I will help him to do. I am not there to judge. Last fall I had a leak in my roof. I was all set to have a new one put on, but an honest roofer (yes, they do so exist) looked at it and said it was still very sound and just needed a minor patch where something had lifted. Who do you think I will hire when I do need a new roof? Who do you think I have referred my friends to? If the client is better served by some other strategy, ethically, my role is to point it out to him and offer him alternatives (taking her to a fancy resort perhaps?). If he chooses to ignore my advice, it’s his dime. If he chooses to follow my advice, and I don’t get to make a site for him, someday he may truly need one (or know someone who does) and my honesty might be rewarded (Hey! he may event chose to have the vanity site AND take her to the resort). Either way, I sleep better at night.      
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  39. I agree with the obvious crux of your argument. As you say, it isn’t exactly rocket science. Having said that, as someone else here indicated, it is often the client who creates the stumbling block to which any web developer can keep falling across. Very often the client believes that they know EXACTLY what they want, but they have no idea how to convey this and they seem to refuse to listen to reason. At this point, if you have the skills, you can suggest ideas and then convince your client it was them who thought the ideas up in the first place. Often tricky, always effective, or is it ? A client can take your suggestion, consider it their own and then take the idea and over the course of the meeting, make it unworkable. This requires you to repeat your original tactic, which at this stage can backfire. Your in danger of sounding indecisive or presumptuous. Clients can be virtually impossible to work with on some projects, no matter how clear your course of action. Your utopian vision (although mine would most likely include a nice cold beer) applies here too - the client is not always going to play ball. Your intentions may be good, your logic sound and the project workable, however it doesn’t mean the client wont turn it into the dogs breakfast.
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  40. I really love your article, even though I can not see what the article is about, except that every website must have a magic goal and use. I guess the client just want to have fun fun fun with his site, nothing more or less. Because he has the money to hire a webdesigner doesn’t mean we have to form his plan. The internet would not exist if there weren’t people around just like this guy. Remember, internet for alot of people is just fun, nothing more, nothing less.
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  41. _I guess the client just want to have fun fun fun with his site, nothing more or less._ This isn’t Cyndi Lauper we’re talking about here. Please read #8 on the first page of comments, some information didn’t make it out of the editing process.
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  42. get me the whole details about the time management
    Its very much useful for my seminar
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  43. Just another great article.  I will keep an eye out for more articles that you publish.
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  44. I think that if you are going to speak about clarity and good writing in an article, you should practice it. In the lead paragraph, the comma after “well written” is wrong. 
    “Throughout all these projects, one thing has remained a constant: those with clear, well-written, strategies ran smoother than those without—and ended up pleasing everyone, including the client.”?
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  45. Strategy in within webb is offcourse a must. I´ve noticed that during the work process companies dreams, visions ang goals are often not heard because of them not havinga processw here they take time to vision. Taking that time (and saving twice as much recouces in the future) results in them dreaming about the stars and at least reaching for the tree tops. Where when they dont, the taktical results end up, well, still on the ground. So by inspiring people/ companies (read customer) to havinga sound goal clarification process, we save them, and us time, that we can both use more wisley, for polishing the site, and giving the end user a aha-experiance. Now thats a goal.
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  46. Articles like this are so helpful in reminding us of what to focus on in our business. The simplicity and drive presented here are refreshing. Thanks for the insight.
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  47. Yaw, the article seemed a tad self-serious to me. Funny thing is, I was the designer that invited Greg to the meeting.  We were just starting out and the client wanted folks to help brainstorm.  Greg was a friend of a friend and was a web designer for a small department at the University of Alaska.  My fault for not telling Greg the goal of the site, which was apparantly clear to everyone in the room except him.  The client wanted to make money from his cars—either through promotional purposes or by selling them outright. The site became a fan favorite for Mustang drivers around the world and was mentioned in several magazines.  The client ended up selling the cars for a huge profit, and credited the web site for the sale.  The web site was dramatically more cost-effective than any print campaign could hope to be (I was green and quite cheap back then).  He did keep one of the cars, and graciously offered to allow me to drive it on my wedding day 8 years later. The site was literally the first client of the web business I started at the age of 23 (that’s 1996).  Those early years taught me a lot of lessons.  For the record, the consulting business that I started continues to thrive (though I sold out a few years back to move onto “other things”:http://www.gojobby.com). Cheers,
    -t
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  48. Already read this saying before?
    Sure you did. But it seems to be valueable - does’t it? Thanks for the knowledge! salut
    danou
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