Common sense when developing a website

I’m a little very much perturbed about the state of how people are so lazy when designing websites. Yes, I probably shouldn’t talk because I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes, but I have used their products and I must say that it’s insulting to the average user. First of all, why would you sell someone your product without having any web experienced? You think just by creating a CMS, that makes you a god amongst men? No, you need to test your product before you go ahead and market it…make sure that what you’re developing makes sense…what an idea!

What’s the point of this rant? Well sadly I’m responsible for managing one of the country’s premier tourism destinations and am managing a website which I inherited before we decided to redesign the site. Now I would totally love to scrap this site already, but until the redesign is complete, what are we going to use to market the destination? Obviously we’ll need to keep the website up and running…and that is a painful thought.

Long before I came on board, there was a company that helped develop this site named Seva Group based over in Baltimore and they had this “wonderful” connection to our (ex) agency of record — the now-defunct Eisner Communications. As a result of this connection, the AOR put the creative down and Seva Group did the back-end connection with all our third-party systems and set us up with their CMS. Now I’ve worked with several custom-built CMS systems that have all been thoroughly tested and gone through usability testing, but this system takes the cake. When is it right for a company to pass off a product without a complete scrub down and 100% QA testing? I just can’t contemplate being given something that I bought and having to take it back when I encounter a bug or a product defect that has been overlooked – shouldn’t that be the responsibility of the manufacturer? Why are you going to sit there, finish the product, send it out, and wipe your hands clean, knowing that you only completed the first round of production?!? Well that’s what I’ve been going through for the past year.

Let me say that this redesign is truly a blessing and that I look forward to returning to some sort of normalcy. But until that day comes (hopefully in first-second quarter of 2008), I’ll need to put up with the shenanigans that our current system employs…like needing a map JUST to navigate through our CMS to make a simple change. There are countless errors in the system just in doing one thing and obviously this was not done by someone with web experience, but rather a software developer that would be more prone to working on computer engineering projects and not web projects.

When you select a vendor to develop web applications for you, it should be dictated to whomever you select that they should be competent in the ways of the web, including QA testing and usability. It’s really important that they just don’t work in a vacuum and act as developers and pass the buck on. Finding an integration strategy is all well and fine, but they should be skilled in working with another creative team to make sure that the flow of the site is sound. The point is to make sure that your customers can find the information they seek quickly and leave with their needs fulfilled. But why can’t developers realize that this applies for their clients as well?

Now I’m not trying to air dirty laundry…far from it. I think that there are definitely some lessons that we can learn from this and I could talk about how the form creation tool I have on this CMS only is set for simple forms contrary to what I’ve been told by the manufacturer and when you have more complex forms (multiple checkboxes, text fields, etc.), you would think that a form creation tool would be capable of handling that…but I won’t talk about that. Or, I could mention that a site needs to be tested for bugs to work on ALL browser platforms (within reason) and not result in unexplained styles turning off and your site looking horrible in different browsers (strange?), but I won’t. I’ll just say that everyone has their own horror stories and it is up to the developers to realize that the customer comes first and they need to take more pride in their work and stop slacking off.

Usability and QA testing…those are the top 2 priorities of any website. Make it work for your clients AND your customers.

Disclaimer: the opinions offered on this blog entry are those of the author and NOT of his employer at WCTC and are not meant to be a universal reflection on developers in the web profession, but to a select few that he’s encountered in his career.

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