Trends before needs does not a good site make.

Pat Bowen
Pat Bowenposted on on December 13, 2013

I was scanning through my daily blog headlines this morning and one stuck out to me: “Be Careful: Trends Come And Go”. It’s an interview at Smashing Magazine with the lead designer for 6Wunderkinder, Jan Martin. The article focuses on much more than trends in design, but a quote on that topic resonated with me:

"One of my best learnings is to be careful with trends. Trends come and go. Some are good and will return, and some will leave you embarrassed in the future."

At Pageworks we’re often asked to create a proposal for the development of a site that is based on one trend or another. Recently a trend that has been requested is the ‘single page site’. Single page sites take content that used to be located on different pages and stack it into one page. They often use Javascript and CSS to elegantly navigate between these sections. The techniques of doing this creates a more interactive feeling within that page. It can be used to tell a story about a brand or engage the consumer better, but it’s the technique and implementation of moving between content that gives this feeling and not the trend of how it has been implemented (all content on a single page) that creates the experience. If you’re not familiar with the trend here are some examples (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). As a design and development group we often have to separate the technique from the trend to find the most appropriate way to deliver content to a specific audience, but it’s not always the easiest thing to do.

So I have to ask, as designers, developers and marketers what is our level of responsibility to the client as it pertains to trends online? I’d argue we have the following:

  • Understand the needs: We need to take the time to get beyond what the client initially wants. If a client comes in and asks for a specific type of site because their competitors are following a certain trend, we are obligated to step back and find the underlying need that has driven them to ask for this type of implementation. When we take the time to understand what a client needs from a proactive marketing stand point we help address their long term strategies and differentiate themselves. If we immediately do as we are asked we might miss the opportunity to help them stand out in a crowded market.
  • Educate: In the case of one potential client, moving everything to a single page would have required a shift in how they communicate their message. They currently felt they had an advantage, but wanted to do something similar to the competition because it was better than the site they had lived with for years. As a designer/marketer it is my job to educate the client on how the new design will impact their ability to communicate and either create an advantage or maintain their current advantage. Additionally, we needed to help them understand that having a great new design wasn’t completely dependent on following this trend. We could build a site that allowed the client to maintain their advantage while still capitalizing on some really cool techniques in web development. We need to educate about which aspects of the hot trend provide benefit for the current situation and which are superficial and may come back to haunt them.
  • Let Go: As much as I’d love to stand on a table and yell “NOOOOOOOOOO” at clients’ decisions sometimes, I can’t. Furthermore it usually won’t serve my clients best interests. As a web company we don’t always understand the intricacies of our clients’ markets. The longer we work with a client the more we understand. Also, the longer we work with a client the more they trust our expertise, so yelling or refusing to execute on a chosen strategy rarely benefits anyone.

So what do we do? We meet, we discuss and we put together proposals that help clients understand their options from a benefits and cost stand point. We listen to questions and answer them willingly. Then we back off and let them decide which particular implementation will help them execute on their strategy.