The Greatest Secret in Web Design
This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.
Alright I cheated, this isn’t a secret. Or an open secret. Or whatever. It’s that web design is a process. Good web design is an ongoing endeavor.
Let’s have a quick look at two stunning graphs.
Figure: Three websites, unmaintained.
Figure: Three websites, maintained continuously.
What’s the lesson? Even if you hired the greatest designers and developers and aimed for high quality, your website will become stale if you don’t focus on adding value as well as regularly maintaining your site. However, even if you screwed it up at the beginning you can make a horrible site okay or even good when you focus on maintaining your site as well as adding value to it.
Don’t get lured by the bad guys out there or the oversimplifying guy over here: Web design is a process, and constantly improving is key for success. That adds to the cost of running a website but it’s how our business works.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
On December 1, 2008, 23:22 CET, Jeremy Davis said:
Hmmm. Something doesn’t feel accurate with your plots. Almost looks hand drawn.
Seriously though, great point. So many people (especially in the blogosphere) are looking for quick and easy top 10 lists for improvement.
I’m learning how to become a web designer. I’m not a great one by even an uneducated person’s standard, but compared to where I was this time last year I’m a rockstar.
Now I just have to string together a few years more of improvement to reach that threshold.
On December 2, 2008, 13:51 CET, Thomas Eilander said:
I get your point. But what kind of improvements are you aiming at? Thinks like seo and webstandards?
I mean, Ajax for example might be hot, but it’s not in all cases an improvement for your website.
On December 2, 2008, 13:56 CET, Richard Morton said:
The trends in the graphs make sense, but not the starting points. Graph 1 is three bad websites, so why does site 3 start above the good website threshold? Graph 2 is three good websites so why do sites 1 and 2 start below the good website threshold.
If I were a science teacher I would be sending these graphs back to you marked in red ink 😊
I don’t take it for me !
(yeah OK… a little)
On December 2, 2008, 17:05 CET, Eric said:
A weird method of showing it, though. Are the graphs completely made up or do you have some kind of data backing them up?
IMO, if you just made them up to help prove your point, I think using another method than graphs would be a better choice since graphs really doesn’t make any sense if the data behind it is just grabbed out of the blue.
Still, a very good, and often overlooked point!
On December 2, 2008, 17:23 CET, Duluoz said:
I’m confused as to why others are confused about the graph data. It’s clearly an illustration to provide visual communication of a very valid point; regardless of any specific data to support them. As an information designer or visual designer you know these graphs to be quite accurate representations of occurrences you know to be true given any moderate level of experience. The point can be applied to any venue of public subjectivity weather that be contextual or visual in any form. Weather we’re talking metaphysically, theologically, or whatever viewpoint you want to use, negative response due to stagnation is magnified over time. Very nice to be reminded of this Jens!
On December 2, 2008, 18:44 CET, Veltas said:
Too true, if only I’d heeded such advice when I was hosting on another website so long ago. Here’s a website which used to be an awesome host; TopCities.com. For some reason it isn’t maintained any more, it’s still good, yeah, but it’s seen better days.
Plus, I haven’t been on a site with this font before, what is it? It seems to make even my comment look great.
On December 3, 2008, 11:58 CET, Caran said:
Hi,I am new in SEO.But I agree with you.There may be the inverse relation between quality and time.
All is not finished yet… That’s why the /contact page didn’t exists (shame on me).
Especially for you, all the content will soon be translated in english (nnaahh, not in German!)
On December 5, 2008, 17:23 CET, Dave said:
It’s conventional wisdom, but if you make incremental improvements to your site, then you shouldn’t need to do a crazy extreme makeover design every few years….right?
Something I’ve found to be true as our organization focuses on “continuous improvement” is that a lot of people simply have never thought about trying to improve anything. They are assigned a task, they complete the task, and they make a check mark, but they never learned to ask “Is this really a high-quality product? How can I make it better?”
On December 6, 2008, 1:57 CET, miryam said:
thanks for this great remarks , found them very usefull and agree with you, I like what you mention about maintenance, lots of sites do not update the content,
On December 6, 2008, 7:33 CET, Duluoz said:
Ha! - Thanks for the reference linkage, but I’ve placed the new blog on the back burner for the time being. Perhaps I will make the new blog my New Years resolution. 😉
On January 31, 2009, 4:39 CET, dani said:
I built my simple blog based on web standards, accessibility and usability in mind.
Cause I’m not a technical guy in web design, maintenance process (sustainability) is more simple which I’ve to deal with idealism (W3C minded vs just works is enough).
On February 2, 2009, 21:11 CET, Lauren said:
I know from a business perspective that it would be great to get a designer in that can build a perfect website that offers an equal balance of both value and quality…that doesn’t need to be changed once created. However, a website needs constant attention and care almost like a child (maybe a little more difficult at times). But I see many failed attempts by departments and businesses due to the simple fact that the work load quickly becomes overbearing because people don’t logically estimate maintaining the site. thought process = “once its up its finish.”…i wish
On October 19, 2009, 10:29 CEST, Daniel Gibbs said:
Sometimes I feel obliged to key an eye on old clients websites. I think that’s where I fail, on the business side of things (which is why I don’t work for myself).
Maintaining and developing (in the sense of growth) is a lot harder then creating and designing a site. Anything long term is hard but design and development work should be an ongoing commitment, otherwise things will stand still and won’t stand the test of time.
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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.