Episode 4: Stop producing crap!

This month’s episode of UXPodcast with James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom discusses the quality of websites and digital activities –
Why do so many end up being below par?
Why do some end up being great?
What can we do raise the quality of the web stuff we make and run?

(Listening time: 20 minutes)

References:

Transcript:

Per: And we’re back. It has been summer. It has been summer in Sweden which means everybody has a lot of vacations and our clients are all gone.

James: But hold on, who are you?

Per: I’m Per Axbom.

James: Oh, hello. I’m James Royal-Lawson.

Per: Hi, yes. Hello.

James: A little bit cooler than it was last time we recorded the podcast.

Per: Yes, but it’s still quite hot though.

James: It’s still a little bit too warm.

Per: Yes, and we changed the format, guys. Just for your listening pleasure, we actually changed it so we’re not doing three parts for every episode. We’re doing one part and we’re doing it for 20 minutes so that’s what you have to expect from us from now on.

James: But you know, let us know. If you think it’s better with the three parts of 10 minutes each then one part of 20 minutes, email us, tweet to us, however you want to – ring us. Do whatever and let us know.

Per: Exactly. Because what we want to do is we want to stop producing crap which is today’s episode and …

James: Yes, well not in a constipation way. We’re talking about digital web communication way. I should have promised not to make that joke.

Per: Yes. OK. So why have you chosen this topic, James?

James: Well, quite simply there’s just such a vast amount of crap produced. Every single day, I come into contact with websites or apps or – I don’t know, Facebook pages. Set top TV boxes and ticket machines. There’s just so much digital rubbish produced and well, that’s just – really it shouldn’t be like that. Maybe some good stuff as well.

Per: Well, there’s some good stuff, yes. But just yesterday morning, I was helping a client evaluate suppliers and looking at the references and so much of it was absolute shit that I was so surprised. Why would he even leave that as a reference? I realized that a lot of people out there aren’t even probably aware that they’re producing crap.

James: No, it’s a constant struggle with quality and that has been for a long time and yet some of that stems from the fact – well, a lot of that is down to that we’re in a maturing industry and 10 years ago or even more, 15 years ago almost. It was just crap. I mean it was just real rubbish. In the late 90s, I didn’t have the tools available to properly convey the ideas and things I want to do via the web and now we got a lot more choices so we shouldn’t be producing quite as much crap anymore.

Per: Yes, probably. Yes. I was there with you – I’m mean at the end of the 90s I was scanning brochures and posting those online as websites. That’s not really – yes, that’s crap. Those were awful but probably – is this a phase that we all have to go through? Do we have to produce crap first and then learn what’s wrong and what’s right or can we learn to do it right from the start?

James: We’ll maybe come to that. You’re probably right but I think we produce good stuff too like you said – it’s clearly –it’s not that we’re lacking a talent pool in the digital arena. We’ve all met dozens of people who are exceptionally good.

Per: Yes, we interact with people all day long that are awesome.

James: I would say I come into contact with people who are awesome a lot more than I come to contact with people who are shit. We should put a language warning on this broadcast!

James: Yes. It’s not genuine source of knowledge, I don’t think or the skills in the industry. It’s putting to effect why is this not regularly coming through the other end?

Per: We’re all busy talking on Twitter all day long probably.

James: Google+ now, we’ve all moved on. I think one thing for me is a naivety of biased clients, that they often don’t realize they’re buying rubbish although they’re ticking, accepting, signing off on, rubbish. That’s not always their fault. It’s a very, very complex, you know, digital world that we live in.

Per: Right But what responsibility does the supplier have, the seller? Don’t they have responsibility to sell something that is of value to the client even though they may not – I mean it’s really not the job of the client or the buyer to be the expert on what they have to buy.

James: No, you’re right. I think it’s responsibility for the agency side, or the people producing to make sure they deliver good stuff but then you’ve got a simple economic conflict that I think agencies are prostitutes.

Per: Yep. OK.

James: Well, you know, the whole point of an agency is – they’ve got a row, a bench of people, you know, how ever many it is, and they all charge for time by the hour and they need to be occupied. They need to be doing stuff. If they sat down and waiting to do stuff, they’re leaking money. It’s costing a lot of pennies.

Per: Right.

James: So, when the sales guys go out and meet their clients who are in themselves often naive because – well, we did mention already. They want to sell. They’ve got to sell and in that little exchange there, you instantly lose the guarantee that you’re going to get that the time really needs. You’re going to get what the agency needs. Income and, you know, people on projects to go forward. Yes, they need to be able to keep the account running and have add-on sales and all the rest of it but that is still no guarantee they’re going to produce good stuff every time.

Per: True.

James: And also they switch around. One agency is then switched for another agency so they pick up the mess that the previous agency did. So it kind of – it circles around and goes forward.

Per: This may actually be one of the big reasons that I’ve started my own business is that I did want to stop producing crap because I realized that a lot of the times, I was sold into projects where perhaps I was not the best person for the job or we were doing stuff that we could have done differently and so …

James: You were sold to them because you were available.

Per: Exactly.

James: You need to be occupied.

Per: Yes.

James: But, OK. So now you are, you know, Axbom Innovation AB

Per: Yes.

James: Have you stopped producing crap?

Per: In a sense. I do a lot of smaller projects which means that I can focus a lot more on those and doing them well but when I’m pitched into bigger projects where I am subcontracted to an agency basically, then I mean I don’t have much choice. I have to do what brings me the money in the end as well.

James: Yes. Exactly.

Per: So I mean I think it’s still my job to argue and put my point across and tell the client what I think is best but in the end, they have money and they decide. So, it’s all about the advisories as well and what type of relationship you have with the client or the project manager or whoever.

James: Yes. Absolutely. I’m going to agree with you again. Trying to antagonize you end up agreeing with you. It’s – yes in the bigger project, really when it’s agencies and large organizations, it’s difficult because the agency being the – you know, prostitute and the naïve buyers on the other side. They were so – and also a problem with management not understanding fully the digital arena but they’re quite scared of it all. So it’s even more difficult to – be responsible for the buying internally and deal with the politics internally.

Per: Right.

James: With stakeholders and the product owners or whatever. It’s not just – we’re not just dealing with the, communication interface between client and agency It’s the whole politics behind – it’s how the companies do.

Per: The other problem of course is what we would call the small time cowboys meaning also the ones that are actually – can compete with really, really low pricing and meaning that especially in the public sector procurement processes where price means a big difference if you’re going to buy or not. If you have a really low price, then that’s the supplier you’re going to go for.

James: What do we mean here by small time cowboys? For me, I’m talking about these ones where it’s an individual – like me and you! The ones where you can buy – we’ve all seen this – It’s the one who sells a complete website package including design, CMS, hosting, the full thing first a few hundred dollars, maybe monthly subscriptions or something.

Per: Yes.

James: That’s not feasible. You’re not going to get – you’re going to get crap. You can’t produce the full good experience from just a few hundred dollars. It’s just not the hours there to do it. Because big companies and people are not homogenous. The one-size-fits-all does not work. No company’s the same so you can’t just push out these templates.

Per: But how do we get our clients to not choose the cheaper alternative? It looks the same on paper.

James: Yes, and then this is where we come to the education or the learning experience of it and can – do they have to go through the learning experience where a client buys the few hundred dollar all-in-one website package and realizes it’s rubbish, and then buys someone to do a better job when they’ve budgeted some more money. I don’t – I’m not convinced you can get around that process.

Per: I like to think that actually my best clients are the ones who had bad experiences in the  past so that I actually know that what I’m producing is good stuff, which made me think that – so maybe we should have some friends who produce crap, send them to the client first. Let the client have a bad experience and then let’s come in and save the day.

James: It’s not really defeatist and sad kind of conclusions to be made from that, that we’re seeing that there’s no way that you can get people to jump straight into buying good from day one. They’ve got to spend decades …

Per: Yes.

James: … going through three, four iterations of their website being rubbish before they wake up and buy good stuff.

Per: We can actually have more people talking about bad experiences at conferences. People always talk about how they do stuff and this is what we did. This was so good. We can have them talk about …

James: They do complain about – I mean we’re – just look at UXLX that we went to in Portugal…

Per: Yes.

James: I mean every single session we went to people complaining about silos. That’s why we started doing a podcast to break down silos. It was complaint after complaint that prod managers don’t listen, the design people don’t, the SEO people don’t understand the UX people and marketing don’t understand blah blah blah…

Per: Sure, but that was a general, I mean, problem. People don’t talk specifically about projects that went wrong and how much they cost and stuff like that. The scary, horror stories about this really, really went down the drain. I have a talk that I give with three examples about really, really bad projects I’ve done and experienced. That’s really popular because people won’t need to hear about that and I think that’s part of the learning process for the clients, realizing that yes, this might happen. How do I avoid this happening?

James: Yep. At the same time though, when you start highlighting the bad examples, I agree. You need to build on all the experiences that you’ve – you all have experiences you have previously and the bad ones are all part of that learning; but to me the bad stories and why it went wrong and how it went wrong is going to end up to a degree a good story that you’re going to be shitting on someone else because yes, OK, you’re going – yeah ok if you’re humble enough, you’re going to say the bits that were your fault.

Per: Exactly.

James: But it’s unlikely that you were the sole cause of that project going wrong and I don’t think you actually say if it was just your fault from a marketing point of view that isn’t really clever but that means that you’re going to be upsetting someone by saying “actually it was Tommy”.

[Crosstalk]

Per: I don’t know. I wouldn’t do that.

[Crosstalk]

Per: … probably yes but the point would be telling the story of how could we have done this differently to make it better and that’s sort of the conclusion or something like that.

Per: But I mean it’s back to – I mean do we have a carrot or a stick? Maybe we should scare the clients. Maybe we should paint the picture of what – we should be better at describing what they actually get because the clients are really good at ordering websites but they’re not really good at ordering communication channels for communicating with their clients or their customers. They’re not ordering what they really need. They’re ordering technology and they’re ordering something that has some business value in the end.

James: Yes, they’re ordering too much – I complain about the full website redesign or the full monty that the companies are doing everything all at once. They’re changing design. They’re changing structure. They’re changing CMS. They’re changing content. They’re taking on absolutely everything they can. Small and large companies, they both do it and it’s an absolute nightmare. You are almost doomed to fail when you do that kind of project because it’s so complex and it’s ripping the heart out of the website and sticking a new one in and that’s not clever.

Per: No.

James: But it’s often what happens that we get to the – we get to that point where the complaints internally reach a level – such a level of frustration that we tip over and OK, here’s the budget to do a new website. Just do it and while we’re at it, we’ll do everything. You end up in a cycle.

Per: Right, and that’s why I hate those types of usability tests because you change everything and expect everybody to learn how to use it in one day. What happens? You’re still going to get complaints. Instead of changing just a tiny bit of a time and improving organically and doing quick wins.

James: Testing, evaluating and adjusting …

Per: Yes, exactly, to go forward.

James: But then that’s very good for me here to say but we know that it’s not – it’s very, very difficult to communicate that or to get that buy-in for that kind of thinking.

Per: I know.

James: It’s not just the web responsible. Like if you’re talking to a web responsible at a place it’s not just them that need to be convinced, they almost always understand. It’s the whole thing behind and I think that one of my – if we’re moving on to tips or how can we improve this?

James: I think buyers, web responsibles, if that’s the people are talking about. They need to be much stronger. They have to be the ones that stand up internally and of course when buying. They buy the right people and then we get to that point. More internally, I think there’s a real responsibility there because we’re going to have to wait for a generation shift before the top management start to really get into this but we can’t wait that long.

Per: No.

James: So they have to be stronger now and put their foot down.

Per: Probably, yes. And how do they get stronger? I mean …

James: Only by failing.

Per: Yes, by failing, exactly. If I have the bad experience. I think we should be better at communicating and I always come back at Russ’s session at UX Lx and what we did with the going out and doing gorilla testing and having an iPad with the website. Just going out and asking people and feeding back. It’s just a session, a fantastic way of communicating to anyone this is what we can do in a short time because that’s what a lot of the people are – well, a lot of companies are scared of the costs of producing something useful and doing the due diligence and actually doing the testing and everything beforehand, before producing the CSS and HTML. Testing the concepts, the ideas. It doesn’t have to be that difficult or expensive. If we can show them how to do that in a simple way, I mean more people are probably going to do it and see how they can make a difference by choosing the right supplier.

James: It isn’t complicated. It isn’t expensive but at the same time, you still fail to sell it in.

Per: I know.

James: And we’re back to all these points once again. I think – you know, we’ve never really got good answers about this. I think what we’re believing is that we need to build super teams. I think agencies are a failed concept now. They’re not the concept for the future. God, if I ever want to get a job in an agency, I’m doomed. Well, no, I don’t think – with freelancers, like you and me the sole answer but I think we need to be building teams of individuals who are really good at doing what they do.

Per: Yes.

James: And not just taking, you know, Tommy. Again, I’m picking on Tommy again. I’ve no idea who he is, but I’m picking on him again. Not just picking on Tommy if I’m – one agency, you need to pull Tommy out of that and hire him and hire someone else from another agency or hire maybe a freelancer and hire – take some internal people. We build a team of exactly the right people to do what you want to do at that point.

Per: Yes.

James: You know, confined – this is what we doing, this is out aim, and we’re going to improve conversion of that funnel. We do it.

Per: We set the goal and give them space to do their job in the way that they want to do it. Don’t control – I hate requirements specifications for example. I want to see what do you want the outcome to be and I can work with that but I can’t work with like a 20-point requirements specification …

James: as the door is already closed.

Per: Exactly. Will this improve coming 20 years from now? I mean will we have stopped producing crap by then?

James: No, I don’t think so. I think we’re just going to be producing different crap.

Per: Exactly.

James: Because we’re all just going to shift up and they’ll be new things coming on.
And what did you suggest earlier that would be coming? 3D?

Per: The 3D. I mean we’re having holograms and 3D projectors and so – I mean …

James: 3D holographic websites. What a lot of rubbish. Don’t believe in it.

Per: We would never buy that.

James: No, no. Clearly, not going to work. No, it’s – I wish I had magical answers but I think super teams and standing firm are my two take-homes from that.

Per: Yes.

James: From today.

Per: And my conclusion is that we still need the crap because if we didn’t have the crap, we wouldn’t know what’s good.

James: Yes, and that’s the end …

Per: Yes.

James: … of this month’s podcast.

Per: Thanks for listening and hey, please get back to us. Tell us if you think the format is better, if it’s good, if we should change something, if we should disagree more.

James: I’ll disagree. I don’t want to disagree.

Per: Yes. OK, sure. Yes, I’ve chosen a topic for the next episode so that will be a surprise …

James: We haven’t actually. No.

Per: No.

James: But …

Per: There’s no way you want us to talk about and disagree upon. Ciao.

James: Bye-bye.

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