The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Why A Simple, Dynamic, Interactive, User-Friendly Website Isn't Enough

Posted by Chris Bonney on Wed, Mar 17, 2010


We read a lot of website RFPs that throw these descriptors (simple, dynamic, interactive, user-friendly) around quite often. In fact, in 10 years I don't think I've seen a website RFP that hasn't included at least one of these terms. Others include:

  • Easy to navigate
  • Member-focused
  • Engaging
  • Collaborative
  • Enhanced search

And the list goes on...

The truth is these words actually do nothing to help your web development vendor create a better site for you.

These terms are not goals or objectives for your new site at all. They are measurements. And that sounds like an okay thing, but the challenge is that they are abstractions. They lack specificity and relativity.

How simple is simple? User-friendly as defined by who? Your IT Director or a student member? How will you know that you've achieved improved navigation?

Without something with which to measure against, they're just words.

So, where does that leave us? How should we be describing what we want our new website to be like?

My answer is that a picture is worth a thousand words.

A relevant analogy is that of a hairdresser. If you went to a salon and asked for a simpler hair style, one that was easier to maintain with some brighter highlights (but not too bright) and one that made you look younger. Well, where would that leave your hairdresser?

She'd start asking you a bunch of questions, no doubt. Trying to zero in on exactly what you wanted.

Now imagine if you walked into your hairdresser with a picture of Jennifer Aniston from a recent red carpet and said, "Make my hair look like this!" Now your hairdresser has something to work with. A vision for what you want to look like!

Back to websites. I'd say if an association provided a page of screen shots from websites that they liked and what from each website they found inspiring as part of their RFP, we could get down to brass tacks in half the time. Instead of saying "simple", say, "I love the way IBM has their logo then nothing but a black header with a search box in it at the top of their site. We want to do something like that."

Instead of saying "less cluttered" or "easier to navigate" maybe say,  "Google illustrates very well the one thing they are on the Internet to do. We want to create a website that makes it obvious what site visitors should do when they come to our site. That one point of conversion we are actually looking for."

Now we're on to something.

Now in defense of all the excellent RFP writers out there in the world, and honestly we've seen some very excellent documents over the years, we're not upset with you or discouraged or frustrated in any way. Just the opposite actually. Knowing that organizations are looking to upgrade their websites excites us. It's what pays our bills. Having open ends to your requirements inspires us to think creatively and engage you in excellent strategic discussions. What could be better than that?

So, what do you think? Does this resonate with you at all? I'm hoping regardless of the scope of your next website project, this post will give you a new lens by which to think about how you express your needs.

Topics: marketing, Proposal, requirements, RFP, website redesign, Websites

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