You know that when you ask for someone’s opinion, you’re gonna get it, especially in web design. People love to play the role of “critic”, but often lack the credentials to do so. When you’re looking to gain perspective on your work, critique can be a very helpful tool, but it can also be destructive if you don’t know how to distinguish valid opinions from (lack of a more descriptive word) “garbage”. Unfortunately, it’s the latter of those two that you’ll hear more often. But once you sort through all the chaos and criticism and get to something worthwhile, you can really find some great ideas.
I strongly believe that it’s important to seek perspective on what you do. I know I’m always out there looking for new and helpful ways to make my stuff better. Lately though, I’ve been caught up in all sorts of clashing thoughts and opinions about my work, and that’s okay. Design and aesthetics are very touchy beasts because everyone has their own ideas of how something should look and feel, so some of the comments I’ve been getting come as no surprise. I’m speaking largely about those web designers who do things a lot differently (really more of the same) from what I do and aren’t afraid to tell me so. How do I handle it? Two things: I continue to do things differently, and I listen more to people who aren’t in my field of work.
The spark for this post came from the number of people (mostly web designers) who were unsure of the new layout of noahshrader.com. Adorning the walls of one particular blog thread were multiple comments heavily suggesting that my “massive ego” (the fact that I used a picture of myself in the design structure) got in the way of my portfolio, the most important part of the website. To them, noahshrader.com was merely a means of selling “me” and not my services. Of course I gave them the benefit of the doubt, but after much thought I realized that the crude comments they were making weren’t valid. I figured these people were just on a totally different page and had completely missed the point – and sure enough, they did. I wanted something different. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted my website to have some personality, but at the same time a focus on my product and the quality services I have to offer. Really, that’s just a reflection of my business style: having a great time with my clients, but at the same time creating a real, profressional product that will grow their business and give them the upper hand in today’s competitive market. That’s the essence of noahshrader.com and what I do. With that being said, there was one comment made that I thought summed up exactly why I’m writing this blog, and it had a quote that I found very encouraging (although it was meant to hurt). The person writes: “…it’s just that this [using my photo for a background image] is not a typical thing for a web designer to do.” Needless to say, I saw it as a thumbs-up on my end!
Let me get straight to the point. Just because something is beyond the scope of the ordinary doesn’t make it any less practical and effective. In fact, I’m noticing it more the other way around, especially in my business – and it’s working. To relate that person’s comment somehow, I always wondered if Colonel Sanders used his face in the KFC logo to distract attention away from his product (not really, but I’ll play critic too…it’s fun!). After all, there aren’t many fast-food places other than Wendy’s that uses a face to promote their business. Does that mean those two restaurant chains are going to be less effective or less inviting when you’re out and about and hungry? Does this mean that Sanders had a big ego? No. When you see Sanders’ face or the Wendy’s girl’s face, what do you think about? Their food. You see a face and you think about the product. In my case, I didn’t want the ordinary. Whereas other designers want you to love their portfolio, get them hired, have them create something for you and they’re done, I want to enjoy the time while designing a world-class product for you.
So, in regards to my recent criticisms (the background picture, the white text on black background, the narrow vertical black strip that’s not centered, the random objects, etc.), I agree that the portfolio should be featured well since it is an important part of the website (people need to get a glimpse of what you’re able to do). However, it’s not the end all. When a customer is ready to invest, they are investing in YOU. Within 9-10 minutes, they’ll be done with your portfolio. Then they have to decide whether or not YOU are the person they want to work with for weeks, months, or even years with their project. Getting to know you and gaining a sense of trust becomes very important. So (for example) integrating that photo into my website wasn’t exactly an “ego-centric” move on my part, but rather a way of giving visitors a “picture” of who they’re going to be working with. As with any business, nothing is more important than relationships. Your personality and style can speak just as strongly (and can sell just as well) as your portfolio.
Don’t wait till all else fails. Go ahead and be different.