What Althea and Donna can teach us about developing websites.

Recently, watching an old clip of the late 70s one-hit wonder ‘Up Town Ranking’, I said to my partner that I preferred Althea to Donna. I just thought she had a nicer voice, especially the ‘ooo’ bit as they repeat the title. My partner usually ignores my pontification about pop music, but this did bring an exasperated retort; “No one else in the world, when hearing Althea and Donna, try to analyse which one is the best, and anyway what do you know about singing?”

It’s true I can’t sing a note, but just as I was framing a reply in my head to prove my knowledge – quite extensive knowledge actually- of 1970s female reggae vocals, (take sides! Janet Kay or Susan Caddogan?), I wisely perceived that this was a debate I would lose by the mere fact I wanted to have it and my partner didn’t.

Asking people what they think of a website leads to a debate you can’t win either.

Within an organisation you are usually asking a senior manager, or key stakeholder ‘what do you think’ – in other words you are asking someone who won’t be an intended user an unstructured question about which, really, they aren’t skilled enough to answer. If you were deploying air conditioning would you show them the blueprints and say ‘well, what do you think?’, or a complex legal policy document and ask them is its OK?

Maybe it’s because people are so familiar with websites they think they are experts.. how hard can it be?

So my only advice is to never get into a position where you are asking an open ended question – sure, ultimately you’ll have to make your decision makers happy, and you should find out what makes them happy and then swallow your pride and make them happy, but as a professional you need to lay the groundwork, explain how the site is brilliantly optimised to deliver business benefits and so that cool gimmick they saw on another site isn’t appropriate. You need to do that before you ask them what they think.

Oh and the next song on the TV was The Proclaimers… I kept quiet.

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