The seduction of functionality in web development

By | January 14, 2011


Website development that ignores design is doomed to fail. There – I have said it, and it is off my chest. I was thinking it the whole time when I was listening to the presentation on how a new site will solve all the problems and make everything easier and better.

The site was purchased from a hosted web solution that promises all the functionality you could dream of. The fees to get the site up and running were negotiated down to an amazingly low price. The site was not designed, but assembled. The home page is cobbled together with bad photos and a variety of clip art images, but who cares because we have all this functionality.

Before you say I am a bitter designer, I will give you three reasons why hosted solutions that don’t include a significant investment in design customization fail:

  1. First impressions matter. We live in a branded culture, and if your home page looks bad then you are sending out a very strong message, and I can assure you it is not a good one. Would one go to and meet a prospect in grubby old clothes and tell them, “Yeah, I look bad, but I do my best work in these clothes.”
  2. Functionality-driven development always lacks usability. It is just as important to consider how a website works as it is to consider what the website does. If it is difficult, confusing, or annoying for site visitors, they will not stay, and they will not return. Websites are brand experiences: if it is not a good experience, do you expect people to come again?
  3. Functionality does not build traffic. When people focus on functionality, they often get most excited because they believe they can please everyone with all the functionality they will have. This one-size-fits-all approach leads to one thing – mediocrity. Do something well, really well, and then people will notice.

I am sorry to break the news, but if you are looking at web-based service, and you think it is “too good to be true,” then it most likely is. Some of the off-the-shelf functionality is really great, and I do think it can work, but make the investment in design and usability.

Good web development is going to focus on doing something really well. You can build on success. The only thing you can build on with mediocrity is, well… nothing.

Jeffery James
Jeffery James
Jeffery is the Creative Director and Principal of Spire2. He brings marketing expertise from a variety of industries. He excels at understanding clients' corporate objectives, translating them into brand positioning and executing marketing materials that exceed expectations.