Website Owners Manual: Our Unofficial, Unsolicited Book Review
I discovered Paul Boag recently, from an online video from 2008’s Future of Web Design conference. I was struck both by his candor and sound advice.
So when I came upon Boag’s book, Website Owner’s Manual, I hungrily pored over the first chapter (download for free from his website). I didn’t hesitate to buy it, and I would recommend to any of our colleagues and their clients that they do the same.
Many clients will invite me in and say, “OK, we want a site. Go ahead and do it.” The book in its entirety sends a clear response: If you want a website, you have a defined role and you have to be involved.
Perhaps nothing sounds more tortuous than reading through a book about the client-designer/agency relationship during website development unless, like WAM, it’s witty. That’s not easy to pull off without coming off campy, but the book’s conversational style, use of graphics and sidebars, and progressive examples really put you in mind to take the information and run with it.
Despite the main audience for WAM being the [corporate] client, as a freelance designer for small businesses, I found most of the topics to be universal. For instance, Boag points out common pitfalls for clients (unrealistic goals, vague success criteria, rushing through planning, mimicking competition, writing wish lists) and how to achieve results while avoiding those pitfalls. Armed with this information, I’ve been able to steer clients toward a more streamlined, mutually beneficial development process.
Many of my clients are initially fearful of the website development process, mainly because they’re only familiar with the Internet as an end user. Boag seamlessly introduces the reader to basic processes, concepts, and terms that s/he’ll encounter when working with designer/developers to help educate and build confidence.
The chapter I found to be most helpful for my clients is “Creating Killer Content,” which delicately handles a topic that most clients struggle with: the difference between writing straight prose and writing web copy.
Another crucial topic I find myself stressing repeatedly is that the site must meet the end user’s needs – not just the client’s – and Boag covers this perfectly in “User-centric Design.”
Specifically, the Website Owner’s Manual does an exemplary job of defining roles: the client’s, the designer’s, the developer’s, and the user’s. For small businesspeople, who are often in a position to have their fingers in a lot of pies but who may know little or nothing about website development, this concept seems to be extremely crucial to the success of the project.