Who should organize a website?

I don’t mean organize it the way one might organize a union. (“Users’ rights!” “Occupy the World Wide Web!”) I mean bring some logic to the process, some common sense to the look and usefulness of the pages, the links, the graphics, the messages written and unwritten. Which reminds me of a fun quotation:

“Logic is one thing and commonsense another.” (Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book, 1927. What, you haven’t read it?)

A new client, a national nonprofit, has asked me to fix up a website that its leaders all believe is an ugly, outdated mess. No sense. No sensibility. No pride, and they’re afraid the site’s problems are creating prejudice. Eek! Call a writer/editor!

Not the usual reaction, of course. Most folks would think first of a designer or a tech person. But it’s possible that this particular website is a mess because someone with some tech training (he or she obviously didn’t have graphics training) slapped up the basic elements and declared it done. Most designers wouldn’t know what pieces go together or what parts to emphasize where, and most techies wouldn’t know how to make it all look appealing. Lucky for me, this nonprofit decided to take the unusual step of asking “a communications expert” (that’s what they call me) to reorder the thing.

So I hereby make the case for us writers and editors, us communications experts, to organize or reorganize websites. Why? Because we can interview and listen to the stakeholders inside and perhaps outside – ask them what they need to accomplish, what they want to say and show, who their audience(s) is, who their competitors are, and so on. We can study similar organizations’ websites, gathering information on what works and what doesn’t, what the good ones have in common, what the competitors are doing and saying and showing, et cetera. And we can poke around every corner of the site in question, testing it from a user’s perspective, making outsider assumptions, asking the “dumb” questions, noting the dead links, following trails to their logical – or illogical – ends. We can bring both logic and common sense to the process of communication – which is, after all, what a website is supposed to do.

In a few days, I’ll report to the people in charge how I would completely rework their site, where I’d move the many reorganized parts, what I’d get rid of, and the like. Having neither technical nor graphic training, I’ll then turn the project over to a designer for that part of it and then to IT to get the parts to work. Meanwhile, I’m glad the leaders of this nonprofit could see the real problem with their site: not that it looks bad or has nonfunctional pieces but that it doesn’t achieve its mission of communicating. So they hired a communicator.

Such logic and common sense!

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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