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Curiosity + obsession + clarity = quality

Why the Business of Building Websites Generates So Much Garbage

I am disappointed by the companies that make websites. As I survey the web agency sites they all seem to follow the same disturbing recipe. The ingredients are the same, each company just alters the quantities slightly. You take a healthy scoop of research and slowly blend in writing, code, photography, and design. You bake this mixture into a CMS, top it off with a layer of frosting and let it cool. Add responsive sauce to taste. If we believe their message, making a quality website is simple, just follow the recipe. But if that is true, why does so much garbage continue to get produced? We have been served this dish for years and I don’t think it’s working. Do you?

A websites may satisfy the checklist of ingredients and still lack quality. A quality site transcends the ingredients. As an industry, website creators have stopped seeking to transcend and have been satisfied with mass production. Each company alters the recipe slightly, but the product stays the same. Most websites today stink. So what makes a quality website then?

Here’s what I believe.

When something works well there is unity that results in something greater than the sum of its parts. Quality writing speaks in a human language and moves people. Quality design is not frosting that fakes beauty, it honors the message of the owner. Within quality there is no place for stock photos of anonymous models, that would destroy unity. Quality code is not a robotic skeleton, but a reflection of deliberate planning. Every member of the team must contribute artistry to their assignment.

Quality is an overused word, but when it is used with sincerity it elevates work to an art form. People making a living selling websites don’t really want to get their hands dirty with art. Why not? Because you can’t run a business by promising to deliver art every time. You can’t put a leash on quality and demand that it show up after exactly 100 hours of effort. Web companies realize that money isn’t in bottling something as elusive as delight. The money is in marking up the abundant ingredients: words, code, and pixels. Selling SEO is easy. Pimping a CMS pays the bills. They will sell you analytics by the truckload. Quality is tough to measure, but counting billable hours is dead simple. So that’s what you are sold rather than quality. You end up constantly inserting quarters into a web design machine; as long as you don’t run out of coins, the machine’s lights stay on.

So how does a web company produce quality? We improve the odds of achieving quality not by throwing ingredients in a mixer and setting a timer, but by being uncompromising in our values.

Values. There’s another overused word. Everyone claims to have values, but everyone pulls their value badges from the same list of feel-good keywords. They give a warm fuzzy feeling to company leadership, but rarely shape the day-to-day decisions of the organization. Actual values aren’t meaningless platitudes, they are the _real_ ingredients of the quality websites we try to create. Viewed through the lens of our values, the recipe for a website looks much different.

Most companies “ingredient-based” formula looks like this:

words + code + design = website product

A better formula grows out of values that look like this:

curiosity + obsession + clarity = quality

These values require some explanation. They aren’t words that traditionally make the keyword list I mentioned earlier.

Curiosity comes first.
This is the spark that gets the ball rolling. It is the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, motivates us to hone our craft, and it is the key to uncovering what will make your website transcendent. Curiosity is what got us into this business in the first place. The excitement of answering the infinite “What if…?” questions.

Obsession follows curiosity.
If it didn’t, the discovery we gleaned from our curiosity would fizzle out and die. Obsession gets a bad rap and is rarely used in a positive context. But can you think of a better word to describe the effort required to really do things with quality? How else can you explain the passion behind getting the tiniest details exactly right? We are obsessed.

Finally we have clarity.
You might be thinking that clarity can’t be a value, but it is. Clarity is something that is possessed by experts. It is the result of years of years of curiosity and obsession. It is a confident insight free from the fluff and trickery that the industry is known for.

Legitimate values translate naturally into a vision for your company. It is a story that resonates with the client because it is free of the corporate stench that so many elevator pitches contain. Your value-based pitch sounds like this,

Our curious nature makes us eager to learn what makes your business unique. If you agree that our obsession can benefit you, we can work toward clarity about your project. Together we may achieve the ultimate goal and something really rare will happen: a quality website will be produced.

Of course “curiosity, obsession, and clarity” aren’t the only values that can produce quality. Your values will be different but as long as they are sincere and not just jargon they can set you apart. Instead of creating formulaic websites you have a chance at creating something with quality.

Thanks you for reading. If you like this post, please recommend it. Your recommendation goes a long way to encourage me to keep writing.

I am the Author of Art of the Living Dead. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love the book even more. Read the first 3 chapters online at

Author of User Zero: Inside the Tool that is Reshaping Dystopia

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