Why Most Web Projects Are Like Pornography

In: entrepreneur| running a business

5 Apr 2010

In a 1964 court case deciding whether a movie was to be deemed obscene or not, former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said:

“ I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.

But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. ”

In other words, he couldn’t define obscenity in words but he could decide whether or not something was obscene by actually seeing an example. This concept became the basis for the common expression “I know it when I see it.”

“I know it when I see it.”
While it’s admittedly an odd parallel, I’m a big believer that most people know good websites when they see them. And they’re able to spot a bad one a mile away. And by “most people” I’m referring to web designers, developers, users and yes, even clients.

But it’s a rare skill to be able to describe what makes a website good. Putting things into words is much more difficult than reacting to what we can see, use and interact with. And it’s even harder to be able to visualize what things will look like based on just reading text.

So why does every web project start with words? Clients write a Request For Proposal, vendors respond with a written proposal, and everyone decides on critical issues such as cost and time lines all before anyone has seen anything. This is why there are so many mediocre websites out there. And why so many clients and vendors get frustrated during the process. We all assume everyone can put what they want into words and that’s not the case.

Don’t Just Say It. Show It.
Wireframes and prototypes can serve as a great starting point to capture ideas early on in a project. It allows everyone to actually see what is being discussed, allows good ideas to be demonstrated, and often leads to bad ideas being killed early. I’ve used this process on multiple projects and it always produces better results in the end.

Starting out a project with something visual, something people can interact with and react to, is definitely unconventional. Few people do it. Which is why you might want to try it.

Too much of our business focuses on the end result. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the process that produces those results.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.