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www.WHAT?!.com

My job at the moment is to project manage the design and development of the Little Leaf website. Fresh from the social media success of Twitter, Facebook and this blog (success measured by the fact that someone, other than friends and family, has read this blog, and 200 followers on Twitter) I felt much more confident going into this project than I do now.

I was pretty impressed with the fact that I was able to choose the administration system myself, have a comprehensive discussion with our designer and developer as to what I wanted. I threw fancy words around like information architecture, online functionality, usability and search engine optimisation. I gave Danny tutorials on Facebook and, bar the one mistake I made on Twitter which has rendered our perfect username invalid until 23rd December, I have been pretty pleased with how things have gone.

Last night however, it all went a bit squiffy as Danny and I sat down to look at the prototype of our site which is now online (for our eyes only). We had a list of questions from our ever-patient developer about what phrases meant and where they should link to, and it was at this point that the holes in my knowledge became swiftly apparent.

Where do I expect the user to go when they click on the ‘Stay in Touch’ link? What does the ‘Availability Checker’ look like and how does it work? How many ways do I want people to be able to contact us? Where is the space for Special Offers? And how did I forget to mention Facebook? It’s funny how some things look so simple on paper yet the reality of how they work is a totally different thing. This becomes a tad problematic when others assume (possibly corroborated by myself) that I knew how they were going to work before I put them on paper; I have a confession to make – I didn’t always know what I was talking about.

In an odd way this process is a bit like the fantasy and reality of the guest house business. The fantasy being all about how it was going to look, what great ‘added value’ things we were going to offer, the toiletries in the room, the colour of the curtains and the deliciousness of the breakfast. Whereas in fact the reality is how it’s going to work - the mortgages, the business plans, the logistics, the contacts, and the health and safety requirements. Just like a website everyone wants to focus on what it looks like, not the more labour intensive questions about how it will work – myself included.

After 3 years of working in digital communications for a company that, among other things, designs and builds websites, I finally have some sympathy for our clients who look up at us blankly when we ask how they expected something to work, or are surprised when we say that it’s just not that easy to change the background colour from green to blue once the site has been built. After all, even with all that experience under my belt, I still don’t really understand how servers work (I just know that you need them); I get confused by Google Mail, and hosting is like some kind of black art.

It takes me 20 minutes to do something that I suspect someone else would do in about 30 seconds, and will rarely admit to anyone that it wasn’t “pretty easy becuase I understand this stuff”.

The reality is that I’m not a digital native. I’m not a PC, nor am I a MAC, or even a Canon Starwriter. Email was something I abandoned at University because I couldn’t figure out how it worked, and things haven’t changed that much. I stare in amazement at my friends’ children who seem to intuitively know how an iPhone works whereas I was just amazed it didn’t come with an instruction manual, and maybe,  just maybe, I have to put my hand up and say that this website development stuff is not any easier for me than it would be for my technical dinosaur of a boyfriend.

I’m 34, I’m a digital immigrant, and I’m just doing my best. Tweets of sympathy can be directed to Tim Reader, Website Developer extraordinaire. http://twitter.com/timboreader.

Timbo says:

Aw, this both made me smile and brought a teeny tiny tear to my eye when I read it last night it was so genuine and self-effacing. And I’d had a couple.
All I can say is you’re a pleasure to work with so I wouldn’t beat yourselves up too much if I were you! :-)