Ha, and you thought getting your website to the launch date was tough work. Here are some vital tips for surviving your post-launch apocalypse, or: how you'll learn to stop worrying and love the haters.
The day has finally come. You’ve been waiting for today for months, years maybe. All of your hopes and dreams are about to come true as soon as you punch the button to launch your new website. You mentally prepare yourself to enter into the magical realm of easily published content, happy users and everything being in its right digital place. You mentally frame the glowing email you will receive from the president tomorrow morning. It’s a good day.
While I’m not one for spoiling dreams, reality may douse you like a bucket of cold water. You may want to prepare for some of the other emails you will receive tomorrow. Faculty members that you would have sworn had retired to the Adirondacks are going to write an impassioned defense of the old font on the homepage. Someone is going to snippily remark to you about how it USED to take 4 clicks to get to that-thing-they-need and now it takes 5 clicks, and how you literally have ruined their lives and/or Wednesday morning. Your grandboss that you told no less than 74 times that the site was changing today will ask you why the site looks different today and if there’s something they should know about? Someone, somewhere, will crash through a doorway, shouting dramatically that the thing they need isn’t “above the fold.”
It can be a big deal.
Launching a new website is a big deal. And the work doesn’t end when the site launches—in many ways it's just the passing of the torch. Your site will inherit some old problems. It will generate some new ones. You will have an argument with someone that will make you consider quitting the industry and starting a business farming strawberries.
So how do you retain your sanity and good humor? How do you manage the tide of feedback and opinion that is rising around you? We’ve launched a lot of these things over the past 15 years, and here’s what we’ve seen work time and again.
1. Own your guiding principles
Own your priorities and goals. Remember who you are here to serve with this product and how you’ve identified what those people need. Look at your key metrics and wait to see how the numbers shift. You’re going to get many suggestions that don’t align with those core values. Not every piece of feedback has to change your direction.
2. Look for problems over solutions
Websites live in this bizarre realm between the personal and the public. Everyone sees the website, but we don’t use it communally. Many users feel like changes are only resulting from a lack of care or attention offered them. Heatedly, they feel overlooked in the process—like some faceless organization is arbitrarily making their life harder.
Since we all use the site and we all use other sites, everyone feels like the answer is simple and obvious. Just use a button like this. Just put it over here. Just move these things around. The problem with this type of feedback is that it obscures the true issue behind a layer of solution. You can’t balance a system of solutions if you don’t understand the problems that underpin them.
If you have a chance to have direct dialog with the users giving you the feedback, try to get them to tell you what the problem is instead of how it needs to be fixed. If that dialog isn’t available, look beyond the suggestion to the complaint, especially if you can see multiple people commenting on the same problem.
3. Continue to build consensus and rapport
There’s not a single right way to build your website. There might be a best way for our goals or a way that we recommend when balancing dozens of requirements and data points. But it’s still up for debate. Very few people have—or need—all that data.
When dealing with your people internally, you need to proactively advocate for the new site. A lot of this happens throughout the process—making people feel heard, asking their opinions and getting their feedback so they aren’t blindsided by changes. You’ll have a lot to focus on after the site launches, but it’s important to still involve your co-workers in the ongoing process. Listen to them, take notes, and show them the solutions that you’ve implemented. Keeping an eye on future changes and evolving needs is vital to the continued health of the site and your organization.
The worst thing you can do here is to ignore your people (leading to grumblings and mutiny against your fledgling site) or to back away from the problems at hand (“well, we made it this way and that’s all the budget we have, so you’ll have to deal”).
4. Keep an eye on the future
Your website is a living thing—a garden that needs tending and nurturing to keep it fresh and interesting and valuable. When you work with an outside agency, you get a tool to cut through noise. Someone external to your organization can help you assess where you are, where you want to be and how you bridge that gap. That’s only a step in a larger process.
This is why we forge ongoing relationships with so many of our clients—we see the value in continued work to refine and implement those goals. A website and all that it represents doesn’t need to be blown up every 5 years, but it certainly needs evolution in features, data and content so that it remains useful and helpful.
That doesn’t mean you need to make all of those changes on day one, but you certainly need to be thinking hard about the direction you’re moving in and how you maintain the momentum.
5. Persist through the outrage
Here’s a fun quirk of human psychology: “This thing is different than the last thing and therefore I HATE IT.” You could spend hours pointing to how ineffective and outdated the last site was. You could fully annotate the absurd processes that had developed over the years to keep it running. You could bring up a web form full of expletive laden feedback about how awful it was to use the previous site. You will still get some people saying “The old site was better.” I’m sorry.
Of course you can’t treat every piece of feedback this way, but know that some of the feedback truly boils down to “I have to do a new thing and I am now cross with you.” You have to stick with it and know that this, too, shall pass.
In this wonderful interview with Roman Mars, Michael Beirut talks about the very recent phenomena of laypeople becoming design critics, hollering at those who redesign the brands that they love. In short, those people have a point. You have changed something they love, you terrible so-and-so.
It’s from Michael that I got this idea of “You can’t back away from it.” You know that you have done the homework, watched the tests and made something that is useful for the people who need it. If you stand by it until the furor dies down, the tide of opinion will shift to your favor. Faculty members will fall in love with the homepage font again. Legions of users will be completely happy that it takes them 5 clicks to get to the-thing-they-need because they know they can find it and its location makes sense. Your grandboss will yell at anyone who tries to change the site in the future.
And then you won’t feel the need to go farm strawberries.