This post on Fast Company, which features purported inside scoop on how the American Airlines home page is managed, tells an all too common story.
The post features a hypothetical redesign of the home page that dramatically simplifies and focuses the page from the hash that it is currently. An anonymous staff person from American commented on how their decentralized team of over 200 people who work on the site are simply incapable of creating a design like that due to their structure and processes.
Here’s the problem at American and many other organizations with overcrowded, ineffective home pages: they have decentralized the ownership and management of a centralized interface. In effect, no one owns this one page, so any design has to be the product of compromise and consensus.
Home pages benefit from benevolent dictators who make sure this critical entry point to their site (yes, home pages still matter even with Google driving people past them) is focused on achieving tangible outcomes that matter the most.
Massive teams and committees simply cannot muster the discipline required to create a focused and effective home page.
Great post, David! I’ve seen this happen in associations as well, even in small ones where you’d think design control would be easier. But even when you have one person in charge of oversight (let’s say the marketing person) and one in charge of implementation (let’s say the Webmaster), you STILL have the executive staff member, the board of directors, and influential members….. any (or all) of whom can make themselves additional site managers, depending on how able or willing the executive staff member is to keep the site on track.
The worst thing I’ve seen happen is an influential person (on staff or not) who THINKS he or she knows what’s best, pushes the idea forward, and the site starts to morph from what was probably a clean, easily-navigated, usable site into something that’s at best messy and at worse unusable.
So I disagree that “Home pages benefit from benevolent dictators who make sure this critical entry point to their site (yes, home pages still matter even with Google driving people past them) is focused on achieving tangible outcomes that matter the most.” Unless that benevolent dictator is someone who knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise you’ll still get a crappy home page.
Ha! Well, I supposed I do have an implicit assumption in there that the dictator is competent at directing a web site.
You also raise an important point: the dictator only stays in power as long as they have the trust of the military (to stretch the metaphor to the breaking point). If the chief web person doesn’t have the trust and support of senior execs and leadership than they are going to have a tough go of it.
And to build off David and Ellen’s points above, I think it’s far easier (not easy, just easier) to find one benevolent dictator who’s good at his/her job than it is to find a dozen people throughout the organization who are good at managing a website and good at their actual jobs (since in my experience decentralized web teams are made up of folks who have other full-time jobs, and just contribute to the web team on the side).