Flexible Friends

On the back of much talk of “Responsive Web Design” Andrew looks at the underlying issue of whether we are capable of compromising standard fare to suit our clients’ needs.

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Serving the Diverse

The web design community is awash with discussion on “Responsive Web Design“, a term coined to describe the design of websites which change layouts depending on the screen size (or device) a visitor is using. It’s an approach we’ve been using on recent website designs, and while it requires a little more thought at the beginning of a conceptual design (no bad thing) it produces a result that will better serve the needs of an audience that is as diverse as it is impatient.

Ivor Armstrong Associates

We designed this website for Ivor Armstrong Associates to be responsive.

In the past we’ve had clients react in horror when they check their beautiful new site on their iphone and find that everything is too small. With the more recent introduction of tablets like the ipad we’re now looking at a wide range of screen sizes that people are regularly using to browse the web, and it’s up to us as designers to develop sites that are still usable and readable no matter what device is being used.

The whole process has got me thinking – does this translate to other areas of business? This can’t just apply to one niche sector. Every user / visitor / customer to your business will have different needs, and if we aren’t acommodating to those needs, they will go elswhere.

How Responsive are We?

Let’s take the example of a restaurant. To most, coming in and choosing something from the menu is a simple experience. But think about someone with a specific food allergy, like my friend Brian (not his real name). Before he can choose a meal, Brian has to pour through the ingredients of each dish narrowing his choices down to those that won’t upset his stomach.

Some restaurants are great at pointing out the allergenic foods in their meals. Others will have specific sections for those with allergies. But for those that haven’t planned ahead there are two options.

Say Brian has a hankering chicken, but the menu states that it’s coated in breadcrumbs. Brian requires a gluten free diet. “Can I have the chicken without the breadcrumbs?” He asks.

I’ve been in this situation a number of times. Thankfully, many restaurants can and will accomodate. But I’ve also experienced the opposite reaction.

“It comes like that” is a surprisingly common response. Similarly, “Can I have the sauce on the side” often leads to looks of disdain and even worse can sometimes be ignored, leaving you to pick at a steak that’s been soaked in a gravy that overpowers the rest of the dish.

“Even if they’re not one to fire up the laptop and write a scathing review, you can be sure that over the next few days friends and family will know all about it.”

This inflexibility leads to a disappointing experience for the guest. Even if they’re not one to fire up the laptop and write a scathing review, you can be sure that over the next few days friends and family will know all about it. People will be warned not to go there, a bad reputation is built and business suffers.

I’m being overly dramatic for effect, but the principal is obvious. If you have a set of rules and services that you won’t bend for customers you will lose business.

Find Your Flexibility Test

Where in your line of work does this flexibility get tested? Do you find yourself saying “No” to clients over things which, with a little stretching, could be done? Do you make sacrifices to benefit the provider/customer relationship? Or do you keep a hard line which you refuse to cross, even if it means damaging that relationship?

“Am I serving the client, or am I serving myself?”

Don’t get me wrong, the old saying “The customer is always right” is a broad generalisation. Clients shouldn’t be allowed to take advantage of you, push you for extra work and less pay. But it’s always good to remember that we are there to serve the client. In situations where I feel my flexibility being tested, the question I like to ask myself is “Am I serving the client, or am I serving myself?”

Written by Andrew Rossborough

Andrew heads up creative direction at SOLID, managing projects and taking a hands on approach to client consultations and design decisions. Follow Andrew on twitter.

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