Embrace chaos when it comes to building a website: Architect’s perspective

“Your website looks dated”

That was the comment I received from an acquaintance who was in the digital marketing field. He made the unflattering comment when I asked his opinion on my company website. I felt confidant that I would get at least the ok if it is not the good comment when I asked the question.

After he commented on the word dated, he added another adjective in front- 2015 dated. I could not believe it. It was exactly in 2015 summer, our office worked on building the new website. At the time, not only I felt proud of the work, but I also received many compliments from different people in both the architecture and construction industries.

Fast forward to 2020, our website now turned into the dreary “dated” one

While I was regretting asking the question, I knew I could not ignore his comment. I had to do something about the website.

After mulling over (endlessly googling different websites) a few days about what to do, I decided on building the complete new website (aka website 4.0).

I decided to focus on the project from viewers’ perspective rather than mine (architect’s), especially the viewers who are not architects“.

Here are the lessons from the mistakes and difficulties of building the website in 2020.

I thought I knew my audience

For this new website, I made three goals: 

  • be clear
  • be simple
  • be unexpected 

It is the last goal, the unexpected that needs explanation here.

The emphasis on being clear/simple has been the universal objectives for any projects, goals, strategies in different business sectors: design, writing, technology, etc. However, the the last goal of the unexpectedness is not easy to define.

How do you create an unexpected website? Is this even a good idea? Isn’t that going against the first goal, being clear? How do you even go about researching or explaining this seemingly ambiguous concept to the general public“?

While researching /studying different websites ranging from architecture to different industry sites, I learn to realize the difference between the words, clarity and unexpectedness. These words have two different distinctions and meanings; things can be clear even if they are not conventionally presented or explained hence the unexpected.

In other words, I can strive to have both goals building the new website: clarity and unexpectedness.

Over the years, I had seen many different architecture firm websites ranging from a huge global company to a small one-person firm with pretty much the same look….except the project size and the budgets! The one common theme from these different websites is that they are designed for architects, not for the general public.  

I am also guilty of that myself when I think about my previous websites from 1.0 to 3.0.  

For the 4.0 version, I decided to focus on the audience (aka potential clients) rather than my fellow architects. With this new strategy, I had to rethink everything about the website; project images, writing styles/ tone, etc.

That was how the website 4.0 work started….back in January 2020. I thought I was ready.

Deadline gets pushed

I was wrong.

The discussion with the website designer, we decided three months was enough to complete the work. I made the decision to have April 1 as the completion date.

Retro alarm clock on yellow color background

Now with a clear objective and also the deadline set, we had to just work on the new website. The website designer came up with a grand to-do list for completing this project; who is responsible for what, when to do our designated task. It was exactly like managing a Construction Administration work on a job site that I felt I was familiar with.

I felt confident that we can produce a great website by April 1, 2020.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic in March, I also had the “accidental” vacation in February for two weeks. It was not a planned vacation, and I did not have an option to delay it. I could either take the vacation in February or possibly wait for another one in a year or even longer.

After a “very short” introspection on the dilemma, I made the yes decision to the vacation. I figured I could review the work while being on vacation…everyone works remotely these days! I figured how hard could it be to check someone’s work while sipping a drink in the sun!

I overly estimated my discipline level….which turns out to be low, very low, especially in perfect summer weather with lots of fun activities to do.

While being on vacation with many decisions/options ranging from selecting lunch menus from gazillion choices to deciding on whether to go to the beach or to get in the jacuzzi with fruit drink seem to suck all the energy out of me.

Opening the iPad to check my work emails felt impossible. On rare occasions when I do finally open the iPad and see a bunch of emails from him, I felt overwhelmed…

I just answered his emails with the simple YES and NO. The problem with answering the emails this way was that he was not asking my YES/NO questions. He was asking my views/opinions/impressions/ judgements on the progress of his work.

As you can guess by now, it was clear I was not going to make the April 1st deadline, not even close. I suppose I can blame everyone/ everything on missing the deadline: COVID-19, website designer not making his judgement calls without the boss’ inputs, or even the family members not wanting to miss the vacation who had not had one since 2015.

However, I know better.

It was me who did not plan this better. It was me who decided on the fruit drink(s) in the jacuzzi over iPad opening. It was entirely me, me, me.

I wish the difficulties end here, but another unexpected (in a bad way) event happened when I came back.

It is good to start all over again.  

It wasn’t exactly the “event” but rather the “feeling” happened; I did not like the new website.

I was there in the middle of the work when I left for the vacation, but seeing the progress when I got back, I simply did not like it. In fact, I liked my old website better.  

I started questioning why I was even building a new website in the first place. If it was going to be a better and improved version of the old website, everything has to be better – images, writings, designs. 

All these elements have to be in sync to scream the company’s branding goals— clear, simple and unexpected.

Not only all three of these goals were missing from the new website, but it was also visually challenging (aka ugly). There were too many small cluttered images, wrong font style/ size, etc.  

Realizing the free design theme I was using to build the website was limited, I had to make the DECISION, a big one. After going over many conflicting thoughts, I decided to START ALL OVER AGAIN.

The overarching question of “what’s the point of working on something if it is not an improved version” won the argument.

I made the decision to select the new theme which meant more expenses, more time needed, more unknown challenges coming from working with the new theme….and most of all missing deadlines again for the second time.

Final Thoughts

After going through many unexpected/ expected events while building the new website, we finally finished the work at the beginning of June. We even sent our newsletter to share the news with our contacts.

There were many reactions: congratulatory remarks with compliments, some unsubscribe notices and quite a few unopened ones. The big difference from the previous website launch newsletters was that there was significantly less number of unsubscribes this time!  

Huge improvement!

I realize this new website is going to be “ dated” again sometime in the future as we struggle to keep with the fast/ ever-changing digital society we live in.

However, the lessons from this website building have been invaluable. Not only it is going to help me with the next website work, but I learned in a great deal about marketing/ branding lessons that can be used in different areas.

What have you worked on lately? What has been your lessons from those long term projects? I would love to hear from you.


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