Skip to main content

How less ambition can lead to greater websites

by manifesto

4-minute read


People don’t remember what you don’t offer, but they will judge you by what you do.

“We are a world class organisation and we want a website / app / interactive to match”

Almost every briefing I receive starts with the same need. What follows is a list of features. Museums want an interactive timeline like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Events want your personal program on their website and their app shared with your Linkedin contacts. Everyone with content wants rich storytelling like the New York Times. The further I read, the more excited I get, until I reach the end; the budget. It doesn't fit...

Maybe we can build half of the desired functionality, but we would not have any time to design it. And does the client have the editorial capacity to launch and manage it? In other words, the money does not match the ambition. But it’s ok not to do everything.

Let me tell you a secret:

People don’t remember what you don’t offer, but they will judge you by what you do.

Visitors don’t expect you to offer everything and they won’t remember what they didn’t experience. But they will remember a good experience - or a mediocre one. Remember Google+? It tried to copy everything Facebook and Linkedin did and failed. Whereas Twitter offered 256 character messaging - and is still around.

My advice: do less, but do it well. And do something only you can do.

Make use of your unfair advantage

Instead of copying something grand, choose your battles. Where can you really add something to the world that attracts and engages people? What do you have that few others have? In lean startups, they call this your unfair advantage. It is something that your competitors cannot easily copy or buy, and you can build your online offer on.

The network effect is a classic example of an unfair advantage: you join WhatsApp because only there you can reach all your friends. Economies of scale are another: you order at Amazon because they’re so big they have the lowest prices and the fastest delivery. There is also brand; you might read this on an Apple device because you believe they produce the best digital tools.

What do some organisations have that can make them unique online?

  • Content: Imperial War Museums uses its wealth of original pictures from WWI and WWII in the stories on their website, often in a way that makes it relevant for today. It’s the same archives that Director Peter Jackson got the unique footage from for his stunning documentary They Shall Not Grow Old — just imagine what interactive version it would make!

  • Network: BeenThereDoneThat connects companies with a brand or branding brief with a carefully curated community of 180 of the world’s best Chief Strategy and Chief Creative Officers. What if they could employ them to generate ideas on Covid-19 challenges like awareness campaigns, and publish them online for health organisations and governments worldwide?

  • Name. The Design Museum, though by London standards one of the smaller museums, has a great name — and Twitter handle. Their #fontsunday continues to invite people to contribute their favourite graphic designs on weekly changing themes such as home baking.

So how can you make your unique website?

To start with, look at analytics, talk to your users, and visit the websites of your peers to find out what your visitors’ top tasks are, and make sure you got those covered. To answer your customers' key questions, all you need is clearly structured and well written content pages. Often a flexible CMS with a modular design system will let you publish these without a big investment in custom code.

Then think of ONE thing you could add — and go for it. For example:

  • Are you a service business with staff members who can present well? Let them record short videos not just for social media, but also for your About us, services, FAQs, etc. Your site will really reflect the personal touch clients would experience when they’d hire you.

  • Are you a museum with objects that have travelled the world? Show it on a map, and offer these as a way for people to discover other objects. Definitely, a different way to browse a collection!

  • Are you a visitor attraction with wonderful scenery? Get in a photographer and shoot big panorama background images for your website and make a design that makes the most of them. This will let your visitors get a taste even before they visit.

  • Are you a university with engaged, creative students? Take the time to select the best work — maybe create an internal competition — and feature it prominently across the website. It will make it so much more tangible for prospective students what they can learn.

The result will be a website that’s maybe less grand, but more unique and more memorable for your visitors than that of your world-class peers!