Everything must go! . . . Wait, why is that gone?

It’s happened more than once. A small business owner or nonprofit director says, “I want to scrap my website and start over. You’ll have complete creative freedom because it’s not working and nobody likes it.” Once I get started, however, I’m asked to walk back changes or put back in elements that “nobody liked.”

I don’t love those moments, to be honest, but they are an important part of the process. On rare occasions, I misunderstood the full role that a design element or functional item on the site was performing for my client’s users. In those cases, I find a user-friendlier design and interface and get that function back in the picture. More often than not, however, I’ve made a more grievous error: I didn’t educate my client on why the item was going away and how the site would be improved by its absence.

An analogy from comedy

I thought of that problem recently while watching the hilarious BBC drama Upstart Crow. David Mitchell plays a fictionalized William Shakespeare who is trying to write successful plays and grow his prestige in London while fighting a public that doesn’t understand him and an aristocracy that disdains his humble roots. His London landlord’s daughter, Kate, is a woman convinced that she’d made a great actress. Women, however, are not allowed to be actresses, and all the parts are played by men. She languishes in obscurity, desperately practicing and trying to get Shakespeare to cast her over a middle-aged man with two half-coconuts in his blouse. The problem, Shakespeare and his manservant Bottom say, is that there’s “no room for falsies ’cause o’ your realies.”

Losing the coconuts to attain our goal

It’s human nature to be more focused on what we lose in change than what we might gain. Still, the coconuts were there to create the illusion of femininity. It’s ludicrous to deny the real thing in favor of a bad prop. If a client is attached to the old site, either because of familiarity or nostalgia, I can appreciate that. I provide training on the new website’s maintenance to remove some of that unfamiliarity. But when they’re focusing on the old props as ends in themselves, I serve them best by helping my clients understand all they’ll gain with what I’m proposing. Only then can they embrace the advantages of losing the coconuts.