It is an ugly truth that most websites don’t work.

Sure, almost every business in any conceivable market sector now has a web presence, but how often do we hear their owners bemoan that their website was a “waste of money” that brings them no tangible value?

In this article I’m going to explore what it takes to make a website work. I’ll explain why niching down into your client’s business needs and goals is the future of web design. But first of all let’s take a look at what I actually mean by this.

A website has only one or two jobs to do, at most

When we get right back to basics, what is a website for?

This might seem an unnecessarily philosophical question to ask, given how prevalent the web is in our day to day lives. To ask what a website is for, may even seem somewhat absurd. But I invite you to humour me. Your answers might include:

  • To build a business’ brand
  • To sell their product
  • To engage new customers
  • To service existing customers
  • To generate enquiries
  • To act as a news portal

These are all very good answers, but how often do you forget to make them the centrepiece of your project? And how often do these goals get neglected during the web design process?

In my experience – too often.

The opposite is also true: sometimes designers get so overwhelmed, trying to make the website fulfil a huge number of objectives all at the same time, that they end up failing on all counts. Try to please everyone, end up pleasing nobody.

It’s important to focus very carefully on only one or two goals for any given website. And during the development of the website, it is vital to keep those goals front and centre.

For your next web project, try picking just one goal, and scoping your project around it. This will give you focus like you’ve never experienced before.

Design is not about aesthetics

Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying “design is not how something looks, it’s how it works”

This is as true for website design as it is Apple’s revolutionary product lines.

And I strongly believe that the reason so many websites fail to meet their basic goals is because the teams delivering them focus on the wrong things. We spend too much time designing content and not enough time ensuring it resonates with the intended audience. We brighten up our pages with images without considering if it helps readers to get what they want, or just gets in the way.

Every decision we make in web design should be hyper-focused on the end goal. By asking “how does this decision support the aims of this project” we remain mindful and challenging of our assumptions.

Goal-focused web design is the future

It is now surprisingly simple to put together a website. DIY builders enable non-designers and those without any technical skills to build websites pretty quickly.

Therefore, the future looks rather bleak for designers who cannot or will not look beyond the process of visual design. The future belongs to those who aren’t “just” web designers.

As a developer working with business clients, you will become invaluable if you can create websites that truly meet their needs. Clients do not pay for design, they pay for the results of good design. The designers of the future:

  1. Are conversion-focused at every step
  2. Challenge commonly held assumptions
  3. Integrate a level of mentorship into their practice to teach and empower as they go.

If you want to stay relevant as a web developer, look to these three principles. If you want to earn more money for better clients, go deep into each and model your whole service offering around them.

As more lower-quality providers enter the market and as more clients run with Squarespace and the rest, designers who can add real business value will become even more vital.

Do you want to be seen as ‘functional’, little better than a human-Squarespace, or would you rather become an essential component for success in any business, and reap the healthy returns of this? I know which one looks most appealing to me.