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It’s Impossible to Build the Perfect Website
By: Brett Moneta
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Okay. Maybe it’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but it’s very, very, very difficult.

First, let me preface this by saying I am not a programmer. I do, however, have some experience working with HTML and several CMS systems, so I understand the general mindset of a programmer — not to mention the fact that I’ve worked with several very smart ones.

I also understand that the general expectations of us creative folks — information architecture, usability, content, graphic design and such — are very high. We fight, hash, discuss, and finally negotiate to create something that we deem to be the perfect match for the message and medium. Then we give it to programmers and expect them to make it look EXACTLY like we’ve designed.

Depending on the programmer, it’s pretty close…that is, until we view it on a browser other than their favorite. That’s when we get irritated. “What were they thinking? How could they miss that strange artifact!" I mean, the image jumps to the right side of the page and the copy is right on top of it!

Meanwhile, the programmer is put on the defensive. And when he or she fixes that jumping image, it causes something on someone else’s browser/device to show something funky. And so on, and so on and so on. I’m guessing that’s why usability testing annoys some programmers. Sure, they want to find the errors, but imagine hearing from 100 Monday morning QBs at the same time.  

Now, I’m not saying we should ever stop striving for perfection. After all, that’s what drives many of us to create in this medium. And usability experts have been talking about responsive web design for a long time.
In fact, I’m one of those people. I started wondering why people weren’t designing for both mobile and desktop devices. The answer took a few minutes to smack me in the face.

While part of it can certainly be attributed to budget, time, or business politics, a lot of it is due to the fractured nature of not just the most popular devices, but the Web itself. To see just how far it goes, I put together the matrix below. What I found was new sympathy for programmers. Here’s a semi-complete list of the platforms that are generally taken into account when designing websites and emails.

Platform(s) Browser Version(s) U.S. Market Penetration
PC Chrome 18/19 31.67%
PC Firefox 11/12/13 21.26%
PC Internet Explorer 7/8/9/10 39.93%
Mac Safari 4.0/5.0 13.37%
Smartphone iOS iPhone 4/5 (multiple devices) 41.0%
Smartphone Android smartphones 2/3/4 (multiple devices) 38.83%
Smartphone Blackberry 4/5/6/7 (multiple devices) 3.9%
Tablet IOS iPod Touch 4/5 (multiple devices) 9.12%
Tablet iOS tablet 4/5 (multiple devices) 66.6%
Tablet Android ¾ (multiple devices) 26.6%
Thanks to CNET and Statcounter for those stats. I’m not going into any more detail about them here.  

What I am going to mention is that I didn’t list screen size, resolution, brands, and other factors, which all have an effect on your web browser experience. And I didn’t even mention mobile apps, which are a whole other ball of yarn.

What that comes down to is that, even on the surface, we have to design around 20 different versions of each and every website or email that lands on our plates. If we wanted to be even more obsessive, we’d have to test out all of those on multiple devices.

None of this is cost effective or necessarily a good use of our time. So we generally pick the most popular browsers, devices, and platforms and ignore the others. It’s the reason why Safari sometimes gets overlooked on the desktop computing side and BlackBerry is being ignored in the mobile world.

The same thing is starting to happen with mobile apps as well. Developers are taking shortcuts and just enlarging their smartphone apps to fit on tablets. Not a very good user experience.

So what’s the answer for the responsive web designer? Well, in lieu of the industry creating a standard across all devices completely removing any fragmentation, there’s not a lot that can be done by a programmer. Here are a few things you can do:

Check budget constraints. The more money that is available, the more time that can be spent on a better cross-platform experience.

Learn about your target audience. What devices/platforms does your audience use? Are they young adopters or stationary seniors?

Tailor it to your product/promotion. If you’re giving away free iPhones, it’s a good idea to make sure your iOS experience is good.

Stay simple. The more complex you get, the harder it is to please all platforms.

In other words, do the best to optimize your site for the eyes that are looking at it. While it isn’t the only way, it’s a pretty good way to start, especially if you don’t have an army of programmers and a testing team on 24/7 standby.

In the meantime, don’t be too hard on your programmer. He/she only has two hands and 20 sites to build.

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About the Author
Brett Moneta has been playing in the digital world since 1996. He’s worked for companies like AOL, Avenue A | Razorfish, and Omnicom, developing content strategy and consulting on usability for companies in IT, consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, energy, and more. You can follow his tweets and read his blog too. Find him online here.
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