Why clients deserve control over their website layouts

Why clients deserve control over their website layouts

WordPress is currently working on the next version of the editor (called Gutenberg), and it’s hit a seemingly sore spot for a lot of designers and developers. In feedback, I keep seeing comments like this:

“I would like to be able to restrict client access to the layout and design elements of their site.” – Source
“Most of the companies I work for have strict content layout rules and style guides and I’m not about to let a site editor willy nilly play with page layout” – Source
“I already have to spend time fixing what clients have broken; this will just make it easier for them to break things.”

Here’s why I believe those comments are happening:

When it’s all said and done, Gutenberg should give people more control over the layouts of their websites, because it uses stackable blocks (components, anyone?) instead of rigid template-specific input areas, in the core.

It seems like the new editor is adding more responsibilities (or burdens) on the content creators – now they have to think about creating a layout that is cohesive with the rest of the website and aligns with the brand/website style guide, instead of just adding content into the appropriate fixed boxes.

And people are panicking.

Many web designers and developers make their websites fool-proof in the backend. They are very structured and rigid so anyone can come in and be able to edit things without breaking something or messing up the aesthetic. If, all of a sudden, layouts become open and accessible, things could really go south.

I get it, but I disagree. This has the ability to actually be less complicated, and harder to break or mess up, if implemented well.

All specifics about the execution and implementation of Gutenberg aside (it’s still in progress, and again, this article isn’t about that), let’s step back.

There is a common underlying belief regarding control and design of websites:

Clients should not have control over the layouts of their websites; they can’t be trusted to do it correctly.

I disagree with this statement for the following reasons:

1: Websites are built for the clients.

Think of it like buying a house. You buy a house (perhaps you even had it made for you), and you hire a home decorator to get it all set up. After it’s done things go well for a while, but then you realize you’d like to re-organize your office to make better use of the natural light. What happens? You re-arrange it, and everything is excellent again. What didn’t happen? The home decorator certainly did not cement everything to the floor, making it impossible to be moved. You have control over your home.

WordPress is one of the most flexible content management systems (CMSs) out there and it has always maintained a good balance of user and developer control. The reason people build websites on top of WordPress is because of that balance; it’s the reason for its popularity.

Creating a website that removes all user control is the very opposite of the philosophy that guides WordPress.

A website that removes all user control is the very opposite of the philosophy that guides WordPress. Click To Tweet

2: Websites need to communicate.

At its core, a website is created to share information. To communicate something to others. Yes, this information should be displayed in a way that is on brand and cohesive with the person, organization, or company, but the primary objective must always be easily met; the website must always communicate well.

The thing with information, though, is that it changes. And the world around us changes. People change, products change, beliefs change, and all the relevant changes should be reflected on the website. And the quicker the better, because outdated information is no good.

The tricky bit to this is that often the information changes so much that if the website layout/structure is rigid, there’s no good way to display it without recruiting the help of—and most often paying—someone to change the layout.

All this takes time, energy, money, and attention. However, if someone has the ability to make some adjustments to the layout on their own, everything becomes easier.

People change, products change, and all the relevant changes should be reflected on the website. Click To Tweet

3: All kinds of people need websites.

It isn’t just large companies who need websites and can afford to pay an agency $50k to create one. It’s non profit organizations; it’s small family-run businesses; it’s entrepreneurs, event organizers, entertainers, politicians, and writers. It’s your young nephew who wants to share his love of piano; it’s your friend who designs, sews, and sells children’s clothes online as a stay at home mom; and it’s your brother, who wants to raise awareness for climate change.

The system is changing and the opportunities are changing. Being able to make layout edits to a website quickly is useful, particularly for many of the types of people I just mentioned. A website doesn’t have to be this elite, mysterious thing you have to pay someone to make for you. That’s why companies like Squarespace found success—in today’s world, people like to have control.

A website doesn't have to be this elite, mysterious thing you have to pay someone to make for you. Click To Tweet

4: Designing = problem solving.

This is for those of you who are stuck on the idea of handing over visual/design control to someone who doesn’t have an eye for design, or the idea of burdening someone with the added responsibility of making sure what they put together fits with the brand.

Designers, please take an even further step back for a minute. You are a designer, which automatically makes you a problem solver. There are already multiple pieces to the problem: goals of the client, variability of text length, colour combinations, staying on brand (and a zillion others). Now, just add in another piece, and call it layout variability.

You are a designer, which automatically makes you a problem solver. Click To Tweet

You now have the job of designing pieces that fit together well and stay on brand, no matter the combination. When you’re designing the pieces, think about how they will be used and how they fit together, and make it work. Think of it as a regular challenge.

It’s well worth it for the client.

(If this sounds insane, stay tuned on this blog, because that’s something I’ll be writing about in the future. I do this for almost every client we have, and it can work very successfully.)

5: There will always be some level of restriction.

You still have to create the building blocks, the containers, and the templates.

I’m not talking about complete control over every visual detail (a designer + developer gets hired for a reason); what I’m talking about is giving helpful control over content and layout so a website becomes truly usable and dynamic, and can grow with a person or company instead of boxing them in.

We shouldn’t be in the business of putting people in boxes “for their own good” (that sounded way less morbid and dark in my head). Consider layout variability a challenge, and tackle it head on.

After all, you’re already doing it when you think about varying screen sizes — just take it a step further.

Having control of something you own is powerful, especially in our ever-changing world, and especially online. Clients deserve this control.

Sign up to be the first to know when we publish more posts on this subject. It’s near and dear to us, and there will be plenty of conversation happening around it!

Filed under How We Create