As it turns out both sites went live and were a great success. At first we were just using grayscreen prototypes for our most complex sites but we started doing it even for simple sites. To our amazement even the most basic sites benefit greatly from grayscreen prototyping. The more we did it the better our projects became, and the more our clients were satisfied. I started noticing other benefits, like when our clients reviewed visual site layouts after working through the grayscreens, they tended to approve designs with fewer rounds of changes, and sometimes even after one presentation. Wow. I guess you have to be a web designer to fully appreciate that, but believe me it's amazing.
We also began to recognize that certain intangible dynamics were changing. Sadly, web projects tend to disintegrate, sometimes badly. Many of our clients have been through one or more bad experiences before coming to us. We have great patience with new clients when they exhibit a cautious or even suspicious demeanor. It's entirely understandable that they would be uncertain about whether their experience with us will really be any different. When communication starts off on such a footing it can be hard to overcome. But throughout the prototyping process, during which all of a client's questions are answered, ideas explored, and their thoughts listened to, the relationship warms way up. This back and forth, iterative process, where they see and experience their website ideas in a clickable form, draws people in. Thus an upward spiral moves the project from uncertainty to confidence in a very short time.
I often ponder what our clients think about Newfangled and our work. We get lots of feedback about our CMS, they really like how easy it is to update and add content to their websites. Most of the testimonials we get focus in on the final site and the ability they have to maintain it. But I know that while the a great website is ultimately what we all want to produce, it's really this subtle communication technique that is the path to getting there. After all we're not magicians. We can't build a good site in a vacuum. We can only respond to what our clients want and need, and help them refine their ideas. The prototype just helps us draw that out. I mean, how beneficial is it really to be able to easily maintain a website you hate? If the site is bad, maintaining it is kind of moot.
But the fact that we can get down to it using grayscreen prototypes, that fact that our clients really get what we're talking about in the planning stages (because they can see it and click it), that fact that we're not being fooled by the illusion of communication means that the final site will be right. I credit our surviving the dot com bubble burst and the 9/11 website blackout to our grayscreen prototyping. While I really enjoying seeing our sites go live and looking at the final, fully designed result, I quietly appreciate and enjoy the fact that it really all happened because of something so subtle and simple as communicating about a website using a website.