The KFM Website Redesign Project, or What’s Wrong With Our Industry

I just found out about the redesign “project” (not sure what to call it) that South African radio station KFM is kicking off (thanks for the heads-up @1rene, @kerry_anne, @allankent, @wendyrobb, and many others). Here is the ad for it:

I’ll stay away from the cheap shots you could take on the ad itself, because granted, they’re admitting they need a designer. Instead, I’d like to focus on two major problems with the idea itself, and what that means for the web design industry.

1. Design is not “colours, fonts, textures, spacing, layout and images”

It’s really shocking that we still need to have this conversation in 2011, but guys, what you’re asking for is Visual Design. What you should be asking for is User Experience Design, which is made up of so much more than what you’re asking for:

There is no space or time to go into it here, but the point is that you need a User Experience designer to help you understand these elements, and not just give you a pretty design that doesn’t meet user needs.

  • User research helps you uncover user needs and expectations for the site.
  • Content strategy helps you define the voice and tone of your site, and writes content that meets the needs of your target visitors.
  • Interaction design helps you design an information architecture and a flow through the site that lets users accomplish their goals in the most efficient way possible.
  • Visual design provides the appropriate visual language to guide users along this ideal path that you define (and, fine, it also makes it pretty).

I think @allankent summed up my feelings about this issue the best:

Please KFM (and everyone else thinking about a redesign): don’t just make your site pretty. Make it something that allows your visitors to find the content they’re looking for, and enjoy it while they’re there.

2. “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

The second problem with this project is almost worse than the first. And that is the expectation that a designer should give up his or her time for free to work on this. Just, you know, for love of the game. The Joker’s words in The Dark Knight bears repeating:

If you’re good at something, never do it for free

If KFM is serious about a site redesign, they’ll pay for a proper redesign project, not ask people to give away their skills for free. Good design is hard, and if you paid the price it takes to become good at it, you should be compensated for your time. After GAP asked designers to redesign their logo for free a few months ago, Mike Monteiro wrote a great post on this that you must read. In Dear Gap, I have your new logo, he says:

Man, that stuff took time. A lot of time actually. And a tremendous amount of effort, as well as expertise. Expertise that came from a combination of training, which I had to pay tuition for, and experience. I’m good at this because I’ve done it a lot. Sure, ther’s some natural talent there, but by and large I’ve gotten good at my job the same way every other worker has. By experience, by focused effort and by learning from my mistakes.

So as much as I’d like to just show you the greatest logo I’ve ever made for anyone (“¦and trust me, if Paul Rand himself saw it, he would realize he was merely the Pippen to my Jordan.) I’d like to be properly compensated for it. Because I put a lot of time and effort into it. And it’s how I earn my living.

And that time and effort was used to make sure I delivered something that actually met your needs and objectives. You guys have numbers to meet. And plans for the future based on meeting those numbers. So do I.

And for the sake of full disclosure I should let you know that I’ve also frequently shopped at your stores. You sell good stuff. But never in my experience has any of your employees offered me a free pair of pants because the ones I was wearing looked bad. I wouldn’t expect them to. Their job is to sell me clothes.

My job is to sell design.

To designers: please, please don’t cheapen our industry by doing something you’re good at without compensation.

And to KFM: please don’t ask people do this work for free. I’m really happy you want to redesign your site, but you should pay UX professionals to help you do it. I guarantee you will be happy with the result.

If we’re going to move this industry forward in South Africa, we’ll need to start being serious about what design really means. And that means putting money behind the education and employment of user experience professionals.