On the Half-Assness of Some

First off, a little intro/disclaimer. This is a kind of post that I usually don’t write because, even though it’s not a “corporate” blog I’m the one writing it and being my own one person company, this blog is a big part of the “branding of me” and has an impact on the business that comes in. However, I’ve finally decided that I’m ready to “sacrifice” the business of people who might recognize themselves in this for the sake of my head not exploding and if I’m ready to decide that offline, might as well write it here too.

This was originally titled “but we’re getting paid” because that’s the problem I’m going to talk about here. There’s a tendency, mostly in agencies (not the CIA), especially in web agencies born from marketing agencies to consider that anything is ok if you’re getting paid. I’m not talking about anything as in morals, like working for nazis or something, I’m talking about “yes, it’s dumb, put we’re billing”. That is NOT a valid answer when re-doing the same thing a third time.

It might be because I haven’t had problems getting work or because I charge a decent hourly fee that I’m willing to forgo cash for the sake of doing things right but I think it’s mostly because I have a huge aversion to half-assness. It’s not acceptable to me to do things half-assed in two weeks when they could have been done in one if your only reasons are “the client” (as in I can’t deal with him so I said yes) and “I don’t care, we’re getting paid”.

If things have gone slowly or assumptions were wrong and you need to redo something, fine. I’m not against fixing or even re-doing things when needed, I simply hate with a passion redoing things twice because you did half-assed work or because “it will calm down the client”. Manage the fucking expectations, explain situations, deal with what happens, don’t simply redo because it’s “simpler” and “we’re getting paid”. If it was your money you wouldn’t do it that way, why the fuck is it ok now that it fattens your bottom line??

While the web is, for some, a series of tubes websites are, for everyone, layers. Trying to do all of them at the same time is not a good way to go. Reprogramming the interface because you’re doing the design at the same time (and re-doing, and re-doing, and re-doing) is not a good way of doing things. Figure out a realistic time for each step and do them in a logical order, it’s not rocket surgery.

News flash: doing the same 2 week thing three times in a row is actually longer than doing it once 2 weeks later. Whodathunkit? You do it properly with a reasonable timeline and it takes less time than re-re-doing it with an half-assed one that you don’t respect anyway because it doesn’t make sense and/or you don’t deal with the client properly? Weird huh? Doing things right can be quicker and more effective than doing them half-assed because you don’t mind double billing. That’s wild man, wild.


aj October 3, 2006


What makes these situations untenable is the fact that clients often have arbitrary deadlines to launch a site that coincides with some phase of their marketing plan, in order to please / appease investors or other business partners—their internal politics really shouldn’t impact what we do and it’s important that we not be pressured by it.

How many times have we built sites where it’s clear the client doesn’t know who their own customers are, what they want, or what their customers might want to do on the website? They rarely budget enough time for basic market research first…let alone development of a unified campaign.

But the fear is always, if we don’t take on these clients, someone else will get the work (and probably do a worse job), we can’t wait forever for that perfect client who “gets it.” So the question is, how do we keep cash flow steady and still do good work, stick to our processes, and say no to half-assery? It is easier when you’re a solo designer, a little harder when you have employees.

blork October 3, 2006


Between your post (half-assness) and AJ’s comment (which describes what I call “don’t-get-it-edness”) you guys have identified the two biggest problems we face when trying to get anything done these days. It’s enough to make me want to quit it all and become a farmer. (Organic, of course.)

Patrick October 3, 2006

Myself, I’m considering sheep hearding. ;)

cfd October 3, 2006


But on thing is clear:
“web agencies born from marketing agencies” can’t be considered “web agencies”. They are (usually!) a disgrace to what the “web” is, because they put interface design ahead of functional/interactive design.

The process of “interactive design” is not familiar to “marketing agencies”. Few of them managed to adapt their internal process to the new context of the web, resulting in our inability to “have fun” working with them (even if we are getting paid…).

In the “lead, follow, or getting out of the way”, I’m mostly going for “lead”, now that we are “independant” enough to choose our partners…

Success comes in the long term, when our clients are able to see the added value of a “good web site”, versus an “online brochure”… By chance, the evolution of the web has proven more than once, that real web agencies are ahead of their time and that their process is perfectly (well almost) adapted to the “modern web context”…

aj October 3, 2006

I’ll take CFD’s comment and go a bit further and say that most marketing firms don’t know how to do proper marketing, which is why the field has such a bad name. And that’s separating market-research from marketing-communications. If you don’t do the primary research (ethnography, user studies, interviews, eyetracking, hidden cameras, whatever) you’ll never learn what the end-user actually wants, can understand, or sees. The primary stumbling block for that certain genre of frustrating client is that they make a lot of assumptions driven by arbitrary business models which don’t necessarily correlate with reality. Compare and contrast this to the enlightened long-tail entrepreneur who builds something with a niche of one in mind (themselves) and then builds a business around a community of likeminded enthusiasts. They might not sell millions, but they sell enough…and to the right people.

karl October 4, 2006

+10000000. Applicable in many contexts unfortunately.

Could your rewrite this half-assed post with a more detailed analysis. ;) kidding.

karl October 4, 2006

2 hours later.

ok. We complained. We are the best in the world. We know what we do. They don’t get it. They are stupid.

Maybe it’s too easy to say that finally. How many times as a customer, we didn’t get it with all the services around us, but we thought “damn they are dumb, they can’t do it correctly. I know better.”
Do you remember not so far ago I was argueing with someone else about not using Office Word but HTML or email for documents. And yes I thought, they don’t get it.

Then we have to ask ourselves, are we always right, half right or… maybe sometimes wrong?

The interesting question is if it’s a common pattern and it seems given the comments here.

* How do we improve our jobs to make it easier for them to get it?
* What are the strategies to put in place?
* How much did we explain of the work we intend to do?
* What are the modalities of our work?
* What are the process we put in place in agreement with the client to work better?

They are plenty of interesting questions.
Yes there will be always people who abuse or do not get it. But maybe, we can make our day nicer by thinking, how to improve. What have I done wrong in the process that they didn’t get it in the end.


lightspeedchick October 4, 2006

Valid questions Karl. However, isn’t it possible that if someone is highly competent and organized, as in 99th percentile, that they would constantly be frustrated about dealing with the disorganized and unprofessional 99%?

That may sound extreme, but I do believe that the median is quite disorganized and unprofessional, so if you have a modicum of conscienciousness, it’s easy to find yourself in the situation Patrick describes, even if you’re not in the top 1%.

However, it may be unrealistic to expect everyone to be consciencious, and perhaps Patrick and others like him should work on living better with the things they cannot change. But only to a point. Without pushing elitism, I do believe that working well puts you in the position of choosing who you work with. And I’d work with Pat ;)

Patrick October 4, 2006

Thx for the excellent comments guys. CFD, I’ve told you before, you’re the Jason Fried of Québec ;)

Karl, all good questions, some of which I’ve tried answering on other projects and some which would be good ideas for further thinking and posts.

The problem with those questions is that you need to be in the project from the start, someone from interface and/or someone who actually codes the application needs to be involved in the design and scheduling process but that’s rarely the case.

Agencies in particular will work 2 months on a design, tweaking pixel by pixel and then call in “the builders” and ask for it to be done in one week at which point it’s too late to change the process or have a better timeline. They are also usually already late for the arbitrary deadline AJ mentioned and just want to get it done. Of course that attitude then results in cut corners and things have to be redone and the deadline is even more busted.

A big problem in those cases is that they don’t have any idea of the amount of work required to do anything so it’s not in their thought process to consider it and when they do they keep thinking they are properly equiped to evaluate the time it takes, which they arent.

Another factor of course is that there are a lot of junior people in the industry who don’t really know how to estimate their time and constantly estimate too little or overcompensate with the “buffering”, in both cases that doesn’t inspire confidence with the agency who are reinforced in thinking time can be compressed and they can do a better job evaluating effort.

Outside of the organized vs disorganized point MJ brings, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact our industry is still very young and a lot of people haven’t been through the process end to end yet to know better. They can’t be organized, they don’t know what needs to be managed (either the actual items or the effort for each).

That being said, I’ve had jobs and contracts where there were experienced people and that didn’t change anything at which point I think we get where people don’t care enough about what the others do. “Oh that’s coding, I don’t understand coding” or “that’s pencil pushing, I don’t care about colors” or “come on, I know you can do it quicker, you’re just adding buffer”. If people payed attention to what other do, the whole thing would go a lot smoother.

aj October 4, 2006

I think I could certainly benefit from knowing more about how to properly estimate and schedule things, I tend to fall into the under-estimation category. YULSeminar anyone?

Sylvain Carle October 4, 2006

How to better guestimate your projects and keep the expectations straight… hum, that makes for a great barcamp presentation !

I will try to tackle this one, maybe a round table?

Blork October 4, 2006

Excellent discussion.

What I think is really missing in these interactions, often in the case of both parties, is the ability or willingness to simply discuss, listen, and learn.

Perhaps it is because we are all too busy with too much work, or perhaps it is because our egos are all too enlarged, but I find that interactions such as Patrick describes are characterized by people entering the room with their minds already made up. The customer knows what they want and what they are willing to spend. Full stop. The Web team knows what it would like to do but figures it can’t talk the marketing people into spending any more time or money. Full stop.

When I describe “don’t-get-it-edness,” I’m not just talking about the fact that these people (yes, usually marketing people) “don’t get it,” I’m also talking about the fact that they WON’T get it. They won’t get it because they won’t take the time to listen to other ideas. They assume that the Web team are just programmers who don’t understand humans and human interaction, and they don’t want anyone challenging their precious designs and ideas.

On the other hand, the Web people need to understand that sometimes there may be more research (or at least good thinking) behind an idea than they realize. Marketing is a very tricky thing, and it’s not always the most researched or likeable thing that works.

That, if you ask me, is the real problem. So let me change it from “don’t-get-it-edness” to “won’t-get-it-edness.”

Patrick October 4, 2006

Absolutely, and that works within the web team too, as I mentioned earlier, coder vs designer, IAs vs designers, etc. And often, the bigger the company the bigger that issue becomes because then it’s not only knowledge and interest in the various aspects of the projects that come into play but also turf wars. “My discipline is more important/valuable than yours”, “no! mine is!”.

julien October 5, 2006

i remember talking about this kind of thing with you a few months ago.

situations are never black and white, but there is space for everyone to improve their work ethic, you are absolutely right. good job getting the balls to post this.

karl October 5, 2006

@lightspeedchick: “Valid questions Karl. However, isn’t it possible that if someone is highly competent and organized, as in 99th percentile, that they would constantly be frustrated about dealing with the disorganized and unprofessional 99%?”

Yes definitely, but like everything else, it is often a question of actions we take and our own choices.

1. a lot of frustration and we continue to cope with it knowing that it bothers us.
2. a lot of frustration and giving up. Going to explore another road.
3. a lot of frustration and taking actions to try to reduce it.

Basically, we will not save the world :) but I usually prefer to take actions that will help me in my job. I can’t do anything on their side. Complaining doesn’t change much things for me either. It’s try I take to take an angle on how to tackle the issue. Being in actions more than in submissions. At least, it brings a little bit more benefits to what we do and it’s good for the mood.

karl October 5, 2006

re-reading the last Julien’s comment.

Patrick, if you have time, it would be very good for your potential and current clients to write a post on how you would like to be able to work.
– What are the minimum requirements in your work process? – What are your expectations, etc?

In different words, the positive part of your rants, how to work better with you? I’m pretty sure everyone here would benefit of it.

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