CEO Oriented vs. User-Oriented

Primary Author: David Buxton

First to define two key terms to be used just on this page.  

CEO: Let's use CEO (Chief Executive Officer) as symbolic of those who need to be impressed by the website being designed. CEO can serve to represent the officers of the company, the sponsors, the pastor, the church board. The CEO is perhaps the person who will be paying for the website. Perhaps the site is designed in the hopes of winning an eChurch Award.


User: For commercial websites we can say that a customer-oriented website is optimized to make lots of money for the company. It may seem counter intuitive, but a CEO-Oriented website will perform poorly if selling products is the objective. Church and ministry websites generally do not think of the visitors to their websites as being customers, so let's use the term "User" instead of customer.


Often enough, describing two extremes on a continuum makes the case clearer and the alternatives in between easier to understand. The objective here is not to punish one extreme in order to drive you hard over in the other direction. Ultimately we all want to seek out an acceptable balance somewhere along the continuum in between.


CEO-Oriented: At one extreme are the elegantly beautiful award-winning websites (or at least home pages) with every graphically optimized element precisely in its place. GIF graphics are often used to ensure that text is rendered exactly as the designer intended. Navigation is done with graphical elements and Javascript instead of hyper linked text. These sites, at the extreme end of the continuum, are fabulous works of art. The down side of it is that they take far too long to load, even with DSL, and break most of the accessibility rules and guidelines. Those with poor eye sight, for example, try to increase the size of the text, to no avail. Everything is precisely locked down. These sites are typically optimized for the CEO who is paying for the website. The CEO wants his sponsors to be impressed and is willing to pay a premium for appearance and the latest technology features. Razzle dazzle is often the priority.


User-Oriented: Moving in the other direction are what I'll call the User-Oriented websites. These sites are based on the studies which document how users like to surf the web. On these sites, visually challenged users can readily increase the font size of all the text. Graphics are small and compressed to load quickly. Navigation is optimized for the user, not elegantly beautiful for the CEO. Many of these sites have little or no graphics. All the navigation is done with text, to load faster and especially to work well with search engine indexing. The search engine robots are considered as an important "customer" because they do help bring customers to the site.


Perhaps the best example of a User-Oriented site is the Google website which is aggressively user-oriented, especially with regards to delivering search results as fast as possible. But of course the Google website will never win any artistic design awards. At the same time, a key reason why Google is considered the best search engine is its aggressively user-oriented optimizations.


 If you want the site to behave reasonably well when a visually challenged person increases the font size, then the presentation of the text needs to be fluid, flowing easily around the graphics. Do read about Site Accessibility. Once you have accommodated the the user who wants to increase the font size, it is time to consider using a Fluid Width, discussed briefly on the Page Width page.


There are a lot of website design firms that claim, in their marketing materials, that they have been contracted by companies with elegantly done CEO-Oriented websites that were making little if any money. The website design company did a complete User-Oriented overhaul and now the website is bringing in excellent profits. I have received emails from companies I do business with who have announced, Please come visit our new website which has been considerably simplified to load faster and is much easier to navigate. They want their customers to know that they have abandoned their CEO-Oriented website for a much friendlier User-Oriented website.


Spreading the Gospel: Okay, so our objectives are more in tune with spreading the gospel than making tons of money. But still, let's appreciate that a CEO-Oriented website will drive away a lot of visitors that we do not want to loose. We need to pay attention to the studies that tell us how to optimize in the User-Oriented direction, without pushing that direction too far.

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