How Can Museums Work With Web Design Agencies?

One of the challenges heritage sector organisations face when commissioning a new website is working with web design agencies.

Building a great relationship and mutual understanding with your chosen website design agency can pay dividends and produce a website that will showcase your organisation in the best light.

But there can sometimes be creative conflict, so to help AIM members avoid this, Harry O’Connor from website design agency and  AIM Associate Suppliers – Heritage Creative – has written the following article to help you avoid the pitfalls of working with web designers.

Most of the heritage sector folk I have met are refreshingly different from those in the private sector. They tend to be more creative and focused more on what a website can do for their visitors than the commercial pressures that worry their private sector counterparts. When I have attended heritage conferences the topics tend to be things such as “empathy and your visitors”, stark contrast to the majority of talks and topics that I see in more profit-focused private sector conferences. I am well aware that there are many pressures upon heritage sector organisations, however as a general rule private sector companies are somewhat obsessed by financial targets and all things money related. I believe it is fair to say that web design agencies are typically more aligned with those in the private sector than those of the heritage and third sectors and this can sometimes cause problems.

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I believe that those of us that love history, nature, language and the arts tend to be dreamers and romantics as a general rule – we are creative and yet methodical. We often have specialist technical or administrative proficiencies but above all have a passion for what we do and do it not for the money, as there are better ways to make money, but because it is who we are. Web designers are very much the same and this often causes a difficult client relationship for the same reasons doctors tend to make difficult patients. Having worked with many creatives, artists and designers, I can confirm that there is often a kind of artistic power struggle between creatives. The problem often stems from one side believing they have a better understanding of the creative direction that the other, it is a kind of rivalry. I have seen the biggest clashes when we have worked with architects and I believe this relates to the fact that both web designers and architects possess not only design skills, but also a similar set of technical proficiencies too.

Over the years, I have learnt that the only way for separate groups of creatively minded people to work well together, is for both parties to appreciate each other’s talents and realise that any website, or any collaborative project for that matter, works best as a genuine meeting of minds and talent. Once both parties realise this, great things are bound to happen. I remember distinctly one such challenge when we designed a website for a traditional blacksmith’s forge and training academy. Both my design team and the client were in disagreement about the best approach to take the design during the early parts of the project, each with their own very strong ideas.  However, once everyone realised that the other party knew what they were talking about and worked together with mutual respect, some real magic started to happen and the site is one of those that is often cited by our other clients as one they really love. We have a wonderful working relationship with these clients and continue to work with them to this day.

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Albert Einstein

As previously mentioned most web designers are very much private sector focused and this means they have a different outlook on things from those in other sectors. Ironically, I subscribe to the philosophy that companies are most successful when they behave more like heritage and third sector organisations and focus on the user and customer over making a profit. This different mindset that heritage sector people have is one of the very reasons I set up Heritage Creative, a company solely focused on working with such like-minded people. That said, there are some things to be learnt from a private sector approach when looking at making a success of your website.

In particular, you need to measure. Look at the numbers that are important to you. If you use KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), let your web design agency know of the ones that are most important you, such as:

  • Are repeat visits to your museum particularly important to you?
  • What about online shop sales?
  • Do you wish to attract more children to your museum or gallery by appealing to schools?
  • Do you offer the online purchase of tickets, and if so, how many did you sell last year? How many would you like to sell?

You need to have a clear idea of all of the numbers that are important to you before engaging with a web design agency so that you can make them aware of this in your briefing documentation or request for tender. Web designers, developers and digital marketing people are especially suited to helping you excel in areas like this, so use their talents to the fullest. They will use methods I have mentioned in previous articles such as SEO and Conversion Optimisation in order to meet your targets.

One other key difference I have noticed between heritage and private sector clients is the speed in which they pay. Whereas most commercial companies usually have immediate access to funds, museums, galleries and charities often have to jump through hoops in order to secure and release funding. Even when money is not tied up in grants, many such organisations will need the sign off from trustees and other key stakeholders which can delay things significantly and this is not what most web designers are used to. It is critical that you are open about payment timeframes at the start of a relationship with an agency. Failure to pay on time can often result in work being delayed or stopped and sometimes late payment fees, so have a frank and open discussion at the start of the project and double check their payment terms on any contract you sign. Remember, contracts are often open for negotiation and most decent web design agencies will adjust their terms within reason in order to secure the work.

If you found this article interesting you may like my upcoming book – How to set up, run and maintain a highly effective website – The complete, no-nonsense guide for Heritage Sector organisations. It is packed full of information like this and more.

About Heritage Creative

Heritage Creative is a specialist web design company focused solely on the heritage sector. We are deeply passionate about preserving our heritage through the power of the internet. We pride ourselves on designing outstanding, high return, strategy-led websites that look beautiful whilst being highly accessible and easy to use.

As well as the many wonderful organisations, charities and private companies we have worked with, we also have a wealth of experience working with funding organisations which are the mainstay of much of our heritage work. We have a track record of successfully delivering English Heritage, Lottery Funded and Arts Council supported projects as well as those led by local county councils.

We offer a totally free, no obligation discussion about your website – you can come to our design studio or we are just as happy to come to you!





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