Is your flashy website a Pontiac Fiero: looks cool, but a disaster in terms of performance? Find out why quality is more important than a flashy exterior and a lower price tag.
Launched in 1984, the Pontiac Fiero promised to be an affordable yet sporty and good-looking mid-engine car. It proved to be one of General Motor's great disasters: overweight and underpowered, tarnished to this day by alarming reports of engine fires and reliability issues.
Low Cost Can Equal Low Quality
A low price tag and a flashy design is hard to resist in today’s world. From architecture to furniture, cars to clothing, Americans nowadays are less interested in quality, craftsmanship, and durability and instead gravitate towards cheaply produced products they can buy in quantity. It is only in retrospect that consumers reflect on the truth of Benjamin Franklin's words,
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.
Choosing Looks Over Functionality
But it isn't the low price that plagues me the most; it's the desire to have something “that looks cool” without regard to quality.
In my time as a web designer and developer, nearly 75% of the projects I've worked on were redesigns of websites that had been shambled together with either a poor CMS or by an amateur developer (or both).
Luckily in most cases, the poor design and quality was amended with a better execution and update of their technology. However, at times, I would come across a site where the company was so enamored with how it looked, no amount of data on poor usability, abysmally low conversion rates, inadequate SEO, invalid or broken code would convince the client to invest in a redesign or update.
A website that “looks good” is the digital equivalent of the Pontiac Fiero. You bought into the hype of having a product better-looking than your competition, you were seduced by the low price, and even before a bit of research, you've signed the contract and are now the owner of a flashy shell with an internal ticking time bomb. Owners of the Fiero found that leaking fluids on over-heated surfaces would result in engine fires.
The Hidden Costs
Owners of poorly-made, flashy sites can face:
- Security vulnerabilities from an inferior CMS
- Ecommerce transaction or information handling that doesn't meet legal standards
- Increased cost for tech support, often resulting from having to fix a poorly-coded aspect of the site in order to complete what was initially a small task
- Unscalable framework leading to an inability to add additional content
- Poor SEO and accessibility issues from using stylized text as images
- No mobile support due to Flash elements
- Painfully slow site loading times from using memory-heavy design elements
- Broken functionality on some browsers or devices due to poor coding
- Lost revenue from users leaving site due to inability to complete a task or navigate the site
With a little more digging, I would find that the company had unfortunately paid an obscene amount of money for their current site and didn't feel like additional money should be invested to improve it. I don't blame them. After spending up to five digits for a site, no one wants to hear that they were delivered a poor product. No one is eager to say they were scammed, nor are they running with open arms to another company expecting better results. They proceed with caution and a tighter wallet.
Do It Right The First Time
The best I can offer is iterative updates to take their existing site they're married to an make small updates to improve performance.
Just like the Fiero owner who frequents the auto repair shop updating the cooling system, rebuilding the distributor, troubleshooting the inexplicable electrical quirks, or even replacing the engine, the website owner may eventually be left thinking, “Wouldn't it have been better to get a new one in the first place?”
DIRFT—Do It Right the First Time—is the popular concept advocated by businessman and author Philip Crosby. In his 1979 best seller, Quality Is Free, Crosby stated,
Quality is free. It's not a gift, but it is free. What costs money are the un-quality things—all the actions that involve not doing jobs right the first time.”
The cost of bad design will quickly make up for the difference saved on the cheaper price tag. GM recalled all 244,000 Fieros manufactured.
Ultimately, a poorly made but flashy website could face the same end that the Fiero did: a damaged reputation. Following the disaster of the 1980s Fiero, Pontiac did end up releasing an updated and more dependable version. But to this day, the Fiero continues to make the top lists of Worst Cars in the World.