Joint action ‘a must’ for Net design

Partnerships with external design consultancies are essential to companies developing an Internet presence, according to the findings of research released last week.

The Interactive Media in Retail Group carried out a “mystery shopper” test of the websites on offer from the companies in The Times’ Top 100 list. The results are “woefully inadequate”, according to IMRG development manager Steve Johnston.

Only two of the 100 companies, BT and Tesco, were awarded the maximum mark of five stars for their efforts. BT’s website was designed by Rufus Leonard. Nine of the companies had no site at all, and two, National Power and Thistle Hotels, were awarded the minimum mark of one star.

“The design of the sites is crucial,” says Johnston. But he cautions that design consultancies may be promising too much if they claim to offer both the creative and technical skills to provide a “one-stop shop” for clients. “The skills available in the marketplace are extremely unlikely to be held by one external consultancy. Those doing the best consumer design are not necessarily the ones with the best engineering skills,” he says.

Malcolm Garrett, co-founder of AMX Digital, says the need to understand the branding issues of communications technologies has become increasingly important. But he defends consultancies against charges of poor technical knowledge. “The need to address that problem was one of the reasons AMX was formed ,” he says.

Garrett likens the situation to the world of film or television, where a team of specialists will be brought together under one producer. “At AMX we often form specialised teams for individual projects,” he adds.

The lack of consideration given to the end-user of the sites was highlighted by the problems experienced when the mystery shopper telephoned company switchboards to ask for website addresses. Many staff did not know, or could not find out, the relevant address.

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