Illusion of Control

From time to time I indulge in the all too common a pastime that plagues many a designer: I tweak the design of my blog. Was the old one broken? No. Did the old one lack functionality? No. Did the old one not perform as well as you want it to? No. Why, then, do you keep changing what is already done and what is already working? I could say that I do it for practice, for improvement, for perfection, for experimentation, for fun – but that won’t be the whole story. The deeper root of the redesign curse is the illusion of control.

Changing what is creates the illusion that you are also effecting what isn’t – it creates the illusion of progress. But unless that which you’re changing directly connects to that which you wish to obtain, the work done will be of little use – it’s a diversion. The designer, wishing to make his website a success, attempts to do it by means of the lowest hanging fruit – that is, he attempts to do it through the means at his disposal, namely: his skill and knowledge in design. So rather than focusing on the content itself, the designer spends time tweaking the wrapper, since that is where his skill lies and that is what he knows how to do best. But the wrapper only goes so far, and the endless process of tweaking and redesigning merely creates the illusion of control rather than real progress.

With blogs, the design creates a positive impression, but it doesn’t get a person to come back. However clean and beautiful a website may be, the only reason one would ever subscribe to it is if the content was worth reading. The decision of whether or not you will come back rests on the words alone, not on their presentation. As a result, the only way to grow the blog is by pouring all your energy into the content, not its wrapper. This does not in any way negate the value of presentation. Once you have a regular reader, the style of the site will help distinguish it from the rest, will help make it memorable and enjoyable to read. But until the visitor becomes a regular reader, the effect of that style vanishes just as quickly as it takes hold.

March 2013