Encourage “I Don’t Know”

confused-looking woman

If how to create websites was figured out, a lot companies and people (myself included) would be out of business. I consider this to be an amazing period of time because we are still inventing, experimenting, and exploring how to fully utilize web technologies. Thus, in many cases when problems are set before us, we have no clear-cut way to solve it yet. Web teams need to become more comfortable with saying three very difficult words, “I don’t know”, and in this article I will outline when it is OK to say it.

It still boggles my mind that the job I am doing today at the time of this writing did not exist in companies a mere ten or twenty years ago. In fact the majority of companies that have not fully embraced digital cultures, let alone have websites that directly support their primary goals and objectives. Our world of crafting websites is quite new and that is both exciting and scary. It exciting because there is always something new to learn, and it is scary because we carry the unofficial title of “expert”, yet often have no concrete answers other than our opinion.

Visual Design

Often when crafting mock-ups, people avoid the big picture discussions and focus on details. They avoid talking about if a particular piece of content works on that page and supports the overall strategy, and wonder if that is the right shade of blue in the header. I would suggest that you create monochromatic sketches or wireframes of your initial designs and get focused on the bigger ideas about functionality and feasibility. If someone asks about the design, colors, or photography, it is OK to say “I don’t know” at this stage; because quite frankly you do not know or care about it.

Interface Challenges

Often a web professional will not know what the best approach to a problem is right out of the gates. There are often many ways to display information, but the best one is not always readily apparent. Are checkboxes or radio buttons needed in a form? Do you go with tabs or just list out the information with headers and text? Sometimes these options need to be thought through and during a meeting the only option you have to say is “I don’t know”.

Content Questions

Many times a template for a website needs to fit a wide variety of data sets. For example, do you have the same data points for your staff biographies to reuse them without alteration? Or what about your ministry landing pages; is the same amount of content spaces needed for each area? These questions often can only be answered by conducting a thorough content audit; which takes time. So when considering what content can fit into what molds, you often must answer “I don’t know”

How Will It Be Used?

Often your leadership will come to you with a solution rather than a problem. When you step back, one of the questions will be, will our visitors use this functionality? Done correctly, you will fully understand your strategic objectives and target market objectives. Yet most of the time this is still a big question mark. Decide on a path, build in analytics tracking to determine how people are actually using your site, then make a future revision based on it. Regardless, your answer to “how will our user utilize this functionality?” is often a big “I don’t know”.

The Big Caveat

While I have said in the previous example that it is acceptable to say “I don’t know”, you should probably tack on one more word; “yet”. At some point in time, with the right amount of research, you will be able to answer the questions posed to you. This is the major pillar of user experience research; conduct interviews, test variations, and research analytics until you know the answer. Do it until you can come back to your church leadership team with some directions or answers.

Action Item: Experiments are based on the fact that you don’t know something. Admitting that at the current moment you don’t know is perfectly acceptable. Yet I encourage you to dig deeper and find those answers. Building websites is an evolving practice, but it is also one where we can find the answers with a little research and investigation.

Note: This article was inspired by the Freakonomics pocast “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

Photo courtesy of Jenny Erickson

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.