About this site's lack of design: Yes, it's supposed to look this way — I'm using a sandbox theme for WordPress (see it on GitHub).

Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


When Good Design Falls Into The Wrong Hands

Let me tell you a little story. It’s about a client who decided to end a project early, before all the work was completed, so they could take control of the finished product. All work was paid for, as-per the contract, so no complaints, right?


Almost four months after handing over the project files to their IT department, along with clear instructions (not that many were needed, since the layout and markup were fairly straightforward, as was the CSS), we receive an email letting us know the site was finally live. “Terrific!” we thought, “Now we can link to it and show off some more recent work!” Then we clicked the link.

Horror. Disbelief. Shock. Page after page, bastardized–results Dr. Frankenstein would be proud of. A monstrosity wrought not on the operating table, but within Adobe GoLive, and at the hands of what can only be assumed is a madman (or even worse: an entire team of madmen).

Gaze in horrified wonder at the accessibility statement, rendered false by the mangling of markup and navigation. Stare with morbid fascination at the once text-based navigation now rendered as images. Run crying from the room when you see the body text, once styled and pure, now stark naked and barren.

Is this a work of fiction? Sadly, no: you can view the ghastly reality right here.

“But wait!” you scream! “What did the original, unfinished site look like before it was rendered helpless by these monsters?” Well children, I’ll show you…just peek behind this velvet curtain…

As we grieve for our loss, it would make us feel better if someone, anyone would share with us their stories of similar atrocities and client-committed crimes against design, so we might find some comfort.

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Friday, February 20th, 2004.


You can follow comments on this item via the RSS 2.0 feed.

Comments are closed.

33 comments on “When Good Design Falls Into The Wrong Hands”

  1. Posted by Ryan Parman on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    Well, my experience wasn’t THAT bad, but I was still pretty miffed. I created the front page design from a Photoshop image that was given to me to work with.

    I made sure that everything was good, clean, valid code, and I kept a number of good accessibility issues in mind when I did the design.

    I also wrote up a few notes so that when they went to modify the site, they could maintain the look and feel. Piece of cake.

    The first thing that happened was that they opened it up in Dreamweaver. They obviously know nothing of CSS, or aesthetics. Their header images are far too large, and although they didn’t annihilate my markup, they did stupid anti-accessibility things unnecessarily.

    The URL in question is http://www.wti-ep.com

    My story is not nearly as bad as yours (not even remotely), but I was still pretty irritated.

  2. Posted by Lea on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    The funny thing is the rollover for History has a mistake in it, too. The changes make absolutely no sense to me. What a waste of a previously good website. Fortunately, I have not a horror story like that yet… I grieve for you.

  3. Posted by Jeremy Keith on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    I can empathise 100% with you on this one. This has happened to me on quite a few occasions.

    What’s not quite as soul-destroying, but quite annoying in its own way, is when sites are changed only slightly but those slight changes undo all the striving for validation that went into the original design.

    This site no longer validates. Every one of the validation issues is caused by the client making changes whilst ignoring the style guide I provided.

    Ah well, what can you do?

    Long live the independent web: as long as we have pet projects and personal sites that we can use as portfolio pieces, we’ll never have to rely completely on past work maintaining its integrity.

  4. Posted by Paul G on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    You have to love how the accessibility page invites you to validate the page’s XHTML, but:

    1 – The link is broken.

    2 – When you manually validate the page, it identifies itself as HTML 4.01 Transitional, not XHTML

    3 – There are 44 validation errors, most of which involve the use of a non-existant <spacer> tag or non-existant attributes like “gridx”

    Sheez, between using four times as much HTML converting the site to a table layout and converting all of the previously text-based navigation into images, They probably increased their bandwidth by an order of magnitude.

  5. Posted by Keith on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    This happens to me on almost every project. I try not to worry about it, but to be honest it’s made my portfolio rather light.

    The worst is about a year ago when I worked on a project with a rather new Web designer (who was related to the project owner — avoid this situation at all costs), straight out of school. I tried to build the site in as forward-thinking, standard, usable way as possible, all the while trying to educate this person to the realities of real world Web design.

    Every single thing I did was changed for the worse. I still got paid, but I felt guilty taking their money. Then when I sent an email explaining what was wrong, why, and how to fix it, I got told by someone with about 6 months experience and a design degree (it’s shocking what they teach these kids), that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

    Yeah, users just LOVE it when you automatically resize their windows to fit your 300 pixel wide layout….etc.

  6. Posted by Stinn on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    That’s horrible. The difference in the sites is night and day. This has never happened to me, at least not to that extent. I feel for you, at least you have a copy of it if you want it in your portfolio.

  7. Posted by Dan Bowling on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    Ok, so on post 3 there… I don’t get why a web design firm would out contract their own website… makes no sense to me.

  8. Posted by Paul G on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    Oh, and by way of empathy, my day job consists of maintaining a site that is so far removed from any resemblence to web standards that attempting to use them generally breaks the site in horrible, unspeakable ways. Each and every page of this site (which I will refrain from linking or naming, as I would like to keep my job :) weighs in at over 700k of text alone. Without counting images.

    I am often asked to make things “bigger” or “bright red” or “blinking”, which to my ears sounds more like “Is there any way we can make this more obnoxious and user-hostile?”


  9. Posted by Matt Burris on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    What a nightmare that must be, and a shame. Somehow I don’t think that was an “IT department” you handed the project over to. I haven’t had this kind of experience (and I hope I never do), but I’ve had clients put their foot down and insist on certain things I disagree strongly with, and couldn’t change their minds. In any case, what the company did was just hurt their online business in many ways.

  10. Posted by Trisignia on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    That’s awfully unfortunate. It looks like they set about to undo all of the the subtly beautiful touches that make the page great—the borders, font-colors, sidebar, etc. (Well, as great as a page featuring alligator wrestling can be.)

    My condolences.

  11. Posted by andrew on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    I have to agree that the best part about the changes is not what was changed but what wasn’t changed. The ‘accessibility’, ‘xhtml’, & ‘css’ validation links kill me. That’s pure brilliance.

    I would agree – there seems to be no shared logic in the changes, other than they had no one at hand with any CSS skills whatsoever. They freaked out after taking it into their hands and ultimately rebuilt the whole thing in only way they knew how. It probably was rebuilt by the owner’s nephew.


  12. Posted by rseal on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    Andrew, I tought it had been rebuilt by the alligator on front page, and the other guy was yelling at the gator “line-height, what?”.

    Clients think they know what they’re doing and they never stop surprising me with theyr smart moves. Ever spent 2 months trying to convince a client that you have the right tech for the job they need and months later you pass by theyr website and you see a shinny M$ FrontPage (line28 rulez) pearl?

    I know what you guys go through. Ah well. Let’s move on. It’s their loss.

  13. Posted by Ste Grainer on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    Wow, they even managed to make the top image look less appealing – what did they do, open it in some image editing program and save it as a lower-quality jpeg?! At least they took out the “Valid XHTML and CSS” statement. That’s just plain terrible – sorry to see an otherwise great site go through that sort of bastardization. :(

  14. Posted by Marko on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    I’ll just say: what an ugly white stripe under the footer! It seems to me their content manager was hitting PrtScrn just a little-bit too much!

  15. Posted by Lee on Friday, February 20th, 2004.

    They also broke the sticky nav buttons (every page is the home page!) and the “scroll to nav” link. For a real hoot check the source code on the contact page. There’s a javascript error from where they removed the checkform script. After filling out the form you would get bounced to your e-mail app since the action is ‘mailto:’ I’m sure their potential customers will be impressed.

  16. Posted by g.i.a. on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    I could be wrong, but I think they misspelled their own tribe’s name in the fifth paragraph. Somehow “Miccuskee” fry bread doesn’t seem right. Regardless, holding an alligator’s mouth open with your chin while standing directly in the path of an airboat does seem thrilling.

  17. Posted by Steven on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    I can’t believe the difference; atleast your designs worked the same in IE; what they have done just seems pointless..

    It seems even more so when you compare the contact page(s) in IE; you really have to question what’s going on at the IT department Miccosukee.com


  18. Posted by Adam on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    Oh man, can I relate. Back a year or so ago when I could still stomach freelancing I was working on a redesign of a local, holistic magazine’s web site. The lady was nice most of the time, but she was also extremely difficult and kept going back and forth on what she wanted.

    So, anyway, this was as far as I got with a design (wanted 100% height and width so there is one table) before she sent me her own mockup (!) and wanted me to just use it and get rid of all the work I had previously done. So, I politely gave her the finger, but still got paid. This is what remains. It makes me more happy than sad to see the butt-ugly design she ended up with, but it always sucks when you put in the work only to get shot down by those who “know what they want”. Oh well, that’s why I no longer freelance – good riddance!

  19. Posted by Jim on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    That’s insane. The changes they made to the mark-up and display make no sense at all. Why bother paying an outside professional to do a quality job then allow your in-house monkeys to crap all over it?

    It’s very frustrating when site owner’s don’t want to accept that a designer probably knows best when it comes to design. It’s not like we tell them how to run their business. Why can’t we all stick to what we actually know?

    I’ve had some pretty bizzare requests from clients. It’s a continuous struggle to get even the most basic concepts of accessability and web standards across to those who have no real knowledge of the internet and how it works.

    Perhaps you should submit this fouled-up design to http://webpagesthatsuck.com/ – then send the company an e-mail politely notifying them of their ‘accolade’ :)


  20. Posted by Steve on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    Even the original mini 5×5 background pattern has suffered a bloated change for the worse. I shake my head and turn my back to the computer screen.

  21. Posted by Hadley on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    My (not so) secret shame is http://anchar.co.nz. At the time I really really really needed the money, so when my client said it’s too boring, make it more exciting, I said “sure!”, and provided a roving cheese slicer that followed the mouse (IE only), and provided some beautiful backgrounds that I knew she’d love. (I do however claim absolutely NO responsibility for the logo, I would strongly suggest that you NEVER EVER use the font Ransom)

  22. Posted by justin goodlett on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    I can definitely relate as this has happened to myself on two projects. In short, I was developing/designing a website using clean markup which validated. Use of imagery was kept to a minimal. I handed the project over and shortly after noticed that every bit of navigation was rendered as images and the use of css for layout was nevermore. The ENTIRE site was marked up using tables. I was distraught, just like yourself. I wanted to use the two projects as a portfolio piece. What a pity…

  23. Posted by vlad on Saturday, February 21st, 2004.

    i feel your pain. a similar thing once happened to me once when i redesigned a site for a local school. some may say that they don’t care since they did their job and got paid, but to see one’s work mangled in such a manner is understandably disheartening.

  24. Posted by David House on Sunday, February 22nd, 2004.

    The Anti-Christ is out there.

  25. Posted by Pix on Sunday, February 22nd, 2004.

    The same thing happened to me when designing a local site for an international environmental organisation. They made us believe they had someone with the knowledge to update the site, but they didn’t. After we finished the job, the site was mangled beyond recognition and then redesigned using frontpage. A true work of horror.

    How do other designers deal with this? Do they use a local copy for their portfolio? Do they explain what happened? Most starting designers can’t afford to omit a major project form their portfolio.

  26. Posted by Jethro on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    I’m actually working under some of those same conditions as we speak. My company was commissioned to design a site and build templates for a company that would take those templates and fit their content to it. After submitting my first round concepts, they decided that they would feel more comfortable with handing over my concepts to their internal art department instead of asking me to make changes or do something different. I know what you’re thinking, “he just gave crappy concepts.” Well sorry no. They worked just fine.

    What I got in return from the PRINT ONLY internal art department was straight out of the early 90s. My well styled header with beautiful photography was replaced with some badly rendered “swirl” vector art, my tab buttons that they had requested were replaced by EXACT copies of apple.com’s tabs and even rendered so small that you could never see them on a normal screen and the document was of course 200 dpi. AND they had already gotten it approved by management (SOMEHOW) over my originals. (Remember this is still using my basic concept layout)

    When we got it back, we basically said sorry but we can’t use this, and offered an alternative concept to which they said, “We’re not going to present this because we already have the other one approved.” So now instead of firing the client like we should have I am forced to implement this horrid design. I wish it was live so I could show it, but alas it is not yet finished. I won’t even get into how badly they have already bastardized my templates and CSS.

  27. Posted by Tony on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    The sad part is, they wouldn’t have had to make ANY changes to the content. If they wanted a larger font in black instead of a lighter shade, one change to the style sheet would have “fixed” the whole site…less than appealing design accomplished easily while still maintaining valid and accessible code. I can’t even imagine how many hours they put in “converting” the site to use tables, littered with font tags, rollover images, etc. Simply amazing.

    Oh, and Adam (comment 18), that’s funny. For only $250 bucks they’ll even design a site for you! (I guess they’re now web designers?)


  28. Posted by spyder on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    heh, that sucks.

    what is also disturbing is that the jpeg compression they used made the images look horrible, check “Scroll to Menu” .

    good that we have personal pages i guess :)

  29. Posted by Dan Bowlign on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    Well, when I read the post and comments, I was thinking to myself… “Thank God that hasn’t happened to me” But wait, it just did.

    I spent countless hours and the smallest web design fee I have ever worked for working on a project. Now, every few days since it shipped, I have gotten a little email back telling me to tweak it in some way. First it was simple, add a little somthing here, take this out. But now, they want me to take off a part of the header, and turn it into a gigantic background immage. She wants me to take a Monet art peice, and have it (very darkened mind you) the background of the white text. I kept telling her that you can’t read text, and that the way I had it before gave balance to the page.

    Where does one draw the line for how much they modify their work?

  30. Posted by Ken on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    This happened to me once and when I saw what they did to my site I almost cried.

    Part of it is the fact that your client usually doesn’t know any better. They pay you X amount of dollars to develop a site and then someone says “hey, you paid that guy that much money for this site, well my kid knows a little HTML from a class he took at the YMCA why don’t you let him do it for you cheaper”. Particularly right now with everyone cutting back, most people don’t know good design from bad design, or the underlying complexity of developing a web site, concepts like usability, HCI, CSS, web standards, don’t mean anything to them.

  31. Posted by Alanna on Wednesday, February 25th, 2004.

    Webgraph is no longer credited on the Credits page, too. Does that break the contract, since they are now pilfering your design work?

    And why did they feel the need to touch the site if the content is managed by MovableType? They wouldn’t need to touch the code at all to make changes.

  32. Posted by brew on Thursday, February 26th, 2004.

    Although the changes are clearly butchery, I think they made them so the site would fully render in legacy browsers (check it in NS4.x).

    I can only assume you educated the client as to the standards you were going to use and the subsequent impact on sub-standards browsers. They understood and agreed to that. Then they changed their mind and decided that they needed a hybrid design that would render fully in older browsers. Lacking the budget to ask you make the necessary changes, they took it upon themselves (or their 13 year old nephew) to make the changes. The nephew couldn’t find the layout images that were written as CSS background images, so he took a screen shot and compressed it – hence the terrible artifacting on the main page image. He couldn’t make head nor tail of the CSS styled list navigation as that wasn’t in his “HTML in 24 Hours” book – so he went with images.

    All of these atrocities commited because the MD still uses Netscape 4.7.

    Clients are stupid, it’s our job to help them with that, but it’s not always possible.

  33. Posted by Simon on Thursday, February 26th, 2004.

    I have been thinking about how we can turn this round. Maybe the answer lies in our terms & conditions or contracts. I think maintaining your portfolio by links has had it. We need to go screen shots and add *concepts* to our own sites. This has been a really interesting thread. Thanks. Keep on hacking.