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Web Sites: Designed by Dogs, Managed by Cats

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A key danger in Web site design is over-ambition. We need to design a Web site we can professionally manage.

Here's what I mean: I travel a lot. And when you travel a lot you discover a lot of important things. You learn the answers to crucial questions such as: Why is a dog a man's best friend? Because a dog always welcomes you home and a dog thinks everything is a great idea.
Right now, as I write this, our dog, Bran, is lying behind me. When I throw a glance at her, she responds immediately, gazing admiringly. "You work too hard," she seems to be saying. "Have a break."
Outside my window, Frodo, our cat, sits preening himself. When I catch his attention, he stares back at me. "Open the window," he seems to be saying. "Like, now."
Web sites are generally designed by dogs. There's a lot of optimism. The dogs look at the site and think of it as an endless attic. No matter how much stuff you into it, there's always room for more. The dogs approach each design step with a "have gigabytes, must fill" enthusiasm.
Dogs think it's great fun thinking of all the cool new things you can do. They love picking colors and moving things around. They love choosing small font sizes and grey text; coming up with new ways to navigate.
Dogs are very egalitarian, particularly when it comes to navigation. They never want anyone to be lost anywhere on the site. So they create all sorts of navigation, ensuring that no matter who you are, no matter what your interest is, not matter what page on the site you are on, there will always be a link just for you.
If dogs had their way, then every single link on the website would also be on the homepage. In that way, everybody would be one-click away from finding everything they ever wanted to find. That would just be so cool.
Dogs love content. As far as dogs are concerned there's no such thing as bad content. Dogs will always give you 100% effort. And if just one person out of 7 billion is interested in this piece of content, then dogs want it published.
Dogs are fascinated by technology. All you have to do is say words like "portal" or personalization" or "new content management system," and the dogs just start yelping and jumping all over the place. Installing new software is just like going on the biggest, baddest walk and finding the juiciest, smoochiest bone along the way. It's a dog's dream.
And then cats have to manage the Web site. The dogs let everyone publish and the cats are certainly not going to review all this stuff. The dogs created an architecture where everyone can find everything and now nobody can find anything. The cats shake their heads.
The dogs thought the mystical, magical search engine in the sky would solve everything. The cats know that's like two-month old pie in the garbage can.
Sure, we need dogs' enthusiasm, but we also need to bring the cats into the planning and design meetings.

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Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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  • by Spike Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    That was....weird. Sounds like you're a cat guy (in the animal sense, not the web design sense). I'm a dog guy (again, in pet ownership sense) - just ask the neighborhood cat that uses the top of my convertible as his own personal bed/claw sharpening device each night. In my experience, cats are generally uninterested and uncaring. They know you're going to feed them. They know they can treat you poorly. They're too smart for their own good. Dogs are loyal. Happy to see you. Will bend over backwards for you. And they are affectionate. Each have their faults. But I'll take dogs any day of the week - and definitely not for the web design reasons in your post.

  • by John Whiteside Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    OMG, dogs and cats, this is like Mac vs Windows. Speaking as a dog & cat person, well, the cat is a bundle of love who welcomes me home when I've been gone for an hour, wants to cuddle a lot, and generally is the perfect buddy. And he likes having an 80 pound lab lick his head. So everybody's happy. Cats are usually standoffish if they're not socialized properly from kittenhood... like a lot of dogs who aren't socialized properly when they're pups. For either species, they're instincts are to stick to their own kind, and if they don't get a lot of people attention when they're little, instincts rule for cats AND dogs. It's all in how you bring 'em up. Is this a marketing blog? :)

  • by Paul Barsch Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    Dogs and cats aside, there's some good nuggets in this post...

  • by Lewis Green Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    Gerry, This is some of the best writing I have read here. Great analogies, and I get it. As Paul says, "there's some good nuggets in this post..." I think most of us are part dog and part cat. My web site is chuck full of content and links. Now I have to remember to delete old stuff and add new stuff. I can manage but I sometimes wonder if my homepage is a bit too busy, but the dog in me won't let me delete anything. My eyes are pinned on the page and my tail wags incessantly.

  • by Cam Beck Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    Nicely done. As you said, we need a touch of a dog's enthusiasm to please others to go along with their fierce loyalty. I'm still trying to figure out how cats play into all of this, though. Why would we turn over the management of the website to the cat, who only cares for its own needs? I can see it now: "Whatever, dude. You handle this. I'm going to lie in the sunlight. Next time you bother me, make sure it's important." Cats DO have a great ability to hunt. Perhaps if we could use anything a cat could bring, it would be that. Imagine being able to find and sneak up to the right target like a cat finds its prey... and then when we do, we act like a dog and do our best to serve and protect. ?

  • by Anna Bella Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    What a neat analogy! And, it actually answers my question of "why I'm my own worst customer" when it comes to my own PR...I'm playing the role of both the dog and the cat...we're always fighting :-(

  • by Gerry McGovern Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    On my travels I come across all these huge, rambling, neglected websites. They all started off with great ambition and enthusiasm. They grew and grew and grew as more and more content and stuff got added. And now they are out of control. And nobody is really responsible, or wants responsibility. Once I said to someone who was supposed to be responsible for their website, that they should read over every page at least once a year. "If I had to do that," they exclaimed, "it would take me a year!" And ... I love my dog's enthusiasm. And people are often very enthusiastic about publishing new stuff on their sites. But are soon as you ask them to do basic things like regularly review--right before your eyes--they turn from dogs to cats.

  • by Cam Beck Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    [lightbulb] Thank you, Gerry!

  • by Angela Kirwin Thu Jul 5, 2007 via blog

    Well said! I like the analogy too. It explains some of my own conflicted as both a web designer (dog) and client of a web designer (cat). Now, if a cat designed a web site. What would it look like and how would it work? A A

  • by John Blackmore Tue Jul 10, 2007 via blog

    I'm a dog person, but to be honest, I approach the Web in a more reptilian manner. Cold-blooded. To be kinder to myself, it's more like being a mathematician. The question is not what can we put up, nor how can we navigate it--the question is what do you want it to do? What do the users want it to do? There's a VENN diagram where our two wants intersect, and that's your Website. That's not being the dog-like "putter-upper" as Gerry's said before–or whatever the cats are. Your freedom from dogland is in your metrics–and your metrics have to tie to a strategy–and your strategy better back what the business says it wants to do.

  • by Anne Rogers Thu Jul 12, 2007 via blog

    Actually, I disagree with a fair amount of this. In my experience, I've found that it's those who design the websites who most manage to remain focussed on the functionality and content (not swamping users with a world of information).. and the cat clients are the ones who are fascinated by technology, choosing colours and fonts and adding all the content they could ever dream of - they just don't consider how to handle the maintenance that comes with it!

  • by Anne Rogers Thu Jul 12, 2007 via blog

    Actually, I disagree with a fair amount of this. In my experience, I've found that it's those who design the websites who most manage to remain focussed on the functionality and content (not swamping users with a world of information).. and the cat clients are the ones who are fascinated by technology, choosing colours and fonts and adding all the content they could ever dream of - they just don't consider how to handle the maintenance that comes with it!

  • by Brian Carter Thu Jul 12, 2007 via blog

    Ya, I'd agree- the post is not bad, but the cat part of the analogy is underdeveloped, so all we get is the sense that the dog is excessive but it leaves us hanging wanting to know how to balance cat and dog- makes me wonder if the author is thinking of a specific person they view as a dog who has made managing the website difficult for him.

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