Is Your Website SNOWED? (Stakeholders’ Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design)

Having too many stakeholders on your website results in forcing your users to trudge through a confusing experience, where each laborious step results in frustration then abandonment. Like poor Jack N on the left, you have frozen your own users, your website is SNOWED.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Result in Mush
I’m sure you’ve seen it, websites where there’s such a jumbled mess of content on a webpage, you know it’s a battle from internal stakeholders. Typically, you see this jumble of information on large corporate websites, in particular, large tech companies with HW and SW products. (I know this as I used to do it)

Being SNOWED is far worse than Avinash’s acronym of HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). At least with a HiPPO there will be at least some direction where the website is headed.

What’s worse is having too many masters too serve, resulting in serving none. I created this little acronym which I encourage you to share with your stakeholders, hopefully your website won’t be SNOWED in either.

[Is your website SNOWED? Stakeholders’ Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design]

Case Study: American Airlines Website Afflicted by 200 Stakeholders
Take for example the American Airlines website, which was so frustrating to users that designer Dustin Curtis decided to mock up an improvement and write this open letter. One of the designers from AA responded, saying there were over 200 stakeholders involved in the final output of the product, resulting in the jumbled mess of a corporate webpage. Reminds me of this self-created video from Microsoft showing what would happen if they designed the iPod package.

Solution: Have an Empowered Web Strategist
Yes, we know that putting the needs of your users is key to a successful webpage, but it should also be coupled with the needs of the business. This is where the Web Strategist comes into play, who balances this with technology to deliver the right experience. This diagram of the three spheres of web strategy should come in handy, a great diagram to print out and put on the desk.

39 Replies to “Is Your Website SNOWED? (Stakeholders’ Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design)”

  1. Yes and no. Yes, HiPPO’d and SNOWED websites exist and they look and act as described. But is each phenomenon a disease or just a symptom? I think the it’s the latter, and the underlying disease is a lack of user awareness.

    Or, in Dot Commie terms, they’ve all missed the Cluetrain.

    In both cases, internal thinking drives the design/development project – be it one executive’s poorly-informed opinion or 200 workers whose performance reviews are tied to some aspect of the website. The only real treatment is a giant dose of and a focus on the end user.

    I find it ironic that in the case of, all the internal interests that created that monstrosity are probably the ones most hurt by the bad design. I’ve found that the most usable – and USED – websites I’ve been involved with have enjoyed massive internal use.

    If the information resource is well-designed, internal users will rely on it as much or more than external users.

    Or, in Dot Commie terms, if your own people don’t use your website, it’s probably full of suck.

  2. When I worked at LexisNexis in the User Experience department, our Human Factors Engineers worked on ensuring a usable interface that supported site visitor task-based goals were met. When I read about an overabundance of calls-to-action or competing elements, I immediately think that there is a need to turn to User-centered design.

    I suppose I see this as the role of a designer or architect, not forcibly a strategist. Perhaps the two roles aren’t completely distinct, but I think a strategist can know what a page needs to accomplish without having the slightest idea as to how to get there…

  3. Andrea, fundamentally I agree. The designer is responsible for the end implementation, yet the strategists (at least how I see it) is responsible for ensuring all three spheres come together.

  4. Great points.

    One question though, how come the image’s description says “The Future of Facebook”?

    I think I might have found this posts thanks to such description 🙂

  5. IT people say: “Premature optimization is the root of all evil”. First phase of product development is bloatware. Without this stage internet would not take off. But today it is still relevant. If I am doing first steps I will make mistakes. Sure thing! And look at Microsoft. Not rookie at all. 30+ years of experience and multibillion revenues. We are all learning.

  6. Love this post Jeremiah. The sad truth is that every Big Company Website gets lost in the space between users who (usually) want simple information and the corporate organisation folks that (usually) get paid to make it complicated. Take a look at the (quite) recent redesign. 100+ stakeholders etc, not a bad result.

  7. You had me at “200 stakeholders.” This is ridiculously unwieldy. Would it not make sense to have at least as many users interviewed as stakeholders? At the end of the day a Web Strategist – taken seriously, and empowered by, the organization – could take control of this situation. (That’s what my firm, Interface Guru, provides for those who have yet to commit to a formal Web Strategy position.) What is the cost to American Airlines’ business? What is the opportunity cost? Why, in 2009, is this sort of inward-thinking approach still rampant? This problem has a solution.

  8. I’m going to definitely pass this article and SNOWED acronym around my college. We are about to undertake a major realignment of our website and I know that we will encounter many supposed stakeholders, but as we have identified our primary audience as prospective students and donors, that will help drive our decisions I hope. I do foresee many stakeholders wanting their interests represented. Thanks for another great post.

  9. Grammar pedantry alert!

    I find the phrase “Stakeholder Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design” very difficult to parse. On first reading, I thought it would go “Stakeholder Needs Overwhelming…[such and such]”. An apostrophe would make all the difference: “Stakeholders’ Needs Overwhelm Web Experience Design”. Also, the position of the apostrophe reenforces that there are, in this case, more than one stakeholders. If we were talking about the “stakeholder’s needs”, that would suggest only one stakeholder, which would not give rise to the SNOWED syndrome.

    Just my 2 cents. Take it or leave it.

  10. Great piece Jerimiah. I think part of the problem is that there is a lack of understanding (or agreement) as to the real purpose of the website for many companies. Is it there to sell, support, educate? the website must follow (or drive) the business goals of the company. The many stakeholders syndrome is all too common and this can be seen by really messy and confused home pages as the home page real estate is mashed up. Further hindering the problem is the automony of silos within the sites. The support department builds a great system but it does not integrate to the products section. There are often 2/3 search engines present that do not integrate the data. The sales group build their shopping cart system but the user cannot drill down to the forum to see what people are saying.

    A good website has a vision and even if you do not agree with that vision, it makes for a better site.

  11. Mike

    Excellent, that’s the point of this article, glad it can help your organization. Drew good point, I’ll amend.

    Terry, I’m all too familiar with disparate departments cramming onto one webpage. See my profile, I’ve spent most of my career in corporate web teams.

  12. Thanks for the new acronym. As an SLA (Six Letter Acronym) it may not catch on as well as an TLA (Three Letter Acronym). I find the term “Org-chart-itis” (OTI? – just kidding!) works well to get folks to realize they are making user experience design decisions for the wrong reasons.

    I agree that too many stakeholders can explain a lot of bad design decisions. Whether you call it a strategist or a user experience lead, the key is that person can represent a large group of stakeholder and be allowed to make the best decision for the user, with full knowledge of the stakeholder wants and needs.

    A way to reverse-engineer a page into the number of stakeholder is often to break the page down into the # of module/squares you see. A page of 6 basic UI units – probably had 6 stakeholder and each was happy to play in their box. And you can watch that page over the years to see how the business is changing – when it morphs into a page with fewer boxes, with each box making more sense, then you know the user experience people are making progress in changing organizational behavior.

    Full disclaimer: I have worked for IBM for the last 7+ years, on the user experience design team. So I have seen it as bad (and as good, to be honest) as it gets.

  13. Oh, my. I could say so much. My marketing world has been higher education where this always is the challenge. Everyone has an opinion, the political structure is not top down, and committees rule. People will want to structure the site like the org chart, and everyone thinks they know design. So, it’s vital for a CMO to claim his/her political ground ahead of time, seeking input but being clear that the CMO, along with the web strategist and creative team, makes the final decisions. Even so, too much process limits creativity. Turn your creative talent loose–internally and externally. Thanks for the blog and this blog post.

  14. Jermiah, nice post as you have brought up a key issue that impacts the final design of many websites. My latest experience working on web redesigns for a large high-tech company mirrored your comment about the high risk of a jumble of information on corporate sites of large tech companies. With constant re-orgs taking place, key stakeholders can shift mid-way through a redesign resulting in web content that aligns more closely to the new organizational structure and messaging than to the users’ needs. If the web strategist is truly empowered to make key design decisions and is supported by top management, this role can become the “ice breaker” that cuts through the corporate jargon and org charts to focus on the users’ needs while addressing the company’s business objectives through a integrated, comprehensive, and coherent web strategy.

  15. Не совсем уловил некоторые моменты, но в общем супер 🙂

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