Just as a Supreme Court justice once said about defining obscenity (“I know it when I see it…”), we know when we hit a website that was driven by marketers and designers with little regard for what customers or prospects need.

Like gray-on-white fonts making it impossible to read content quickly . . . Product numbers instead of product names . . . Jargon and acronyms . . . Mobile website pages that make mobile device users constantly pinch-n-zoom just to read the content . . .

So we shouldn’t be surprised when a site visitor – particularly a mobile visitor – turns and runs i.e. clicks back to  the search engine. The “issues” I noted above can be avoided if only we, as marketers, would start our initial website design (or redesign) efforts with a simple question: what would my customers want (WWMCW)? Simple question but answering it can be a complex and very nuanced process.

Let’s add another aphorism – borne of an old joke — that goes well right here: Avoid the “wecan” school of site design. In this approach, the tools, techniques and biases of the marketer or site designer define how the website is developed. (I’m not an engineer but an old engineer told me the old joke: Marketer 1: “Why are you guys designing that thing that way?” Engineer 1: “Because we can.”)

The intensity of consumers’ mobile device usage – literally hours a day – and the variety of content and communications options available to them raises their expectations for all online experiences. Successfully mapping your website design to the requirements of today’s online consumer can’t be done by starting with designers and developers. In fact, designers and developers shouldn’t get involved until a multi-disciplinary team have crunched some data gathered by qualitative and quantitative tools to paint portraits of customers and prospects. Those profiles or portraits can inform marketing’s understanding of a user or segment’s context.   Armed with that kind of information, the team working on the website can focus on designing a website and experience that maps to customers’ needs and expectations.

Keeping the customer and their needs at the center of website design or redesigns is what drives success. Simple to say, complex to do.

My colleague, Jane-Anne Mennella, has curated a great set of research notes and industry press accounts that provide specific strategic and tactical advice and real-world examples of companies taking a customer-centric approach to site design and winning.  (You can find these reports (available to Gartner clients) and media articles — here and here — starting Monday, April 2).