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TechCrunch Redesign Update

Posted By Darren Rowse 16th of May 2006 Blog Design 0 Comments

A few days back I linked to the design saga around the TechCrunch Redesign where the redesign of this popular blog came under significant critique. The design was done by Rachel Cunliffe from Cre8d but it was pretty obvious that there was some level of different perspectives between designer and blog owner if you look at the post announcing the redesign by Mike and the comment thread of Rachel’s announcement.

Reading between the lines it seems that Mike’s opinion as the blog owner won out and the new design was something that Rachel was not completely happy about. Ultimately the decision has to come down to a blog owner on how their blog will look and Rachel took the gracious approach of saying things like:

“Design is incredibly personal and I’m not taking the negative comments to heart because I know I’ve created what my client had in mind and wanted – layout, ads, exact colors and format.”

To me this indicates some level of respect for Mike as a client.

Today I headed over to Rachel’s blog to find that things have taken a new twist. She’s resigned as a result of Mike’s latest post which features a design submitted by another blog designer saying that he’s impressed by it and intends to steal some of it.

I’m a little disappointed by Mike’s post and by the whole way the saga has been handled. As much as I think Rachel’s stood by Mike as a client and worked to his desires his post to me is a little undermining of her work. Perhaps some will say Rachel overreacted by resigning but obviously she’s had enough and is moving on. What the full story that’s led to it doesn’t look like coming out but something’s caused her to react this way.

I have seen some fairly full on critiques of Rachel and her work this week with some saying some pretty terrible things about her despite her working to her clients wishes. I’m amazed that she’s put up with the rubbish that some have thrown her way.

Having said this there has been some acknowledgment by some of her talent and I only hope that out of it will come cliental who not only appreciate her work but who are also willing to take her advice and expertise on board in the design of their blogs.

As I said in my last post on the topic I do hope this brings about some worthwhile discussion on the topic of blog design and doesn’t degenerate into a personal attack-fest. Hopefully the matter can all be put to bed now and everyone can get on with their business of blogging and designing.

Update: Mike’s responded to the situation here and the comments arguing both sides are flowing.
Update II:

Hmmm – in the light of day I’ve got a few more reflections.

Before I start I’ll say that I’m a friend of Rachel. She was the first blogger I ever met that took an interest in me and she’s been incredibly generous and helpful to me over the past 3 years. We’ve worked on projects together and V and I have had visits from her and her husband and have spent time in their home in NZ also. Keep this in mind as I write as I obviously have some bias and write out of that – I’m happy to admit that.

Ok – here’s some thoughts.

As some of the commenters in this post have mentioned – there is probably some right and wrong on both sides of it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m sure that everyone involved would like a second go at the situation.

This is all further complicated by differences in time zones – Mike is in the US, Rachel NZ – as well as that it seems a lot of the communication was done via email and in the later stages via blogs themselves (not ideal to resolve problems).

Perhaps both Rachel and Mike should have worked more on the design before going live and come to a better way of resolving the difference of opinion. Perhaps Mike could have better managed the launch of the design and the ensuing criticism that was directed at all concerned. Perhaps Rachel shouldn’t have resigned (I’m told she did it via email) and then directly posted about it.

Perhaps there are other perhapses…

I guess what I see is that there are contributions to this ‘problem’ that have been made from all sides (and by the rest of us commentating on the saga – I’m happy to be critiqued also).

Whether Mike intended it or not (and I doubt he did), he offended and hurt Rachel by posting about the design someone else came up with. Rachel’s reaction was extreme (although I’d maintain she acted with professionalism and has said nothing against Mike along the way) but it came out of hurt and ongoing frustration with the process and under the pressure of the moment.

Mike now obviously is hurt and angered by Rachel’s actions and I this needs to be acknowledged also. I don’t think that Rachel intended for that reaction either.

Perhaps both need to acknowledge some wrong doing? Or perhaps its best for everyone to back away and leave the smouldering mess alone for a while.

If I’ve played a part in adding to the mess I apologize. As I say above, I wrote about it partly out of a relationship with Rachel but also (as I wrote in my first post on the issue) largely because I think it’s an issue worth exploring (ie the relationship between designer and blog owner). More and more bloggers are engaging the services of designers and it’s worth exploring the issue as a result.

I’m not sure I’ve got much else to say on the issue now.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Prior to blogging, I was working full-time as a web designer and always wanted my design to be perfect! Pixel by pixel…I was always concerned more about the looks of my website rather than its content. I then asked myself…why do simple websites like this one, google, craigslist, del.icio.us, etc. perform well than those heavily designed websites? I think the answer is obvious…the mass responds better to simple, easy to use websites, like going back to the ‘less is more’ analogy.

    Good post.. keep the website as it is..dont touch it, its perfect this way.. :)

  2. Honestly I don’t see anything special in this design, and what could be stolen.

  3. That’s pretty bad in my opinion. I run a web design firm in the UK and it’s the age old debate, how much of the client’s ideas do you take on board? At the end of the day, it’s their site, all you can do is advise them why you are making the design choices you are making.

    Real life scenario (yesterday in fact)
    I am currently in the middle of a site re-design for a client, the first mock up I submitted to them they came back with “we love the new design and are getting the text / images ready for you”. Then, few hours later I get sent a “mock up” from the client saying can you make this like this and move that there…..basically nothing like my original design that they supposedly liked!!!!

    So, do I go with their design? well yes. They are paying me so they need to feel that they have got their money’s worth. I can bang my head on a brick wall until it bleeds but if the client won’t listen and is set on a certain design…..give him what he wants. He’ll only go somewhere else that will.

  4. like you said in an earlier post, web design is like art. some like it, some dont, and that’s but natural.
    However, what is unprofessional is when you let down your designer in public, when a couple of private messages ould have settled the issue a lot more amicably.

  5. […] UPDATE. Rachel has resigned from the Techcrunch blog after a what I can only assume is a lapse of judgment by Mike Arrington in publishing someone else’s idea of an improvement to the design. Good for me — now maybe she’ll have more time for the projects I want to hire her for. Also, Darren Rouse adds some of his usual temperate good sense over at Problogger. […]

  6. Like it or not, when you are the hired gun you aim at “their” targets. Not every designer and client are a match. Occasionally, you agree to disagree and go your separate ways. Its unfortunate that this took on a life of its own.

  7. Having tried to follow the discussion on both the owners and the designers websites, it would appear that a conflict arose over the design that perhaps should have been kept private.

    The nature of the web is that its a very visible medium, and a popular website relaunching is always going to get some criticism, after all not everyone likes change.

    Its unfortunate that the issues could not be resolved, or the designer approached after the initial design was launched with a mild redraft suggestion, if the owner felt so strongly about the comments left by the readers of his site. As it is, the designer feels unfairly criticised for providing a site design to spec, without the opportunity to address any issues, and has now been further insulted by the website owner who is posting up screenshots of what he now wants the website to look like.

    If a client will not be guided on the design, the client should accept responsibility for any flaws that design presents for its visitors.

  8. TechCrunch – Peinliche Non-Kommunikation mit Blog-Designer??

    So sollte man seine Designer keinesfalls behandeln. Das aktuelle Beispiel zeigt, worin sich Professionalität von Unfähigkeit unterscheidet. Kommunikation ist das halbe Leben. Und leider sind einige Zeitgenossen noch nicht in der anderen H&aum…

  9. it’s a pity, but the owner pays for design, on the other hand it’ll be better
    to talk private with the designer about critiques…

  10. I think people just used to old design and that’s why they dont like changes. The new design offers more ad space and for the owners it’s important, but ads isn’t annoying and content is readable. It’s OK I think.

  11. […] Rachel resigns | 5ThirtyOne | JOAB | Pearsonified | ProBlogger | Solo Technology | Names at work | Vox’s Bookshelf […]

  12. […] Rachel resigns | 5ThirtyOne | JOAB | Pearsonified | ProBlogger | Solo Technology | Names at work | Vox’s Bookshelf […]

  13. Sorry about the double trackback. feel free to delete the first one and this comment

  14. My feeling is that Mike and rachel should have worked together to get a product that they were both proud of. Rachel deferred to Mike as the owner but had it not been for Mike’s lack of class, the Tech Crunch project could have really hurt her career. In a high-profile “marriage” at that level, both sides are equally responsible for the well-being of the other. No two ways about it. Mike took the ego road of only caring about himself and Rachel got the short end of the stick.

  15. From what I’ve read it seems like both Mike and Rachel kind of dropped the ball here.

    First, Rachel should have resigned at the beginning if she didn’t want to take on a project for a client that was pretty much just doing what he told her.

    Second, Mike should have talked with Rachel more and probably shouldn’t have posted the screenshot of the other design like he did. It seems innocent, especially from his last comment, but the way he presented it did make it look like he was going to start merging someone else’s design elements with Rachel’s.

    Third, Rachel should have talked with Mike privately before doing a public resignation. Though it seems she had a lot of class through most of this ordeal, by making her client see her resignation for the first time on a public post takes a lot away from her professionalism IMO.

    Honestly, the way it stands now, it doesn’t seem like Mike did anything wrong, nor did Rachel really. It seems like a pretty large misunderstanding that would have been better settled if either one would have taken the time to discuss it in private more.

    But then again, perhaps there’s a whole lot more going on privately that we don’t know about… I dunno.

  16. Oh, and one last comment. From this whole thing I think it’s safe to say I’d never be a designer for Mike or hire Rachel.

  17. I’d hardly say I wouldn’t hire Rachel. I’ve looked through every single piece of work on her site and this is the only one I’ve found that I flat-out didn’t like. If I were ever to hire a designer it might very well be her. The fact that she got shafted on this one project doesn’t take away from her skill as a designer, IMHO

  18. I’m not talking about skill as a designer. I’m talking about how both Mike AND Rachel have hurt each other’s reputation with this whole thing.

    I would not want to risk having Rachel publically quit on me before talking with me first, no matter how good a designer she may be.

    However, with that said, I do realize that we are probably only getting 1/100th the information.

  19. Finally a comment worth commenting on regarding this mess! Squirrelinabox (#15, #16, #18) gets it!

  20. guess it’s easy to blame rachel or mike, but it’s also us bloggers who make a mountain out of a molehill…… this puts unnecessary pressure on individuals. Considering this, it’s quite natural what happened in the end.

  21. I really don’t see the point of all this. I must not have a designer’s mindset. Why would posting a screenshot of someone else’s mockup and saying “I like some of it” be so offensive that the designer would resign? He didn’t say “this is better than Rachel’s”, he just said he liked some of the ideas.

    And what’s wrong with hiring a designer but being able to override some of their ideas? Isn’t that how it works? I certainly wouldn’t hire a designer and give them full control over the site, even if it was 37 Signals.

    This whole thing makes me wary of hiring a designer for fear there’s some deep, dark Designer’s Code I’m unfamiliar with and in danger of offending.

  22. Michael, I’m not Rachel, but let me try to explain the problem with what Mike did.

    Imagine you’re Rachel and you were hired to redesign a fairly large and popular site. You’ve designed many sites before and usually you get to actually design most aspects of it from color, to layout, to font, etc.

    However, Mike wants you to mostly just implement his own ideas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Rachel should have backed out earlier if she didn’t want it like that.

    Anyway, you’re Rachel and you design the site to Mike’s specifications. Once the site goes live, BOOM, a LARGE outcry from people that don’t like the new design. Being a class act, you (as Rachel) decide to not flat out blame Mike, so you bite the bullet and take some heat for a design that you probably would have done completely different.

    Now, in the middle of this huge uproar of people bagging on the design, your client (Mike) posts a screenshot of a different design and says he’ll probably go with some of those ideas.

    What does this do? It’s a HUGE slap in Rachel’s face. She did her best to not blame Mike for the bad design, and Mike didn’t really defend her (though it appears he did a little). With the drama unfolding all over the place, the way he posted the screenshot made it look like (to some) that he was agreeing that Rachel did a poor job and that the author of the screenshot could do much better. Worse, it could potentially hurt Rachel’s reputation.

    Whew… anyway, with all that said. I still believe Rachel went about it entirely wrong as her own actions ended up being very similar to Mike’s when she posted her resignation publically, which is a slap in Mike’s face and hurts his rep.

  23. FYI. Rachel didn’t resign publically! She announced that she HAD resigned.

  24. FYI. According to Mike’s latest post http://www.crunchnotes.com/?p=209, she did it in the middle of the night publicly and he didn’t know about it until he read about it on another site.

  25. Squirrel: That makes sense, but you (like the rest of us) are doing some reading between the lines there. I guess we don’t know what really happened.

    Anyway, I agree, they’re both coming out of this looking bad.

  26. Then perhaps he should read his email before he reads his trackbacks

  27. I’ve added another update or my own comments after a good night’s sleep above for those who are following this discussion.

  28. Design is not “incredibly personal” – art is. Designers solve problems and make things work for people not for themselves.

    This Mike guy sounds like a nightmare.

  29. Wilbert says: 05/17/2006 at 11:47 pm

    However justified, Rachel made a big mistake with her public resignation.

    She’ll pick up some work from it perhaps. But there’ll be a lot more potential customers who won’t touch her with a 10-foot pole. Why risk the possibility that your designer will cause you to be held up publicly for attack.

  30. Wilbert: A solid professional doesn’t need a ‘lot’ of customers. Just several, big well-paying customers is more than enough. I doubt she’ll lose too much sleep over whether 2 million potential clients like her or not.

  31. Um, Wilbert, she STILL didn’t resign publically. *bangs head against wall*

    If you’re going to comment on this, PLEASE read what’s already been stated a dozen times.

  32. […] Watching this entire scenario unfold is like watching a presidential election. You’re either on the far left — love Rachel and think Michael Arrington’s an ass, or on the far right — love Michael and think Rachel’s a flake. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, except for Darren trying to be impartial. […]

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