Design Versus Functionality with User Experience Designer Nate Wright from Theme of the Crop

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Chris Badgett of LifterLMS discusses design versus functionality with user experience designer Nate Wright from Theme of the Crop on today’s LMScast. Chris and Nate get into web design conflicting with efficiency. They also talk about using the internet to market and drive foot traffic to brick and mortar businesses.

Nate is the creator of Theme of the Crop, which is a technology solution for restaurants looking to enter the online space and have a website to perform some of the tasks restaurants need done. Nate sells plugins and themes that solve different problems restaurants can have. He got started with Theme of the Crop in late 2013.

Chris and Nate discuss the difficulties with using something like Facebook to promote a business. They also talk about the importance of finding themes and plugins for your website that are compatible with each other. Themes being ‘plugin aware’ is important. This means the themes are compatible with plugins.

Finding a theme for your website is one of the most important parts of having a website. Chris and Nate dive into the difference between a good and a bad theme and what to look out for. Hiring people for your business and what to look for in applicants is a topic they touch on as well.

It is currently an opportune time to connect bricks to clicks. During the expansion of the internet space and internet marketing come the opportunities to find a niche and serve that market in order to make a profit. Chris and Nate discuss different niches in the local business market that are currently underserved. Finding exactly how far to narrow down your niche in local business is also a component they talk through.

Using the internet to market for a local business provides many opportunities to get great analytics on what customers are interested in as well. They emphasize having clarity and having your website be smooth and clean is also important for a business website. They discuss the things you should consider and questions to ask yourself when building a website to help put you in the customer’s perspective.

Chris and Nate talk about qualities good websites have, such as how good design is less important than good photos for websites in the restaurant industry. Having your contact information, address, and menu (if you are a restaurant) is important, because that is what the customer is most likely looking for when they visit your site. Having these elements also improves the SEO value and helps you beat out competitors on the internet marketing front.

To learn more about Nate Wright you can check out his Twitter at @natewr or you can find him at Theme of the Crop on Twitter. You can also find him on themeofthecrop.com or Theme of the Crop on Facebook.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I am joined by Nate Wright from Theme of the Crop. We’re gonna be talking about a hot topic that comes up whenever you’re doing a web project. Whether you’re an online course creator, a teacher, or an entrepreneur. It’s important to have some clear thinking around the differences between design and functionality, and how to use technology to support these two different things, and some things to watch out for.

But first, Nate, thank you for coming on the show.

Nate: Thanks for having me.

Chris: So Nate does something very similar to what I do at LifterLMS, where we’re predominantly, on my side, LifterLMS is a WordPress Plugin that makes it easy to create, sell, and protect engaging online courses. Predominantly we make plugins, but we also have themes, and other companies have built themes that work with LifterLMS. So, I’m kind of living in both worlds of plugins and themes.

Nate is the creator of Theme of the Crop, which is a technology solution for restaurants looking to come online and have a website that does the things that restaurants need to do. So, tell us a little bit about Theme of the Crop, Nate. What is it? And what do you guys offer?

Nate: Yeah. I call it a WordPress shop for themes and plugins for restaurants. So, basically I sell, kind of a package of plugin solutions, like Lifter LMS, which help you manage things like, restaurants manage things like online bookings, or restaurant menus. Or, in some cases, to kind of help out with certain kinds of SEO that are particularly good for business. Like local businesses, like restaurants.
And then, on top of those plugins, I also sell a suite of themes, and they are basically the presentation layer. So, the plugins kind of do the things the restaurant websites need to do, and the themes bundle all that stuff up and present it in a fashion that, hopefully, matches the restaurant’s character and fits their need. That sort of thing.
Chris: That’s awesome. So if you’re listening to this episode, and you happen to be a restaurant owner and are also making cooking classes, there’s not a better podcast episode on the internet to listen to right now, than this one.
But even if you’re not a restaurant owner or a course creator, at the same time, you’re still going to get a lot of value out of this episode as we dive into this issue of design versus functionality.
So I kind of take a similar approach, where I believe that plugins, in the WordPress language, are for functionality. And then themes are there for, you know, design. Or, like you said, the presentation layer. I’m probably gonna steal that, and use that expression later.
Yeah, I think of themes as design and, really, my experience with this is in 2012, I launched my first online course project. It’s still up. It’s called Organic Life Guru. It’s a gardening course’s website, and I partnered with experts all over the world to make gardening courses. I found a theme on Theme Forest, that was a LMS theme called Academy, and the site is still using that right now. Pretty soon I’m gonna be switching it over to Lifter LMS and all our stuff, but that’s where I started.
I started with a LMS Theme, but what ended up happening is I got kind of locked in. I can’t easily change the design cause I would lose all the functionality, you know, the LMS functionality that’s in it. So when I came around, after doing a lot of client work for people building online courses and membership sites, and doing those websites with WordPress, you know, I really got crystal clear on, you know, it’s nice for functionality to be portable and themes to be, you know, for design, so that you can easily change a theme later. Or, you know, work with just functionality in isolation from each other.
So that’s been kind of my experience with it, but, tell us more about how you approach theme versus plugin functionality versus design.
Nate: Yeah. Well, when I sort of got started with Theme of the Crop, which was probably, I think it was more like end of 2013. Around that time there were a lot of concerns within the WordPress community about what had happened with the sort of sudden growth of themes on Theme Forest, and the way that they would bundle functionality into the theme. Like you experienced with your LMS theme.
The problem is that you would buy this theme, and it would come with all this functionality. But then, 2-3 years later when you needed to make a change, you couldn’t just take your website you’d built, and move it to another theme because, both the functionality and the presentation were all bundled up together.
So, right when I started coming out with Theme of the Crop, was when there was a lot of discussion around this. And Theme Forest has since, sort of, come out with rules, basically telling theme developers you can’t bundle functionality with your theme. If you do, you kind of have to split it off into a plugin. And that had the right intention, but, unfortunately, you’ve ended up with the situation where every theme has split the two, but it’s still using it’s own proprietary plugin, and it’s own proprietary theme. And so, even though the data is technically separated, you still can’t really go from one theme to the next, because they’re using completely different platforms.
So, essentially with Theme of the Crop, what I do is I built a suite of plugins that were not just restricted to my themes, but which a number of other themers could make use of. With the intention that, somebody who buys one of my themes could move to a competitor and still use all of the same, sort of functionality. That’s kind of the ideal.
I think the reality is sometimes a little bit more complicated. But, definitely, sort of, it’s the question around lock in. If you, you know, if your audience tried to build it’s audience on a third party service, like Facebook or somewhere. They’re going to face the same issue where it’s difficult to actually get those customers and those relationships out of that locked-in, service-based place, and into a place where you control the data and you can do whatever you want with it. If you want to make a special thing you can go out and you can hire a developer and you can do it. But you can’t do that on a locked-in system like Facebook.
So, you know, it’s kind of descending levels of separation between all these different components. Which just allow you, your business to grow as you grow, rather than being locked into one thing forever.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the strengths and weaknesses, I guess, of the WordPress community. Cause WordPress has a, you know, it’s on a mission to democratize publishing and application development and these things. But part of the democratization process is, you know, just being, having open borders basically, and being able to, you know, take one piece out and insert another piece in without the whole thing falling apart.
So WordPress can be very simple, or you can get very complicated with, you know, lots of plugins and, you know, or a light weight theme or a heavy weight theme. So, it’s just one of the issues there. And that’s like such a great point about lock in, making things portable.
Even at Lifter LMS, we recently added a export feature. So you can actually export all your courses. And, you know, use that for a back up, or take them somewhere else, but that’s just part of our alignment with the issue of, like, not locking people in. We also have an import feature where we make it easy for people to pull in courses from somewhere else. So that portability is a big part of things.
What, in your mind, makes a great theme? And it’s sort of a loaded question because, one of the things I really admired about you, and wanted to have you on the show for, is how you got really very focused on one, very specific, type of user or customer.
Cause sometimes, you know, things, really, what we call a bloated theme, can do like, 57 different things, and all this stuff, but, just like with Lifter LMS, like we’re really focused on people who want to sell courses and that’s about it. It’s either resonates or it doesn’t.
So, what makes a good theme, in your opinion? And how did you get so focused on the restaurant owner? Or the restaurant user type?
Nate: Yeah. So, the question of what makes a good theme is tricky because it does depend a lot on the user. And it does depend a lot on, sort of the whole process around which the website is getting built, and how it will be maintained, and all that sort of stuff.
I think, in an ideal world, everything was completely separated and you had maximum flexibility and portability from one thing to another. A theme would do nothing but define the presentation of the site. So, you know, the colors that are used, the typography, you know, the font stacks. You know, basic layout things like, is the text on the left or the right and, you know, ideally a theme would only ever do that.
In reality themes kind of need to be a little bit aware of the content they are working with. The, sort of, any theme for any website, it really only works if you’re talking about specific archetypal websites. Like, any theme for any shop website. Any theme for any blog website. You know, it’s very hard to take a design that works really well for a blog, and make it work really well for a shop, for instance.
So, in that sense, although themes should be portable from one place to another, in some ways they have to be, what I call, plugin aware. They have to know the plugins they’re meant to be interacting with. In order to present them in the best possible light.
That’s where standardization and stuff comes in. So a good theme, will try to do less on its own. Like, it won’t try and have it’s own bespoke system for everything. What it will try to do is find master class plugins, for the specific features that its target customer needs, and it will integrate those plugins with the theme.
So, that could be using Lifter LMS. It could be, if I was a food blogger, it could be going out there and finding the best, most reliable, like, a recipe plugin, for instance. And making sure that my theme presents it really well.
So I think a good theme is targeted enough to know which plugins to select, and which plugins to not select. But not so specific that it only ever works with some narrow plugin that only the people using that theme are going to be using. What you want to do is find plugins that are widely used. That’s sort of my general PSA on what to do with themes.
In terms of finding the niche customer, you know, it was a little bit of an accident on my part. To be honest. I entered the space mostly just looking for some passive income. And I did a just kind of quick analysis of which niche I thought didn’t have too much competition, but might have a lot of buyers. And I settled on the restaurant one. And I made a theme for that.
And by the time I’d gone though that process, I mean when I set out I thought, I’ll just go out and I’ll find a plugin that works, and I’ll integrate it. And I went out and, you know, for a lot of smaller niches, there just aren’t very many good WordPress plugins. Sometimes there are none.
The restaurant space has opened up a little bit in the last few years, but in 2013, as far as I was concerned, there was no such thing as a good menu plugin, and there was no such thing as a good restaurant reservations plugin.
Chris: And there’s a lot of restaurants out there.
Nate: There are. And I think you’ll find, actually, that, sort of, the local business market is really underserved. It’s huge, and yet, when you talk to people in the, sort of, developer community, they’re entirely focused on blogging, publishing, or e-commerce. Whereas this massive market of local businesses that need good websites and need, like, plugins that solve problems for them.
Chris: Yeah, and one way to …
Nate: So I kind of stumbled into it. But once, yeah, go ahead.
Chris: … Oh, I was just gonna say, one way to think about that, if you’re, you know, trying to find one of those undeserved markets, is just think about a really small town. And think about like, you know, if they had like, only had twenty or fifty businesses, what would those be? Those are those opportunities you’re talking about.
Nate: Yeah.
Chris: Restaurants, of course, are in every town.
Nate: Yeah.
Chris: There’s usually a lawyer, there’s usually a, I don’t know …
Nate: Hairdresser.
Chris: … Hairdresser.
Nate: Dentist.
Chris: Grocery store. Yeah.
Nate: Yeah. I live in Edinburgh. And in most places in Europe, you have mixed use zoning, you know, its shops in the ground floor and apartments and flats above kind of thing. So I really just think about it like walking down my street, you know? What are the things that have to be within a 1 mile radius? That everybody has within a 1 mile radius because you have to walk to it. There are loads of business opportunities there, because they’re almost all being undeserved.
Chris: Absolutely. And I just want to say, like, from the Lifter side, there’s, you know, there’s a lot of people trying to teach. Now, I’m not saying Lifter LMS is a good fit for every single school in every single town. A lot of people aren’t doing online training. But, there’s also this misconception that the, you know, that the market is really just the, make money online niche of people trying to just make money on the internet by teaching stuff. There’s all kinds of applications of teaching that aren’t necessarily primarily focused on, you know, making money on the internet opportunity.
I’m just trying to think in the restaurant industry, you know, if you’re a restaurant owner and you, you could have some internal training that you’re not selling to the public, but, you’re curating, like, how you want your waitstaff to, you know, learn their job. And you’re taking like, the best waiter, or waitress, in your company and you have them help participate in making the lessons of like, how to train the new person. So that, when they start, they can take the online course, in addition to, you know, working with, shadowing somebody more experienced.
There’s all kinds of different ways you can use online courses, besides just, you know, trying to make money. If you were trying to do that in the restaurant niche, you know, lots of people have the interest in starting their own restaurant. You could have the restaurant, you create restaurant start up courses. You can get even more niched, like, what are you gonna do? Sushi? Italian? You know? Mongolian Grill Start Up Course or, you know, The Vegan Restaurant Start Up Course. Whatever it is, there’s just a lot of opportunity out there.
Nate: Yeah, actually there’s a lot of restaurants are doing their website and digital marketing themselves. You know, they’re not contracting that stuff out. So I think there’d be loads of demand for a course that really showed a restaurant like, how do you do local digital marketing?
Chris: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. Cause, I mean it’s, you may know digital or social media marketing. But when you really niche down like, to the, for restaurant owners, or for sushi restaurant owners, or whatever, you’re really getting targeted. And I can’t emphasize that enough, how much easier it is to compete when you’re really focused. As opposed to not.
Nate: And, you know, I think there’s a misconception in the digital marketing space that kind of, what works for one site works for every site. And, restaurants are sort of quintessentially local bricks and mortar businesses. And that means that there’s a lot of, they have a lot of unique technical needs. One example is, I did a comparison a while ago, on kind of different lead generation things that restaurants can use to capture people’s email addresses on their website.
Chris: So what’d you find out?
Nate: Well I cam down sort of recommending this service called privy.com. And what really impressed me about them is that they had, kind of an end to end platform that connected your website with the physical, like. Someone would come to your site and they’d get a pop up, which everyone is familiar with. And there’s a million services providing pop ups. But, you could have them put in their email address and it would send them one of those QR codes. Then they could bring that QR code in, and privy had an app that you could have your staff have on their phones, to just scan in the QR code, and …
Chris: So is that like a free drink, or a discount or something?
Nate: Yeah.
Chris: Okay.
Nate: The great thing about that is that, then you have end to end analytics. Like, not only do you know a lot about the person who came and visited the site, but you also know which branch did they end up going into, what did they end up purchasing, or like, using their discount on. So, that kind of linking up. There’s loads of space. When you really start to niche down you realize there’s lots of opportunity for doing things better, or a more narrowly targeted way.
Chris: That’s awesome. And if you just had like, some kind of general reservation system, that wasn’t necessarily just for restaurants, you never would have gotten that kind of inside. I mean, once you get really into the wants and needs and pain points of a really specific type of business owner, especially, you know, the problems and the opportunities are much more nuanced. So that’s …
Nate: Yeah.
Chris: … That’s really cool. Well, what do you think of, in terms of, what makes great design? And so, if somebody’s listening right here, like you’re a theme builder. You know, you help provide the presentation layer for restaurants. Just what are some concepts you use when you sit down to a blank canvas and start thinking about design? What are some things, what are some principles that people should thing about if they want to have a good design, but don’t necessarily know how to do it? They may know it when they see it, but what are some key concepts?
Nate: Well, I guess, first off I should say, I don’t really consider myself a top notch designer. And, in fact, for my last theme, I contracted out the, a lot of the actual, sort of initial, design mock up and stuff.
Chris: So there’s the first lesson. There’s the first lesson right there, which is, you know, perhaps leverage another designer. Like, or at least at the first level, to get the brand guideline or some general, like, styles.
Nate: Yeah. What I would do is I would distinguish between, kind of, aesthetic design and what’s often called user experience or user interface design. So, I’m not very good at that aesthetic design. And that is, you know, somebody can come up with a really cool logo, or who could make an awesome looking poster. That requires aesthetic skills, which I think I’m like okay at, but I’m not, you know, I’m not quite up there.
But the other side of it is much more focused on sort of, marketing principles and business, business outcomes.
Chris: Like you were just describing with the pop up and the connecting bricks to clicks.
Nate: Yeah, exactly. I like that.
Yeah, so the thing that I see all the time is, this restaurant has this website that has a million different style things on it. There’s animations going on, there’s loads of stuff going on. But they don’t have their phone number, or their opening hours, or even their address.
You know like, the very first thing that you should be thinking about in business is what does the user who comes to your website want to do? And how can I make that as clear as possible for them to do it? And, you know, that’s, you don’t need to be a good designer to figure that. You don’t need that, in fact, often times really good designers aren’t the best at that because they don’t know your business, and they don’t know your customers. They, you know, this might be the first restaurant or LMS website they’ve ever built. They might not know what are the priorities, and you kind of need to be able to set those.
And then, the other big thing that I think right off the bat is, how are you going to convert? So a customer might, like, a customer might want to come, and they might already know they want to come to the restaurant, for instance. And in that case, you just need to make sure that you can get the address, the phone number, or the opening hours as quickly as they want. Because that’s probably what they’re coming for.
But the other thing is, that customer who is just checking you out. How are you going to convert them from a potential customer into a real one? You do that by using things like calls to action. So, you give them a really compelling prompt that makes them interested in it. And then you give them a really clear action they can take to fulfill whatever you’ve prompted them to do. Whether that’s make a booking, or look at your menu, or look at a map of where you’re located. You know, something like that, so they can turn that click into a brick.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Nate: So that’s probably the second big thing.
The third big thing is, a little bit technical, but, for instance, particularly with the restaurant space. I mean, obviously mobile compatibility is really important for just about anybody on the web, but I think it’s especially important for restaurants. A lot of restaurant customers might be tourists who are in town. They might be, they might have data roaming issues, so they might be on a 3G connection. So they’re gonna be on a slow phone connection, and they’re probably gonna be checking out all of your competitors at once, trying to figure out where they’re gonna go.
Chris: So that’s where like a fancy design could hurt you, that has all these animations and things that are hard to load on the phone. And you actually, you know, they might just give up and move on cause your website’s too slow. Even though it’s beautiful.
Nate: Exactly, yeah. Yeah. And, yeah, and you’ve gotta be able to turn that visitor around as quickly as possible. And that’s a big, massive chunk of users. I’d say it’s probably more than 50% for most restaurants. Minus only the the tourist angle. And you’re right that, kind of the more fluff you put into your website, the slower it’s gonna be.
And finally, the last thing is, you need good design less than you need good photos. Obviously they’re all kind of part of the same thing. But, if you have a choice between spending loads of money on a whiz-bang website that someone’s going to make for you, or you can spend the money on hiring a photographer. At least for restaurants. This isn’t true for all niches. But, for restaurants I would tell them, you know, pay for that photographer. Because you can put great photos on a plain website and it’ll look way better than bad photos on a fancy website.
Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, and in the course world we have a similar recommendation, in that, let’s not make the website too fancy. Let’s put all the focus on the lesson content, like the videos or the images. If you make everything around it, all these animations and pictures and things, it can get really distracting.
Well I didn’t realize that I had somebody with that million dollar skill on the line of UX design. So I kind of want to unpack that a little bit because I think that the user experience design is like a highly underrated and misunderstood. I don’t know if there’s even any way to like, really, if there’s training programs for it, or whatever. What I see when I run into user experience designers is, it sort of evolves over time. And then if they really niche down and really invest in the users, they think about all that stuff from that standpoint of, this person passing through the, you know, an experience, and how does technology support that. Instead of starting with, okay, I need all these building blocks of technology because I’m this kind of business. It’s very different.
In education, it’s all about the end user. Like, if, whatever decision needs to be made, as long as you focus on the end student, as long as it’s the best call for that person, everybody else wins.
And the same way, what you’re talking about is, let’s focus on the end restaurant, perspective restaurant goer. You know, if speed’s important, if finding it’s important. If, you know, getting to the menu, the hours is important. Those are really important things, I mean, there’s nothing more frustrating than going to a restaurant on Sunday and it’s closed and you drove a long way. Because you, the hours weren’t easy to find on the website.
I actually, because I’m the web guy, I look at restaurants a lot. Just with acritical eye, when I come across them, cause a lot of them have like terrible websites. But some of them like, even if it’s just a, I would rather go to a website where there’s noting more than a PDF. That has the menu on it, the office hours, the address and the phone number. I’m good to go. I’d rather see that than see a beautiful website that’s missing one of those things.
Nate: Yeah. And it’s amazing how many are missing it. It’s amazing.
Chris: Yeah.
Nate: Yeah. I don’t even know where to start on that because, it’s, yeah. I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last three years, in terms of restaurant websites. But, you still run across so many where you just think, nobody’s put any thought into the problem solving side of this.
Chris: Yeah.
I do want to go off on a little tangent here because you brought it up, which is SEO. When you really niche down, you get the unique challenges of a really specific segment. So, for course creators, one of the big SEO challenges is, a lot of their content is locked down beside lessons and things, and membership. So, the search engines don’t necessarily index it. So that’s a huge SEO challenge that, like a blog site, doesn’t have at all.
Nate: Yeah.
Chris: So what is this SEO problem, or opportunity that you solve with restaurant sites? What is that all about?
Nate: Yeah, it’s primarily about rich snippets for local businesses. So, if you search for a restaurant, or any kind of local business, on Google, you know, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about when I talk about that little panel that appears on the side. And it’s got a map, and it’s got your name, a business name, and it may, or may not have, a phone number, opening hours. It can even have a link to your restaurant menu. It can have a link to where you accept reservations.
So, a lot of what I do is provide a really simple way to put in that data, and then out put it in a way that Google knows how to read and interpret and display that.
Chris: Super valuable. Super valuable, yeah.
Nate: Yeah. And should be, I think, like one of the primary parts of a restaurant website. But, actually getting people to be interested in this is quite difficult. Cause they haven’t yet made that search. Everybody knows you need SEO, but nobody’s quite recognized the value of local SEO for local businesses.
Cause it’s not like the main, when you go to Google on your desktop, and you put in that search, you get that side panel. But, a whole lot of people are doing searches directly from Google Maps on their phone, for instance. And the way that Google Maps knows how to put that dot, that shows where your restaurant is, is through, through that same kind of steamer mark up system. Yeah, I think it’s incredibly valuable, and kind of, a shame that it’s not really thought about by many restaurants. Cause a lot of restaurants have terrible websites, if they just had this up, it would probably make a pretty big difference for them.
Chris: So somebody who’s listening to this episode, go make an online course called SEO for Restaurant Owners, and you can use Lift LMS to do that.
Nate: Yeah, and let me know so I can tell my, all my customers, to go follow it.
Chris: Yeah. And then they can get some themes from Theme of the Crop.
So that’s a really good insight. Yeah, SEO is just one of those things. Sometimes, I think it’s important, especially if you’re doing something business to business. Some things are really hard for the business to latch on to. Maybe because there’s an education gap. Like, I don’t even understand this SEO thing, or, certain things are over valued. Like, oh, I want this animation in the slider and you’re like, no, they want your menu and your office hours. And they want it to load fast. So there’s a …
Nate: Well I think …
Chris: … Go ahead.
Nate: … Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a component of identity that’s wrapped up in somebody’s website. And so somebody really wants it to represent themselves, and because they’re maybe not a technical person, they can only relate about what they see. So, they want what they see, to impact them and represent them, in a way that feels exciting about who they are, whatever.
And, you know, that’s great for a blog or a personal project, but if you’re running a business you should be thinking about other things. Because what appeals to you isn’t necessarily what’s gonna work for converting visitors into customers.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Well I just want to kind of highlight the various archetypes, or types of people that, you know, when it comes to design, and development, and this is very, very, very rarely, these qualities are very rarely found in one person. So, oftentimes, you have to hire somebody, you have to buy a product, you have to consult with somebody, or whatever. But, so there’s really 3 areas, there’s the design, the development and the business part of it all.
So, like, I like what you said about design. There’s a aesthetic designer, and then there’s the UX designer.
And then development is all about functionality. It’s like, well, okay, well how do I make the SEO work? How do I get a restaurant reservation? How do I buy a course? Protect the course? All these things.
And then the business owner, you know, is, has really two jobs. One is innovation, which means making something valuable. Making food that tastes good. Making courses that create results.
And then they have the second job, which is the marketing or the selling of all that. And often, even within a business, somebody’s really good at like, making food in the kitchen, the innovation. But, they’re not necessarily awesome at sales or linking up pop ups to QR codes and all this stuff. So, yeah, it’s just important to realize where you’re strong and where you’re not strong and get products and people around you so you have a really well rounded approach to design and development.
Nate: Yeah, and one thing I’d add to that. Maybe a third job that that business person has, is to make sure that when they’re hiring a designer or developer, that that designer or developer understands the business imperatives. Not just the aesthetic imperatives or whatever. Because, me, as a developer, I come with a whole baggage of past problems I’ve solved. So whenever I come to a new problem I think about how I solved those other problems. But your problem, as a business owner, might be very different. It might have very different, like, solutions that have to be found.
And so, you know, as a business owner, if you’re trying to evaluate whether a developer you want to hire is the right hire for you, you should really look for a developer who instinctively knows to ask you about what these business outcomes are. If your developer is only asking you for technical specs …
Chris: Like, what functionality do you want? Or, what do you want it to look like?
Nate: … Yeah. Then you’re probably going to end up with something that fulfills your technical requirements, but doesn’t serve your business needs. Unless you’re very good at interrupting that person and making sure that they’re focused on your needs.
But, in most cases, you want somebody who understands that their technical skill, whether that’s technical skill with a designer, or a programming technical skill with the developer, is only one part of the problem, and that they need to reach out to you and figure out the whole picture.
That’s a really good way of vetting developers really quickly. Because a lot of developers won’t do that, and you’ll be able to weed out a lot of bad ones pretty quickly.
Chris: Yeah. And I would say something similar in terms of design. Design should be out come focused. Which, loosely, in the web world of design, should help with what’s known as conversions. Whether that’s a email opt in, purchasing a product, making a reservation, enrolling in a course. Whatever it is.
So, there might be great design, but if it doesn’t further that end result of, you know, getting someone to make a reservation, or easily find the restaurant, it may not be the right design for that project.
So, yeah, I like that. That’s why I called it the million dollar skill. The UX designer, or the user experience designer. Because, the user experience designer, if they can get in sync with the business owner, cause the business owner also really understands, they should understand, the user experience, you know, of their ideal customer, whatever. And the experience they’re trying to create. So once everybody’s on the same page, whatever the resulting, you know, website, or application, or whatever is, it’s going to be ten times better than, you know, just picking software off the shelf. Stringing it together.
Nate: Yeah, and I don’t want to discount, I mean, we both sell software off the shelf that people can use to string stuff together. So, I don’t want to discount that. I mean, I think …
Chris: But a lot of user experience went into the design of that stuff. It’s not …
Nate: … True, yeah. I mean, my reservations plugin for instance. I’m very deliberate about keeping the options minimal and keeping the booking form process as streamlined as possible. Which means I’m constantly fending off requests for other stuff. But, you know, when you have hundreds of thousands of customers, you know, you can’t fulfill every single little request. Or else you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of features that everybody has to deal with. Even if they don’t want them.
So, yeah. It’s like, I would say, when you’re choosing products, choose products that have been carefully designed.
But, yeah. Well, I guess what I was saying just a second ago is, I don’t want to discount the off the shelf stuff. I think what I would caution people to do is, if you take something off the shelf and you deploy it, be very careful about how you go about modifying it from that point on. Because, oftentimes decisions will have been made about things for very good reasons, and you might not understand why those decisions were made.
So, you might think, oh, well, I don’t want this here, I want it over there, and so you’ll you know, maybe you’ll go in and you’ll hack something about, or you’ll figure out how to get it from one place to the next. But, if the product has been well designed, then it’s been, it’s had it’s design done in a way that thinks about where everything is positioned and why and stuff.
And so, unless you really know what you’re doing. Obviously, everybody needs to customize stuff from time to time. But a good product will have really good, sensible defaults, that are best left alone, unless you really know what you’re doing.
Chris: Yeah, and that’s one of the neat things with the WordPress community. It’s both extendable, but also, I mean you can take it forever and go different places with it. But, yeah, I like what you’re saying, a lot of thought went into the defaults. I mean it’s easy, there’s a word that we use in software called bloat. Like, it’s easy to make something like, really bloated. So, the things that are there, especially if the product’s been around for a while, or has really come through a lot of intentional fore thought before it was launched. It’s important to recognize that.
It’s just like building a house. You know, all of the components that go into it you may not be aware of, unless you happen to be a house builder. But, there’s a lot of parts in there, and there’s also a lot of parts that aren’t there.
Nate: Yeah, like, you know, you might want to move a shelf from one place to the next, but you might drive that nail in and realize you’ve just driven it through a wire or something. You know.
Chris: Really.
Nate: There’s a lot that goes into it that you, you know, you might not be aware of, and that’s okay. Not everybody needs to be a technical expert. But, yeah, you have to be careful about, sort of, pushing things too far.
Chris: All right. Well, if you’re a restaurant owner and you’re also looking to teach cooking classes you’ve got. Come find these two guys that you see on your screen. Or, if you’re listening in the podcast audio only, this podcast episode is also recorded on YouTube. My name is Chris Badgett. I’m from Lifter LMS. And this is Nate Wright, from Theme of the Crop. If people want to connect with you, Nate, where can they find you?
Nate: Yeah, you can talk to me on Twitter @natewr, that’s N-A-T-E-W-R. Or, you can reach out to me at Theme of the Crop on Twitter. I’m also on Facebook. Facebook.com/Themeofthecrop. And I’ll reply to you anyway there. But, of course, you can check out my stuff and get in touch with me on my website as well at themeofthecrop.com.
Chris: That’s awesome. Well thank you, Nate. I really enjoyed our conversations around design and development and niche-ing down. Ton of value there for the listener. So, thank you for coming on the show.
Nate: Thanks for having me.

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