What making a website teaches you about yourself

By Owen Derby

Date: 28 August, 2015

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There is an old folk story that can be shortened to a single line: the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

Put simply, really talented and driven people can become so consumed by their work that they forget to employ their talents closer to home. The cobbler’s children have no shoes in the same way that doctors might neglect their own health, and chefs rarely eat a square meal. When it came to Rothco’s website, we had become a bunch of barefoot children. For a group of people who spend all their time telling the stories of other companies, we weren’t doing a very good job of talking about ourselves.

It’s like taking an awkward family photo

The very act of creating a website means we needed to take a snapshot – to capture the spirit, tone, ambition of the agency and all the people who work here. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It means pulling together a lot of peoples’ thoughts about who we are and what we do and then crystallising them into a singular vision.


Anyone who’s ever helped build an organisation’s website will tell you this crystallisation almost always lets loose a special kind of anxiety. How can we make the most perfect reflection of every drop of blood, sweat and tears that’s gone into our work and our company?  How are we going to fill this seemingly limitless black hole of content? And most importantly, who’s brave enough to do the retouching on staff photos?


Research led, human centered design. 

Any great interactive experience starts with solid research. It is the cornerstone of user-centered design – a discipline we practice at Rothco that delivers really amazing results.   We spoke to some very smart people and they told us some hard truths. “Unless you can demonstrably prove how you are different and why I should work with you its game over… You have about 2-3 mins of my attention at best” 

“You have about 2-3 mins of my attention at best”

Tough crowd. However, this single insight gave us direction and focus for where our site needed to go. Our research also led us to one of the great UX myths – ‘People read on the web.’ Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time watching how people use websites, and the reality of how people browse content is alot different to what we imagine they do. ‘Skimming’ and ‘Scanning’ of a page accounts for a huge amount of a readers experience. People are often in a hurry… and increasingly they’re getting really good at understanding the contents of a page without reading every word.  


In a study from as far back as 2008 Jakob Nielsen found that on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely. In fact its unlikely you are even reading this. We had to design our content around this and feature stickier content like photos and video.



The research was done. Now it was time to get serious about delivery – just in time for the Cannes Lions. For a long time we’d tried to take on the build ourselves, and we always ran out of time or suffered at the hands of our own endless need to re-evaluate and question ourselves. We decided instead to collaborate with our friends in Proud Creative – an incredible group of big thinkers and designers – to help us get a clearer picture of who we are. They challenged us to look in the mirror and smile.   


 What did we learn?

 Creating the website taught us that we are a people centric agency packed full of interesting and contrasting characters and talents.  It taught us that we are probably not as uncool as we thought we were. It taught us that Eric is the most handsome man in the agency. It taught us that our two main pillars are people and ideas. It taught us that Richard is never happy with his photo. It reminded us that collaboration is exciting and rewarding. I think it taught us to look at ourselves a little bit differently; to have more confidence, to keep moving in the direction we are.

 It taught us that we are Rothco. 

Further reading:
You won’t finish this article.

How little do users read?

Proud Creative

UX Myths

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