As a writer with 30 years' experience, a couple of awards and a rock-solid sense of my own importance, Barbara Wade Rose decided to get a new website. Video! Hot buttons! Cold buttons! Clever blogs on the host page that blow browsers' minds! This is her story.
GeekHeaven (not its real name) is the hottest web-design firm in Toronto, and nothing but the hottest was good enough for me, so I met with Andrew, a skinny guy with a tight plaid shirt, tight black pants, white sneakers and an artisanal beard. He showed me all the cool things they could do (hot and cold running buttons! time-lapse portal pages!) if I ordered a custom-made website. I paid half upfront. He said they would have a mockup for me in a few weeks, they would tweak it to my approval, and my site would be ready to roll in just over a month.
I sent him two dozen ideas and content for all parts of the website to their generic address. A couple of weeks later I asked how it was going and Andrew said someone named Mark would take care of the design. I should talk to him. A couple of weeks after that, and a nudge or two from me, we agreed to meet at GeekHeaven's offices: a loft, of course, with wind blowing through the industrial-glass windows and walls papered with extremely nerdy head shots of all the staff members.
My custom design? Mark had prepared a one-page website page about as good as any template WordPress turns out. I told him I had ordered a custom site, which surprised him. We spent an hour talking about ideas; he had some good ones, he listened, and we agreed to get it done. He seemed eager and I felt sorry for him.
Mark disappeared for over a month. I was looking through the fine print of the GeekHeaven contract when an e-mail came from someone named Rebecca that said they couldn't do any work on my site until I submitted some content and, meanwhile, for me to have an amazing day. I sent them my two dozen ideas and content.
I eventually sent this e-mail to GeekHeaven:
I have paid [INSERT EMBARRASSING AMOUNT HERE] for four months of nonsense. The GeekHeaven welcome package states: "We're great at managing your project, especially when things go wrong."
Please let me know specifically how, when and whether a new site will be finished.
The owner read my e-mail and decided the buck stopped with Andrew. But they promised they would have a website ready for me to review in a couple of weeks! I'm an optimist. A couple of weeks later three new hipsters greeted me, none of them Mark. "He's at an uptown location now," said a man with waxed curlicues at the ends of his mustache. A fourth wandered in and out of the room, playing a ukelele. I kid you not.
I showed them hard copies of my ideas for the site. "Oh," one nodded. "I worked on that last night." We could hear plunking somewhere down the hall. I realized I could be the mother of any of these banjo-playing fools, and they knew it, and if Mom expected them to act like grown-ups they were going to teach me a thing or two.
But after the meeting a staffer named Nadia met with me one-on-one, and when she was told what I had gone through she actually started to cry. "You've got a good heart," she said. "You are golden." And as I said before, I'm an optimist. Nadia worked diligently on the site for a week until it was "almost done." Then I was told she had gone to the same uptown location as Mark and everybody's old dogs.
"I may be an optimist," Barack Obama once said, "but I'm not a sap."
Six months had passed since my first conversation with GeekHeaven. When I went to their office the next time I took my husband, a university professor who inhales hipsters and exhales man buns. We asked Rashad, the new web designer, what was going on. He confessed working for GeekHeaven was a nightmare.
We demanded to meet the owner in person. Finally. The cool dude in the e-mail photo turned out to be a guy my age wearing a too-tight plaid shirt, too-tight black pants, white sneakers and an artisanal toupee.
We fired GeekHeaven, of course. I guess losing my [INSERT EMBARRASSING AMOUNT HERE] deposit was worth feeling, for a moment's interim, like a righteous warrior instead of a wrinkled, stupid, unhip sap.
As we left, my husband gave Rashad some advice. "If you are a web designer like you say you are," he told him, "there are 1,000 jobs out there. If this place operates like we've seen, you need to leave. It'll destroy your soul." The look of gratitude on Rashad's face said it all. We weren't the only saps paying a terrible price for all style and no content.
Original article on The Globe and Mail.