When Henry Ford unveiled his Quadricycle on June 4, 1896, it took its place in history as the first automobile he ever designed or drove. It wasn’t long after, in 1903, that the recently incorporated Ford Motor Company released the Model A. Now, 110+ years later, the company Henry Ford built is still going strong—as a family business and as a brand.

Part of what made the Model A—and Henry Ford—so successful was that it met a societal need in a way not many other things did. Henry Ford was able to see beyond what currently existed in the marketplace and create something novel that had mass appeal.

A quote popularly attributed to Ford exemplifies this mindset: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Although debate exists over whether Ford is actually responsible for this quote, I’m going to go with it anyway for my purposes here.

What intrigues me about this quote is that it brings up a very interesting point—one my colleagues and I frequently discuss with clients while on campus visits: It’s not necessarily about what you think you want but about what you need.

Often, it’s hard for clients to see what they need most when they’re so enmeshed in the daily minutiae of their institutions. This can be especially true with website redesign projects. Our contacts are frequently pulled in so many different directions by administrator, faculty, and staff requests that they forget to think about the most important audience of all: those on the outside of an institution. Ultimately, they’re the ones you need to please, so they’re the ones whose needs must be met first.

It’s situations such as this that remind us why, sometimes, the perspective and opinion of people on the outside of a situation can often be the most vital. They remind us of what we may be inadvertently overlooking or forgetting. They can bring us back to center and remind us of what’s most important.

Keep this in mind when you’re planning your next institutional project, whether it’s a brand overhaul or rewriting your viewbook. Make sure to get the viewpoint and opinion of multiple people, both inside and outside your organization. It may be the difference between producing something with the impact of a Model A or the infamy of an Edsel.

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