Every business organisation student dreads exam questions that ask to describe or apply Maslow’s Heirarchy Of Needs in a business context. But applying it to corporate communications? Even designing and maintaining websites? Are business theories even applicable in the creative industry?
I can barely remember the day when I was taught this topic back in my college days. Can’t really blame me, I was a science major back then (double major at that). Business Organisation was part of only a handful of minor subjects (albeit a compulsory pass was needed to graduate). We used to joke that it was more of a minor annoyance, than anything else to us scientists…
In fact, I had conveniently forgotten completely about it after my exams that particular semester. It wasn’t until about two decades later, when I was then teaching in the same college that I graduated from, that it came back to me. I taught photography and other creative subjects there (talk about being “scientists” 😁). Anyway, Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs came up, of all places, in a subject called “Commercial Design”.
Little did I know back then, that Maslow’s Heirarchy Of Needs were applicable in more than just business and creative subjects. It is also applicable in communication subjects too. And today, we are going to discuss its application in building and maintaining a brand, specifically in designing and maintaining a website.
Maslow’s Heirarchy Of Needs For Web Design
We all know the five stages as described in Maslow’s theory – Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Social Needs, Self Esteem and Self Actualisation. If you don’t, the google it up here.
Surprisingly, the same business theory can be applied to web design and maintenance too. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between human basic survival with building and maintaining a website.
Think of dawn of humankind, of when our earliest ancestors started to leave the safety of the trees, and started to walk upright on the Eastern African plains. That’s right, the dawn of the modern man (and women).
Their objective was simply just to stay alive. And right at the top of their priority list was to source for and consume enough food, so that their body’s physiological processes could function. Hence the name Physiological Needs.
Likewise, when you plan to launch your website, the top on your priority list is to ensure that your website actually goes live, and actually accessible on the World Wide Web. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.
When you finally get to access your website on your browser, it was time to uncork the champagne bottle, and start celebrating.
Now that our early human ancestor has had his fill of food and water, his next priority is to survive the night, so that he can hunt or gather food for another day. He needs to make sure that he doesn’t end up on the menu for the next predator that comes along the way. So for that, he needs to find a place that he can safely rest for the night. Up a large and sturdy tree, or inside the hollow cracks of the mountain side, hence the term “caveman”.
Likewise, you have managed to get your website to go live, so your next priority is to keep it live. You will want to check how your website looks like across different web browsers. You want to make sure that it looks and works as planned. You will also want to check whether it looks and works the same when accessed via different Operating Systems too. You will want to test it out with computers running Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, and whatever else you can get your hands on.
When our ancestor has secured a reliable food source, and have a place that can offer him protection from the elements and predators. He finds himself with more free time on his hands. And in his idle times, he starts to notice others like him around him. His neighbours are seeking a reliable and steady source of food, and a safe place to rest at night, just like him.
Communicating with his neighbours, he finds a way to collaborate with them by living closer together for mutual protection. Sharing food source also frees some of them to specialise on other important responsibilities that will benefit the entire neighbourhood.
Suddenly, the objective has shifted from individual survival to collective survival. And together as a community, they can achieve more than the sum of all their individual efforts.
Likewise, your website is now safely online, and displays exactly the way you designed it to be. You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you can now start to let your guard down, and soak up the web exposure.
Suddenly, in your idle times, you start noticing all the nifty little plugins and extensions that promises to enhance the function of your basic website. You soup-up your plain-Jane website with these newly discovered accessories, and play around with colours and formats. You do anything to make it look prettier and attractive to your visitors.
You start taking note of the visitors to your website. You start keeping a tab on the demographics of your visitors. It is like you are socialising with them, making your website exciting, and generating more hits.
By now, our ancestor has mastered the skills of managing a social settlement. Instead of merely sharing resources with his neighbours in his village, he starts to organise work functions to further produce resources to benefit his fellow neighbours. He now creates job opportunities that will produce even more food and other products than they can consume on their own.
He is in effect, attracting people from the neighbouring villages to migrate to his village, and work for him. He is now creating job opportunities for more people than there currently is at his village. He is creating the dawn of a metropolis mega-city. Early humans evolved from merely surviving for themselves individually, to contributing to a complex social living arrangements. Each individual contributing for a collective greater good that will benefit the entire community.
It is just like our newly decorated and beautified website, our web owner discovers that he is attracting more visitors to his website than before. He now has the power to organise his website so that individual visitors to his website can individually contribute information that can benefit everybody collectively.
He can start a news portal, and even get his regular visitors to contribute news articles that can be shared across to everybody. Or he could start a food blog, writing about what to eat when you’re travelling to a certain place. Many travellers will often check on blogs like these in order to plan their trips.
He is now developing his reputation, his self-esteem, among his fellow human beings. His website is now considered “public” property, in that people recognise and relate to his website on a personal level.
Our ancestor has evolved from looking after his own survival to providing jobs, opportunities, and developing an attractive utopia for others to migrate to where he is. All these while, the objective was merely to look after his own interest, and that of his immediate family. And while his efforts may have overspilled and benefitted people surrounding him, that objective has never been on his agenda… until now.
Having reached the pinnacle of success, he can now afford to stop thinking only of himself and his family. He can actually start to do something that is purely for the benefit of others. He can selflessly start giving to the society instead of taking from them.
And our web owner who has experienced similar pinnacle of success? Well, he now finds that he can also contribute back to the cyber society too. His website now expands to more than merely acting as a platform for collecting and distributing information. He can actively call for specific favours to be done for any purposes that benefit the society.
Examples of this privilege includes designating a beneficiary, like a foundation for natural disaster fund. He can organise it, and start the ball rolling by pledging his personal contribution into the fund. It won’t take very long before others will also start pouring in their own contributions too.
Of course, by this developmental stage, his influence will span far greater than just his website alone. He probably already has a wide following, and other portals and news agencies will be helping him spread his message across to an even wider audience.
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs In The Information Age
One might ask, just how relevant is Maslow’s theory in this information age? Well, when it was first coined up back in 1943, Abraham Maslow was referring to the motivation factor of human beings. Little did he know that his theory is still relevant in today’s information age. Probably not in the same context when it was written about, but every bit just as relevant.