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Wow, rarely does one come across an article on web design with almost 100% positive comments. That in itself is an achievement ;-)
I agree completely, also with one commenter’s view that what you describe is actually at the core of what design is.
Having clear objectives for a site makes my job as a designer so much easier, since I can make decisions and set priorities based on a shared view of what the site should be for. The alternative leads to chaos, procrastination and missed deadlines, and that’s hardly in the designer’s interest, never mind how pretty the first design mockups looked.
I’m not as puzzled as you are as to why clients pay so little attention to clear website objectives. In my experience, the web is still a very novel and ‘magical’ medium for many potential clients, so they feel this urge to set very ambitious and vague objectives. Somehow, they’re sort of ashamed if their objective is: “I want people to see what my restaurant looks like and what sort of price range they can expect without spending a fortune on quickly outdated flyers and brochures.”
A few years ago I built the website www.pug.be, which goes against every Jakob Nielsen rule. Yet, somehow, it served its purpose and managed to secure quite a lot of extra business for the client (a voice actor and comic artist/writer). I’m sure it scored very low in Google but he referred lots of people to the url directly, and those visitors instantly ‘got’ what he was all about.
Time for a redesign on that site, though :-)