Plan first. Design later.
This weekend I was primarily an observer, yet a little bit of a participant, in a running email conversation between different parties engaged in creating a new website. There were people with very specific ideas about what the site should do based upon how they personally surfed the web. Then there was a designer engaged in the talk with a very pointed approach as to what the layout should look like. And there was me, who fearlessly stated that I had “no idea” yet about how to design the web site. I said that because we have yet to have a functionality and target visitor discussion. It was just too early to rule anything out or make assumptions. This weekend’s email conversation about this upcoming website made me decide to post a part of the dialogue, my response to the question, “How specifically would you design our website?” My answer was, “I don’t know.”
Why I don’t know.
I don’t know because we have the cart before the horse or the design before the navigation and functionality. I don’t know because we haven’t figured out who we want to come to the site and what we want them to do. I don’t know because, well, we don’t know. Below is a modified portion of my email (modified to protect the innocent).
“Sometimes a good way to layout the functionality of a landing page (not specifically design) is to define who will be visiting the page and what behavior you will be trying to influence through “calls to action.” Many people use a website for 411. It is easier than pulling out a business card, opening their wallet, finding a key fob or certainly pulling out a phonebook. For those people, having a phone number (posted on the home page) for enrollment, customer service or other services may be very appropriate.
Also important, navigation and use are critical to understand (prior to design). Here are some points to consider:
1. determining/anticipating who will visit each landing page on the site (public vs. private as well)
2. defining what actions they (targeted visitors) may be looking to perform on those pages
3. defining what actions or opportunities you would like them to engage in
4. creating specific “calls to action” for each (visitor type) taking into consideration how different personality types (humanistic, impulsive, aggressive…) and users will engage with the site
5. installing web analytics for activity tracking and providing test results
6. review of performance analytics to see what actions are being taken (and inferring which ones may be missing)
7. ongoing testing of new pathways for visitors through calls to action (this is easy with Google Optimizer)
8. refining, over time, how to offer the calls to action by how they take those actions historically (example: search box used for brand, product type or zip code) and testing against other manners (most popular searches become image links on their entry page)
9. dynamic personalization of individual shopping practices by creating individual service and shopping calls to action (“www.MY.website.com” home page with “my preferences” may be an evolution from this)
10. ongoing site enhancement through cooperation with vendors, service partners, visitor feedback and stakeholders
Start with the definition, the methodology of how vendors, partners, institutions and customers will interact with the site. This will be a key component for success and usage. ”
Making certain that all viable best practice options are being presented to the design team is the goal of this exercise. Even, perhaps, a series of focus groups or Q and A sessions with prospective site users would help determine the starting point for navigation and design. Offline and online marketing are very commonly combined in this early “user interaction” development stage of a website.
Design is critical for a website. But design without purpose can create a pretty expensive gallery.
Planning Your New Website, Smash Media 2005
Planning a Useable Website: A Three Step Guide, Web Credible 2004