Karl Baxter, Managing Director of Birmingham based Stunn Ltd. provides some sensible advice to help you make more out of your web site design project.
Using a professional web design company to build you a web site can be an expensive process. We all recognise that a good web site, and actually a good digital strategy is essential to any outward reaching businesses. Despite the recession, digital spend is continuing to rise and the landscape for digital marketing and promotion is becoming more and more disparate with new opportunities and trends popping up at an alarming pace.
As quickly as a web site is made, a change in approach, service, or product range is likely to mean changes to it. Leave all that to the web designers or deal with it piecemeal and you can quickly end up with a disjointed and expensive website to unpick and redevelop.
With the best planning in the world, this can happen anyway. If you’re actively using and promoting your digital “real estate” then this should happen because things change. Proper planning can mitigate the negatives by increasing the shelf life of your web site, making it easier to use and ultimately making it work harder for you.
Planning needn’t just be a function of your web design agency, being involved, or taking control of more of the process can save you time and money. Here’s some tips to help you along the way.
Understand the step processes that a good web development company will go through, and work out where your input can help
There’s heaps of information out there about these individual components, but here’s what happens, or rather what should happen, in brief.
Step 1: Define the web site goals.
When a web site is being planned, it is often planned around “what do we want it to say”. It’s the wrong approach. The fundamental question is “what do we want our new web site to do”.
This might be as simple as “we want to sell more”, or it might be “we want more people to look at our senior staff profiles and connect with them via linkedin”.
Often the goals are more complex.. “Is there a way we can design our web pages to encourage people who are buying from us to buy more from our store.” The same site might have additional goals such as “we want to retain more customers” or “we need to increase the number of times per day / week / month our customers use our web site”. There’s 1000s of potential goals. Planning to tell customers that you’re great shouldn’t be one of them. Making customers feel like you’re great because you’ve identified what they might need from you and how you might make that happen.. that’s a goal. You should have a really good idea of what you want before you speak to someone about wanting anything.
The more compete and defined your ideas are before this process starts, the more likely you are to reach the outcome you want, and by happy coincidence, the less you’re likely to pay for it. In most cases, you know your customer and your industry better than we do.
Step 2: Plan the web site structure.
Once a set of goals have been decided upon, we can then set about organising those goals into a framework plan. This is where you might want an information architect to work with. Any decent agency will have the skills to help through this process. It might feel like an on cost, but it will save a small fortune if the planning process buys you an extra 18 months shelf life and improves the user experience at the same time. Proper web site planning is a “win win”.
Planning the site architecture could be a complex process or a back of a fag packet job, depending on the size of the project. Whichever it is, it needs doing. Good planning will find efficient ways of reaching goals.
From an end user perspective, here’s the perfect ecommerce transaction..
page 1 arrive > page 2 browse product > page 3 check out.
Its an exceptionally efficient process; it may or may not be right for you! Perhaps your primary goal is to increase average order values – you might want to upsell and so might need to extend that use journey. The planning here is to make sure that your needs are balanced with those of the user, so your requirements are met, with the minimum compromise to the user experience.
When you’re planning, it needn’t be complicated. The structure might take the form of a flow chart, box hierarchy, or just a series of notes ready to be put into a prototype framework.
Step 3: Plan the copy.
What do we need to say? Not what do we want to say about ourselves! That stuff, for most web sites doesn’t actually matter too much. It’s a default fall back, if we don’t know what to talk to you about, we talk about ourselves!.
You’ve already defined the goals, the structure and the important user journeys. Now you need to plan the copy to support that. The messages, the tips, the how tos, and the calls to action. Once that’s all sorted, then you’re allowed to talk about yourself. Here, talking about you is the reassurance to the user that you know what you’re doing. Talking about you should normally be viewed as the final piece of the decision-making jigsaw. If you get the rest right, many people will skip that stuff completely and go straight to the goal. (Unless of course the goal is to encourage people to read more about you – which it may well be).
You may want to run this part of the planning process by your web designer, and your PR / marketing. If you’re using multiple agencies, or teams to pull a project together, this is an ideal time for everyone to talk. This is the point where buying in to the plan pays dividends.
Step 4. Build the prototypes.
Most web designers call this wire framing. This is where the 3 steps before this in the design process are brought together. This is a stage that is most often overlooked. Problems can arise by going to “creative” as a phase 1. We’ve immediately killed off the effectiveness of the planning process, because we’re designing creative on the back of a series of unknowns.
The wire frames will form the basis of the web site build – they will dictate how the web site works for the variety of devices it is supposed to work for. It will indicate to the creative and technical team how a page layout might be different on different devices. (For example you may want to make pages change the way they show content based on the screen size, rather than making your user zoom in and out on their phone in order to read your messages).
Wire framing might seem like an unnecessary cost. It actually speeds up the creative process and might mean that a technical team can be working on the back end of your site while creative designs are being worked on. Wire frames speed up delivery and reduce cost. If you’re thinking of, or being advised to skip this step – think very carefully about it. You can probably do a lot of it yourself, or with your web development agency, meaning you’re deeply involved in the creative process. Your agency will appreciate it and you’ll have another opportunity to flag up things that need changing before the costs stack up.
Step 5: Do the creative.
We’ve had four whole steps before we’ve got to the “design”. That’s because creative isn’t the design, it’s the icing on the design process. It’s the glamorous bit.. With the 4 steps before it properly completed, it is the silk purse, without them, it is often the sow’s ear.
If you instruct based on a piece of creative at pitch stage, it can, and often does become a monkey on the project’s back. Greek type looks pretty on a page, we put it there before we know how much copy is involved, or perhaps even what sections are involved and you can be sure there’s a number of hidden goals that have been missed. Creative first is absolutely 100% the cart before the horse. I can’t say strongly enough IT’S THE WRONG WAY ROUND.
If you want to decide if an company is capable of producing graphic designs good enough for you – make it part of the research process, ask for a portfolio, and a mood board to explain the approach to your creative.
Creative is built on knowledge of the project and the goals. The creative director and their team have already had sight of the wireframes, the brand documents, and the planning material, so they know what they’re putting together, and why. This is when creative design really makes sense. It also saves a lot of time, effort and money if a creative brief is provided. Anything and everything helps “avoid these colours” “we like what these guys did here” “do you remember the donkey kong logo”.. It could be anything. Creative briefing is a brilliant cost saving device.
It may seem like I’ve provided a long list of things that make your job harder and granted, it may well do so at the start of the project. You may well want to pay your agency to take this out of your hands. If you’re budget conscious and you want the best from your web site and your web design agency, you’ll follow the processes, or make sure they’re followed and we guarantee that in the grand scheme of things, you’ll save time, you’ll save money and your web site will work harder for you for longer.
If you’d like us to help you find your way through a web site project, call Karl on 0121 616 0098.