Design, Content or Brand .. is one more important than the other in (re)designing your website?
Website design can be an opinionated business. These opinions are sometimes informed, sometimes not. Occasionally the opinions are not necessarily to do with the design itself, but more to do with the politics within a business.
Personally I am all for design of any nature to be stress tested by a client or the market. However, how many of us have made changes to a successful website design, just so we feel like we have been involved?.
We also need to recognise that website design is a fluid process. We are dealing with an entity that is constantly evolving. This means that when creating a new website design, the Designer has to take into consideration multiple facets; including:
- is the website 'on brand' (or does it look like any other website)?
- has a hierarchy been considered (or does each piece of information have the same importance as the other)?
- is the user journey clearly mapped out (or are you expecting the menu bar to be suffice)?
- is it designed with search in mind (or is your Designer focusing their attention on how great it will look)?
All of these elements can add up to a powerful website, with the potential to become a businesses most successful sales channel. The opposite, is also true.
This blog post aims to share some of my experience in working on both sides of the table, with the intention to help make sure that what is important in developing a new website is not lost.
So what's important in website design?
When creating and producing a new company website, top of the agenda should be how to engage with the client's target market. Not the client and not the Designer. This does not mean that the client and the Designer are irrelevant, but it does mean that each position should be put into perspective.
Isn't this obvious?
Well, no. It depends upon the mindset of both the client and the Designer. If either party believes that the new website design is about and for themselves, and not the target market, then there might be trouble.
Trouble above the fold?
Designers by their nature are a sensitive bunch. They need to be, as they work with their instincts and insights. They may sometimes come across as arrogant; however this trait acts as a protective shield, to safeguard themselves against a sometimes prickly opponent. Good Designers care deeply about their work, and are always putting themselves on the line for a potential client onslaught.
Clients are looking for inspiration. They want reliability and to be reassured that their budgets are being spent wisely. Clients, like Designers, vary greatly in their outlook. Some clients have commissioned Designers in the past, some are new to the game. Some clients are spending their own money, some are responsible for their company's entire marketing spend.
What can go wrong with design?
Each website project brings with it a new set of challenges. Each party might be unaware of the hurdles that await, as everything is not always revealed until the project starts. There are many different components that can send a project off-course.
However here are my top 3 challenges: Amendments, a New Marketing Manager and content. Sounds familiar?
1. The never ending amendments
"Can we increase the company logo?"... "Can we remove the texture in the background?".."Can we remove the social media feeds?"
All of these potential changes can water down a powerful design, and it is very rare that continuous changes to a design actually improves a layout. This does not mean that the conversation about the design should be closed once the Designer finishes the presentation. But please be careful not to unpick the seams.
2. A new Marketing Manager joins
"Right we need to make changes here here and here.".. "We need to make sure that we use Drupal and not WordPress.".."We don't actually want an online shop."
This does sound unlikely, but believe me it can happen. If you are a new Marketing Manager and are about to stamp your new authority onto an existing website project, then please tread lightly. The Agency that has already been commissioned have had their orders. However there is no reason why you should not be brought up to speed quickly, and become a main component within the build.
3. The content has been overlooked
"The website looks good, but the pages are a boring.".."Will you be providing all of the photography then?".."Weren't we supposed to be having an online calculator for this?"
Has there been a content audit, or does the Designer expect the client to provide the content? Likewise does the client believe that a bespoke widget is part of what they have paid for?
In Summary, my top 10 tips for you to take away:
In my experience, good communication is the key to running a smooth website project. But as I stated earlier, please bear in mind not to lose sight as to who this website is for.
Tip 1. Understand who the website is being built for.
This is basic marketing, however when it comes to design, everybody has an opinion.
Tip 2. Develop a clear plan for all stages of the project.
Are there bespoke technologies that need to be developed? If so, when do they need to be ready by?
Tip 3. Agree a timeframe for which the stages should be complete. Otherwise a project can drag; and even new work within agencies can potentially push your project further down the queue.
Tip 4. Make sure that each stage is signed off before moving to the next.
Especially if you are working on a large web project. I would even recommend obtaining written confirmation from both sides, when each stage is complete.
Tip 5. Budget for wireframes as they can aid the discussion of the design before it is fleshed out.
Wireframes are great for thrashing out ideas for content and layout - before the design becomes more solid and 'precious'.
Tip 6. Do not ask for opinions about the design from everybody within the company.
If you would like to find out more about this point, then please type 'design by committee' into Google.
Tip 7. Do not over amend the design.
Before you know it, you have removed the structural wall, and your website has fallen apart.
Tip 8. Be organised with your content.
Does any new content need to be produced, or is everything being leveraged from the old website (which was stale and dated)?
Tip 9. Use a Project Management System (I'd recommend Basecamp).
It's great to see where everybody is on the project, and it helps to document the entire process.
Tip 10. If you don't understand anything then pick up the telephone.
When clients are explaining something to a Designer, they might not always know the correct terminology. You may even find that you actually enjoy speaking with one another!