Monday, April 28, 2008

The Redesign Process - Step 0

Rumor has it that our university is about to begin the process of redesigning our home page. That's the 'future endeavour' that the title of this blog refers to... and it's about to begin! The first meeting of the new "web content committee" (bad name, I know) is scheduled for this Friday.

Praise the Lord! But...

But, as we all know, if the process gets off on the wrong foot, it will very difficult to correct things and snatch success out of the jaws of failure.

Here's just one example of how we could get off on the wrong foot: "I've never liked the gold stripe on the home page. Whatever we do, we should get rid of that."

If that's the way things start, success will be very difficult to achieve. Why? Because arguing about design details that are based solely on personal opinions leads nowhere and can accomplish nothing positive.

The truth is that "design" (i.e., graphic design) is actually a very small part of the redesign process (no offense to graphic designers).

The real work of redesign isn't as simple as blurting out your uneducated opinions on color and layout.

The real work of redesign is more about realigning your site to better meet your users' needs and your university's goals, messaging, branding and strategic priorities than it is about flash animations and pretty pictures.

Build the House Before you Hang the Drapes

Think of the Web site redesign process like building a house. You can't hang the drapes before you build the walls, and you can't build the walls until you have a floor plan, and you can't draw a floor plan until you know the needs of the family that will live there.

Likewise, you can't choose the design elements before you've built a wireframe of the site, and you can't build a wireframe until you've developed an information architecture for the site, and you can't develop an information architecture until you understand the needs of your users and the goals your organization has for the site.

So step one cannot be a discussion of your opinions of the existing site or what you think should be in the new site. It should be all about asking questions. Here's just a few:
  • Who are our users?
  • What do they want on the site?
  • What do they do on the current site?
  • What do they like about the current site?
  • What do they hate?
  • What problems do they have with the current site?
  • What/who are we competing against?
  • What are they doing?
  • What do our users like about other sites?
  • What are our goals for the site?
  • What do we want our home page to accomplish and for whom?
  • What is our brand and how will that be applied to the site?
  • What is the message we want to communicate on our home page?
  • Do we even have the proper stakeholders involved in the process?
Notice that your opinion doesn't appear in any of these questions. That's because at this phase, it isn't about you (sorry!). It's about beginning the process of aligning your institution's goals to your users' needs.

Once you start to ask these questions, you'll realize that you need to gather some actual data and talk to some people in order to get answers to these questions.

That will be the topic of my next post.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I completely disagree. Why? Because people need an idea of what things look like, how they function and work, and how they are experienced, if they are to make an educated discussion. The problem with the method you describe is that the vast majority of people in that scenario end up discussing things blind, without any idea how it'll work or be implemented or experienced by the user. In a way, this is exactly what IT people seem to aim for, because they are paranoid about relinquishing power / control to a group. By keeping everyone blind, they can design more or less exactly what they want, in the order they want it, and tell the groups that this is what was specified to begin with. It's also a perfect way to end up with poor quality user experiences.

Colour schemes are nonsense and should be ignored. But everyone should, early on, have an idea of what the site will look, work, and feel like. It's called usability. It should be the first part of the design, and not, as IT departments seem to enforce, the last.

collegewebguy said...

this is a good post. So many redesign projects would go simpler if everybody understood these critical distinctions.

Tony Dunn said...

Anonymous... My point here was that you can't know what something will look like if you don't know what it will do, what content it will contain, or what audience it's intended for.

And through experience I've learned that once you put a design up, all people want to do is talk about the design - they stop caring about usability, content, information architecture. They lose focus on the big picture and spend endless hours nit picking on details.

Certainly, there's a time for nit picking design details, but that part of the process is much easier if people have larger principles to guide them rather than just their own opinions.

vincenthec said...

You are so right! We went through everything you just wrote about.

Everyone has an opinion about the look of a website, but very few understands all the prior decisions that has to be made in order to have a successful web site (information architecture for example).

Many people told us : « I need to put this on the website». But, we convinced them to ask themselves the following question instead : «Why people are coming to your website and what are they looking for?». The focus is now on the different needs of our website visitors.

Goog luck with your redesign project. On our side, the revamp of our web site has started more than a year ago and we are about to start integrating the new content inside our new technological environment.