Creating an online experience that is meaningful, easy-to-use and gets results can be tricky to achieve. Someone, somewhere needs to do the complex stuff to make something simple.
Add in the creative spark, visual identity and brand messaging, and it’s a mix that could get overcomplicated pretty quickly.
To keep us on the straight and narrow and ensure the best possible outcome for each digital project, we’ve devised a methodology that we consistently work to. Whether used in full or in part, it is a useful yardstick for us to keep our standards high.
Unsurprisingly, there are many items in this checklist, so here are just five key things we consider when embarking on a new digital project:
1 The process
What’s the plan of action?
We follow a process to help us get the most out of every project. However, no project is the same. The process is just a guide, and we tailor it to each individual project.
It goes a little like this:
We start with the brief, where possible holding interviews with key stakeholders to understand the motives for a new or revamped site.
We then run a workshop with the client to identify the existing and potential audience, user and business objectives, and competitor insights. We’ll then brainstorm what content and functionality is needed, and how it might work. This involves sketching, sticking things on walls – whatever helps bring everyone’s ideas to life. Throughout, we consider how the new or existing brand permeates through the site.
All this informs what we do in the information architecture stage – creating a sitemap and wireframes, and if needed, user journeys and personas. In turn, this informs the design stage, again, the overarching brand constantly feeding into the process.
And finally, the build stage: front-end and back-end – essentially how it looks and how it works.
The whole process, however, is fluid, and on most projects, some stages will run concurrently.
2 The decision tree
We believe that the goals of the user, injected with the needs of our client’s business, should shape how we approach the design of a site or app.
And where possible, technical considerations should inform but not drive our decisions. We ask some practical questions about the project and aim for a series of checkpoints along the way.
The image below shows this decision process.
3 Best practice
For us, best practice is about creating a good user experience across information architecture, design and technology. There are industry standards, but we also like to use our common sense.
And though it all seems obvious, some of these things can easily be lost in the commotion of designing and building a website, so we remind ourselves of these standards before we start, and throughout the process.
In no particular order:
- Employ intuitive navigation
- Make the design device appropriate
- Ensure consistency in behaviour & design
- Aim for long lasting solutions
- Practise good design principles
- Make the site accessible
- Keep copy short & sweet
- Promote clear calls to action
- Apply a clear content hierarchy
- Make content easily reachable
- Ensure pages load quickly
- Ensure there’s no ambiguity in language & design
- Make the design audience appropriate
4 Responsive design
It seems like a new device is launched every week, which can make designing a website that looks good and works well across everything from large desktops to small mobiles quite tricky. For example, some of the issues we face across these devices are differing screen sizes, orientation and technologies, not to mention human variations such as input methods and user behaviours.
So how do we adapt the design for all screens and devices?
This is where responsive design comes in. It allows us to create one website that responds to different screen sizes, and sometimes different devices (though some people call this adaptive design).
Not every project demands this approach, and the client’s needs – and budget – will always be a factor. However, where possible, it is the course we would recommend. Sometimes it is even right to approach the project ‘mobile first’; starting by designing a site appropriate for smaller devices, and then working ‘up’ towards the full-sized version.
It moves fast.
Technology – and the way people use it – changes, improves, sometimes even does an about turn.
It means we need to understand and keep up with these changes. Where we don’t know something, we work with, and learn from, people who do. Only by using the most appropriate methods available can we create the digital work we want.
For example, we like to address things like search engine optimisation (SEO) early on, understanding its relevance to the project, and how big a part it needs to play.
We also consider the content management system. A CMS is designed to be easy to use for non-technical people. We keep this thought front and centre when choosing and creating a CMS for our clients. Ultimately we believe that a good user experience should be for the back-end as well as the front-end.
Hopefully this gives a little insight into the way we approach our digital projects. This checklist is not the be-all and end-all, and we’re sure it’ll need to evolve in time, but it’s a solid foundation for how we set about creating digital work we’re proud of.