The Best Websites Are Envisioned Before They Are Developed
The steps taken before a website is developed directly impact its effectiveness. These steps are not technical and have nothing to do with coding, nor the website itself, but rather with understanding a website’s intended users – more specifically, what brings them to your website, what problem(s) are they trying to solve, which question(s) are they trying to answer, what would satisfy their needs, and what will they do after leaving your website. The goal is to understand your target audience’s world well enough that you could empathize with them by looking at situations from their perspective. Doing so takes an appreciation of the journey a potential customer goes through and what they encounter before, during, and after they visit your website.
The heaviest lifting in the journey of a website redesign is done before the first step is taken to build it. The tools and techniques required to achieve empathy are not complex, expensive, or particularly time-consuming. However, they do take effort. Here are a few examples.
Card Sorting. Card sorting is used to identify potential confusion users may have with a website’s navigation structure. It is used to test which combination of hierarchical structures best aligns with a website visitor’s expectations. Card Sorting requires labeled paper index cards, one for each navigation and sub-navigation page of a website and a participant.
Journey Mapping. A journey map charts a sequence of behaviors a target segment takes to solve a problem or to do a job. This provides the context needed to understand the decisions made from one end of the experience to the other, including their online and offline efforts to solve their problem.
Task Analysis. The purpose of a task analysis is to determine what obstacles are preventing users from completing their intended objective. Task Analysis is a subsection of the entire journey map which concentrates on website activities.
Pre-totyping. Pre-totypes enable users to experience a website’s workflow for a defined task. Pre-totypes can be low-resolution representations of website page concepts used to identify potential red flags before website pages are created. Based on the feedback gathered during this process, website pages could be corrected or improved in advance of crystalizing concepts or developing pages.
These preliminary steps are meant to proactively learn about the target market before finalizing designs or development for them. It is a cumulative approach with steps that are temporarily completed (works-in-progress) so that they could be revisited when new findings are made later in the process. So, an epiphany about step one could be made by what was discovered in step three.
To progress forward, you sometimes need to step back to revise and improve what was previously done. While this seems like a lot of work to do before building your website, it will save time overall, help improve the quality of the decisions made along the way and increase the effectiveness of the final deliverable.
As the saying goes, “pay me now or pay me later“. The difference is payment made upfront yields positive returns on investment. Payment made later comes at a higher price with a lower return when you must correct what was missed, broken, or never worked, to begin with. Skipping critical steps will only cause a different workload to be created at later points in the project due to errors, rework, or in the form of doing something completely different to make up for the opportunity lost by launching a sub-optimal website.