Let’s recap our example from the Discovery Research blog: You’re working with a digital partner to develop a corporate website or custom web application, and the research phase has completed. Both you and your digital partner better understand your company goals, the features you’re interested in, and who’s going to use your application. What’s next?
It’s tempting to want to jump in and start working on homepage designs. Designs are exciting and sexy—I’m always blown away by the creativity of our designers. However, design (both visual and technical design) needs a foundation of strategy in order to work correctly. Would you ask an interior designer or landscaper to plan their work without seeing concept drawings of a house? These concepts and schematics are what I talk about when I talk about strategy.
Let’s keep going with the corporate website example mentioned above. This scale of site will likely need a Content Management System (CMS) to edit or add new web pages. WordPress is a popular and powerful CMS, but if you have extensive customization needs for your lead generation, Wordpress may not be the right platform. Actually writing the content is another concern. Have you written content for the web before, or has it been only print marketing materials or articles? Because web content writing may be different than what you’re used to, a content strategist can help provide guidelines (or write it for you!). Are you planning to have a single page to list and describe all your services? Your users (and your SEO) may be better served if each service has its own page. All these concerns provide a glimpse of why this strategy phase is so important to the success of your project.
Rounding Out Website Discovery
We treat the strategy phase as part of Discovery, the first “D” of our 5D process for projects. The discovery team has worked with you to verify what, why and for whom; with strategy, we head into the how. We’ll address three notable aspects of strategy in this last half of the phase: technical (how will it be developed), content (how to word your message), and information architecture (how is the content organized). While visual designers will participate in this process, you will see the vast majority of their eye-catching design once these strategies are in place.
With the research portion of discovery wrapped up, what should you expect now? What follows are some of the methods Atlantic BT uses in our strategy phase. For each method, we provide a short description, the goal, and how this information might be used later. This list isn’t comprehensive, as the discovery process is structured to be flexible. We will only use methods that will add value and understanding to your project (For example, a content strategy may not be needed in a data-heavy custom application.), and new information could always change that direction.
Data Architecture is the exercise of developing the basic information structures that a website or application is built on. This frequently includes identifying content types (for CMS), data schema (for an application), and taxonomies. This architecture is a starting point for technical specifications, and informs what type of content is available for use in Information Architecture and Design.
Information architecture (IA) brings organization and cohesion to the information and content within a site or system. In Discovery, one common aspect of IA is defining site structure, which represents the technical organization of information. This helps inform the navigational structure and directly impacts overall usability and ease of finding information.
Content Strategy creates a data-driven and creative outline for how our clients will present their brand, services, and products to the world. The data-driven side relies on analytics and other findings from our discovery; the creative side uses collaboration from our strategists and designers to map out possibilities for our clients’ messaging and web presence. The result is our clients receive a customized and reliable plan to organize, publish, and promote content that strengthens their organization’s reputation.
User Workflow Research
User Workflow Research consists of mapping a user’s actual process flow for using a site or system, then comparing this map against the ideal business process flow. A gap analysis provides areas of focus by revealing missed opportunities for engagement. The research can also be used to provide additional insight or validation into “how” users interact with a site or system; however, its highest value comes from understanding how the majority of users “want to” interact with a site/system. Results from this research commonly inform technical specification and visual design.
For your project to be successful, it is essential all key stakeholders and members of the project team have a shared and unambiguous understanding of the project’s goals. In the specific case of a technology project, this understanding includes definition of key features to be provided by the website or application and how those features will be realized. This matrix has direct implications on the technical specifications, and informs visual design on features to be included in mockups.
A mood board is a type of collage consisting of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition. It can be based upon a set topic or can be any material chosen from across the project. We use mood boards to share visual and thematic ideas related to a topic on a project; mood boards also can show how a legacy site or application differs from more modern examples.
Discovered and Ready For Design
The next step in the 5D Process is Design. This is where all the details get ironed out, such as what information is shown on each page, how pages and page elements look, and where data goes when someone clicks a button. With the documented research and strategy from Discovery, your web project is set up for successful Design, Development, and Deployment. Our aim for all these steps is to deliver to you the 5th D: Delight.