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Time estimates and team members
Content review and development
Site structure and navigation
Finalize timeline and content
Visual design development
Production and proofing
Launch and maintenance
Establishing goals is an inportant first step in any Web design project. There are several exercises and tactics you can employ to get to the heart of your communication goals.
Who is your competition? What are they doing well that you would like to incorporate in your site? What are you doing better than they are? A good analysis of your competition can help you develop focus-group questions.
Because of the nature of our work, we rarely have one single audience. At the University we appeal to current and prospective students, faculty, staff, donors, and legislators, to name a few. Since you can't focus on every audience at once, you'll want to choose one or two groups as your primary audience.
Example: The main goal of your site is student recruitment. Currently, your students have SAT scores of 925-1025. You want to attract students whose SAT scores are 1000 and above. Your target audience is students who meet those criteria.
Once you've chosen a primary audience, it's time for some research. Meet with your users (in their own environments if possible). From this research you'll develop a user profile. This unifying document can save you countless hours and angst later when your web team is debating the best approach to the site. Public Affairs has compiled a list of user profile questions to help you develop your strategy.
Field testing, also known as user testing, helps identify your audiences' needs and your strengths and weaknesses. It is the most valuable data-collection method we've found. Getting users into your environment is a great idea, but watching what happens when they're in their own environments, at their own computers, is invaluable. Watch your users as they surf your web site and also your competition's. Note how they surf, what they're looking for, how well your site meets their needs, what your competition is doing better than you are, and what the determining factors are in their decision-making process.
Ask your users questions about their personal preferences, such as what kind of imagery, design, and writing they find inviting and what turns them off. More importantly, remember to ask why -- maybe a particular picture is their favorite because it reminds them of someone they especially like. You'll want to rate such information as less important than comments such as "everyone in these pictures look bored."
A fast and inexpensive method to gather feedback is through an online survey (example) or request for feedback. When asking for feedback, word your questions carefully. For example, Public Affairs published a link saying "send us your suggestions," which yielded nearly all critical feedback. People thought they were being encouraged to find problems. Changing the link to "send us your feedback" yielded a mix of positive responses and constructive criticism.
Now that you've identified your main audience(s), what do you want for or from them? These goals should be written into your project documentation for future reference. Creative internal and external team members will likely generate too many great ideas for the site, so check these ideas against the project goals and rank them as "Phase 1" (critical to accomplishing your goal), "Phase 2" (maybe something you'll work on after you get the site up) or "Phase 3" (can wait until after Phase 1 and Phase 2 objectives are accomplished).
When you get to the design and production phases, what technical constraints will you need to consider? Ask yourself questions such as: What monitor resolution will you use as your target? (Answer: whatever the majority of your audience uses.) What level of backward browser compatability will you aim for? How about cross-platform? How much do you worry about download time and whether your site will be ADA compliant? How will we gather analytical data?
If a boss or client must approve your site, now is the time to involve them. If they are focusing on a different primary audience, you want to know it now so you can readjust before you head down the wrong path. If your boss and/or client is in a different market segment than the site's users (e.g. administrators versus seventeen-year-olds), now is the time to share information about the user's reactions and preferences. People can understand the need for a design that is antithetical to their personal preferences if they are exposed to research findings. Documenting what works for your target audience keeps the focus on audience needs instead of the team's personal preferences.
Next step: Time estimates and team members