Successful corporate web: A bridge of opportunity across departments

September 17, 2010 9:03 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Introduction

Business-oriented web sites are the meeting place of two worlds: 1) client or corporate management and 2) designer or in-house design team. Management has the economic edge plus executive power and is usually trained in marketing, accounting or sales. Their task is to tap into an opportunity, meet with partners, draft a solid business plan. Initially, the value of this plan is measured by numbers and benefits.

On the other hand, the design team has its own set of challenges and or hoops to jump through. They have to create a site which serves much more than raw information: it has to be in service of 1) management, 2) partners, 3) customers. Designers are born with a visual perspective over any task and are trying to accommodate the needs of the client/management into a new product, which must respond to a number of design requirements. Among these are: balance, symmetry, basic colours, grid, consistency of the box model, readability, clarity, path of scanning, speed of loading, usability, distinctive call to action. Trouble is, they have to satisfy the aesthetic preferences of many people from all sides.

Usually, these circumstances bog the work down and it turns into an endless volley of ideas from side to side, ultimately resulting in a Frankenstein’s product. It has many good parts in it, but lacks a reason to live. Naturally, this monster is angry and wants to take revenge on its creators, instead of bringing them loads of ca$h. A solution to this problem would be to go back to the one thing that is an important property of every natural, organic creation: a simple and clearly defined goal. It is usually omitted or not stressed upon hard enough in the very beginning of the inter-departmental creative workflow.

The Process

The key to success is communication. Instead of talking to the designers about the goal and only the goal, more often than not the clients talk to people from their circle about design pointers. Or they might see something nice that they want to replicate. Or the worst case: read in an esteemed book about how things should look. In the end, this practice is always counter-productive. References and ideas are indeed a very good asset to bring to the table, because they give designers valuable pointers. Just don’t expect the product to be 100% like that example and focus on the crucial part: discussing and developing the idea first.

The site should be conceived as a wireframe – no colours, no rounded edges, no animation. If it works as a wireframe, it is guaranteed to work as a finished product. The challenge with prototyping between client and designer is also quite big. Management usually wants to put as many things as possible into the product, while the laws of online media dictate that we need to remove as much as possible. This situation calls for a compromise, to be sorted out in a black-and-white, boxed vision of the future product. Every side has to put forth their arguments, bullet-point style, so both teams can look at them and decide what goes and what stays.

The next step is when the designer goes looking for inspiration, pointers, samples. Long pause… Afterwards, a complete vision without outside influence should be presented on another meeting. This is a crucial requirement, because ideas from different places always stick out from the final product, or at least makes it very difficult for the designer to hide them.

Post processing

No matter how perfect, every design has “small” details to iron out. And exactly in those details is the catch. If the small details/changes come from outside of the designer’s mind, they can steer the site towards an entirely different direction than the one envisioned by its architect. Because the small details are the site. They are the defining feature of any site that has good-to-great level of quality. A proposed project is expected to be already solid and have all its elements in place, looking good and functional, but it still lacks soul and will be undistinguishable from any other competitor. The details like the lists icon, hover effects, surprising interaction (“delighters”) – make the site what it is. A masterpiece candidate.

There needs to be a very deep understanding of the process before starting to create anything, because mistakes are made all the time and production time is usually not spent optimally. Having pressure from above, out of short-term commercial reasons, can work out fine from a certain point-of-view. But this way the team will never really take off and will engage in drawn out development time and unsatisfying products. Because the next level of corporate development is winning new customers and they will need to be enticed from the first look and devoted after subsequent impressions.

Summary: A site has to grow out of a viable business idea, but in a nutritious environment, proper care and steering in the right direction. Its development has to be consulted with the designer at all times, because he knows many things that management doesn’t. Plus he has a glimpse into the future. What would happen if we enlarge this or change that, how everything is connected and every detail is a part of the whole. The design team can see slightly ahead and this is very important because of the endless complications, inherent to the world of online media/applications.

Addendum: “Final” “small” changes

Requesting “small” and “quick” changes to the design during its development usually throws it off-balance, creates extra work for the designer and delays the project. Once approved – probably weeks prior – the design mockup is final and any changes from the client should ideally be shelved until the next version.

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