Recently, I wrote an article for UX Magazine titled "Web Design is NOT Dead, You're Just Talking About it Wrong." The tl;dr of that piece is that just because user experience design and mobile apps are becoming a much larger focus in the design industry does not mean that web design is going to go the way of the Dodo. But something else I mention in that article is that there are a lot of problems with web design–especially on mobile. In fact I would argue that, while web design isn't dead (or dying), it is a broken system.
Typically, a website redesign project looks like this:
- A team of designers and developers pitch an idea for a website to a client, get hired and start planning the project. This planning takes shape as a timeline that spans every feature and functionality that will be included in the scope of the project.
- They build those features and functionality based on the goals of the client’s business–they might even create theoretical user personas of the users they think might visit the website, and base the site structure on how they think those hypothetical users might use it.
- They present the design to the client, and do revisions based on the client’s requests.
- This process takes about 3 to 4 months and typically costs a lot of money all at once (or in a few installments over the life of the project).
Here’s where I see problems (see: everywhere) that cause the typical web design process to be inefficient and risky.
Based on Assumptions.
From a user experience perspective, traditional web design processes are missing out on some huge opportunities. Why is it that we base our work on what we think a user wants and needs? How do you know that the website you just built is going to perform well? ...You don’t. It’s impossible.
By basing web designs on assumptions of how a user will likely interact with a website, you’re running some big risks. The experience you’re providing on the site may not line up with the experience your specific audience needs in order to properly engage with the content, or make a purchase through your eCommerce shopping cart, etc. Chances are, there are no plans or follow through for validating that your intentions and the user’s needs align.
Time is Money. Money is Also Money.
You just spent a bunch of time and money to have the design and development team build you this site. You invested your own personal time, and the time of your coworkers or employees, on meetings, collaborating, and potentially even developing content. But how do you know, at launch, that this investment was worth it? What metrics are you using to judge that return on investment? Most importantly, what happens if you find out that things aren’t performing as well as you thought they would?
A lot of times, these types of web design projects end up going out of scope, over budget, and are launched with delays. Once the site is up, they sit there. Collecting dust. You may ask yourself, why aren’t I getting more leads? You get fed up. You move on. A year or so later, you repeat the whole process. It’s a mess.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Less Risk. More Reward.
There is a more efficient, data driven, and scalable way to implement web design, and it can drastically improve the performance of your website. It’s becoming known throughout the industry as growth-driven design, though I prefer to call it agile web design. Using this method, we focus on minimizing the risks of a typical web design project, while delivering and validating the experiences users actually want out of a website. Rather than planning, designing and developing an entire website at once–relying on assumptive design and incurring large upfront costs–we break the process down into iterative steps. This allows us to add new features, test, and optimize over time–creating websites that are more engaging, cost effective, and produce better results through constant learning and continuous improvement.
So, How Does it Work?
Stage one of the agile web design process is to develop a strategy and goals that are based on real user data.
- Understand who your users are, and develop customer personas. These are profiles that outline the preferences, behaviors and habits of the real people that interact with your website. What is it they care about? What causes them frustration on the web?
- Develop business goals for your website. Do you want to have more people go to a specific page, or fill out a form? If it’s an eCommerce, do you want to mitigate abandoned carts more effectively? Is there a certain revenue goal in mind?
- Review analytics and user test to gain insight about how users visit your website, and the pain points they experience in navigating the site. This will help develop an understanding of why people go to the site, what they value about it, and what the opportunities for improvement are.
Based on these insights, you will be able to harness informed hypotheses about what features and functionalities will help create impactful experiences and drive better conversion. Write down all of these features, sections, pages, content, and other design ideas and you’ve got a wishlist of elements to implement into the site. This wishlist can then be prioritized by certain base assumptions that can be tested:
- Which features will likely have the most impact?
- How quickly can the changes be implemented?
- Which are absolutely crucial, and which would just be a nice addition?
The second stage is actually implementing these feature into the site, by developing a core website that includes only the must-have features and pages. This is often called the launchpad website. It’s designed to act as a foundation that can be iterated upon, collecting data and adding/updating features over time. This launchpad site can typically be ready within 30-45 days, at which point you can start going down the prioritized wishlist and adding in items one–or a few–at a time.
This ongoing process of scaling the website up requires the use of agile design and development practices such as user testing, reviewing analytics, design sprints, and revising user personas. Think of it in terms of running a scientific experiment:
Form a Hypothesis.
Set a proposed path that your user personas take in the website, and hypothesize how the change you want to make will impact their experience. Example:
For User Persona A, visiting the About Us page, we hypothesize that changing the placement of the About Us Video to above the Company Background Paragraph will result in 20% More Views.
Create the Experiment.
Design and develop the new feature into your website. It’s basically exactly what would happen in a regular website design job, just on a smaller, quicker scale.
Test the Hypothesis.
By implementing user tests and tracking analytics, see if the new feature performs as expected. User testing will give you a clear idea of how real users feel about the change. Is the change distracting? Do the analytics show that more people are engaging because of the change? If not, why?
As you add new features and functionality, you will also be making updates to previously implemented functionality via these same kinds of experiments. The hypotheses you make will become more honed and you may even be able to better predict user response. You’ll be able to identify problems and find solutions, creating a cohesive experience for the user that helps you reach your business goals. And, best of all, you’ll be able to tailor that experience to the user, making them feel a deeper connection with your brand.
Evolve Your Website.
If you’re interested in minimizing risk, increasing results and creating a stronger experience for your users with agile web design, contact us to find out how we can help.