Improving the web design process

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If one thing’s for sure in the digital world, nothing stands still. Every day we deal with constant developments in functionality and changes in the way digital platforms are used and the way content is shared. We have to be adept and agile in the way we work to keep delivering a superb user-experience with our sites and this also includes our web design process. In this blog we want to share how Preface Studios is adopting the Agile process of working during the lifespan of large web projects.

Why does the web design process need to change?

Traditional website design follows the waterfall method: you take a brief from the client, come up with some design options to be agreed, and then build until your website is completed. It’s a linear, systematic process that clients feel comfortable with, however, there’s a major flaw with this method. It’s based on the fact that assumptions made from the outset in the client brief (and the way they are interpreted by a web designer) are correct. If we’re half-way through the build and a problem occurs or requirements change, it’s extremely costly to reverse things and make changes.

We get lots of clients coming to us with big ideas. They want a really polished website that does A to Z and they reel off lots of sites: ‘Facebook has this… Amazon does that… my competitor has xyz… we need all of that on our site!’

We always question this. Surely, no-one really knows what’s needed without asking or testing real users first?

Why Agile?

With Agile development, the way forward is to create a quick design and then build and test it with users. Key stakeholders from all functions within the company are consulted along the way. We don’t move onto the next phase until we’ve done that, which means we’re then building based on intelligence about how people are actually interacting with the site: we learn along the way with real-life feedback.

We use this process with our larger projects where variables can change and where we might not have a complete understanding of how the site will be used. This way of working means changes can be incorporated at any point. Agile website design might be daunting for a client at the start, because you begin with the ‘idea’ of a budget – so costs aren’t as predictable at the outset. However, in the long-run it could be even more costly if the original thinking is wrong! Ultimately, clients end up with an infinitely better website because at the end, you’ll truly know it’s going to work for end-users.

Deciding on a MVP

We start by defining the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is a way that we design a site in the simplest, most usable way to get the desired effect. Then we launch and test to see if it performs in the intended way and tweak accordingly. This is a far more efficient way to work in a fast moving arena, because we’re not building a massive system, we’re creating short, quick versions and then testing it. We don’t get caught up in adding the ‘bells and whistles’ and clients dream of, but instead move in the quickest possible way towards the end goal of the site.

Iterative Design

We currently use an iterative design process, where we don’t move on to the next stage until we’ve tested a prototype, as a true collaboration between the client, marketing, web design and real users. This means the website design is done in repeated cycles; and at each cycle, the website design is further polished and tested.

Iterative design essentially enables us to help clients launch products faster, keep up to speed with technological and browser developments and, importantly, make quicker decisions based on real customer data… not on what our client or our team might think is right!

Preface Studios uses Invision, a rapid prototyping tool used to create click-through prototypes of websites that feel almost like the real thing before coding has even begun. By doing that we can check the goals, usability and aesthetic of the site before we go into development. Using Invision, clients can also add comments to exact spots of the design, enabling the team to have communicate clearly about a certain element.

We also use Sketch, which is a tool to design interfaces, websites and icons. Sketch has replaced our use of Adobe suite for designing websites. It’s much quicker to use, allowing us to manage multiple pages and assets at the same time. The asset export is fantastic and it also syncs with Invision as well.

All of this means we’re not simply guessing, we’re creating something based on real-life situations and consumer behaviours.

Collaborative websites

Web design should always be a collaboration of cross-functional teams that takes into account the needs the end-user. We enjoy the Agile process of web design because we are constantly problem-solving: coming up with innovative solutions to issues that arise along the way. It keeps our team creative and constantly in touch with the ultimate objective of the websites we design: only designing to the needs and requirements of users, as well as being able to adapt quickly to meet changing market and consumer needs.

Interested in working with us? Just call us on 01252 820022 for a chat or to arrange a meeting to discuss your website design process at our studio in Farnham, Surrey.

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