22nd March, 2010

Process Toolbox, part one: Backbone

Last year, I presented The Process Toolbox at the 5th @Media conference at London’s South Bank Centre. Over the course of fifty minutes I detailed a number of methods that can ensure a project runs smoothly. Since then, a number of people have asked for a transcript to accompany the slides, so I’m doing just that. Here’s part one, originally posted over on Erskine Labs.

Goal-directed design

The initial part of the presentation focused on Project Backbone. So, what do I mean by this?

Well, I’m a big fan of “Goal-directed design”. Lets take a closer look at what that means, and how it can underpin the entire project process.

What us web professionals ultimately produce should be judged by how successfully it meets the needs of both the audience and the client that commissioned the project, and it’s our responsibility to define a process that can facilitate this. If we don’t have clear and detailed knowledge of the users we are designing for, the constraints of the problem, and the business goals that are driving the design activities, we will have little chance of success, regardless of how talented and creative we might be.

Immovable constants

Putting audience to one side until later, we firstly need to define the immovable constants - the goals, aims and objectives that are the essential reasons for building the website. These are the reasons the client has put their hands in their pockets, and where they themselves will assess the resulting value.

Goal directed design

The type of information that is important to gather at the very beginning includes overall aims and objectives, any technical obstacles and/or opportunities, specific business benefits, and any existing perceptions of the user base.

For example, the client probably needs to bring their website up to date visually, perhaps in response to a revised “brand” and “identity”. Perhaps there are key messages that will need to be relayed. The client may be ready to increase their user base by fostering an online community. These are almost always set desires that don’t change. We can treat them as genuine goals - project constants - without yet worrying about the exact specification or the more detailed requirements that our forthcoming audience research will define.

Engaging with the client

It is certainly vital to engage with the client to go beyond the initial brief to explore these constants in more detail. It may then be necessary to conduct interviews or workshops with a broader group of interested parties - specific client teams or individuals, funding bodies, the board of directors etc. These discussions help refine the key Goals, and provide enlightening ideas as to how user research will be conducted. More of that in a following post.

Regardless of how desirable our efforts are to clients and users, without carefully considering the viability and feasibility of the proposed ideas from day one, there is little chance that what we produce will succeed.

Note: Slides designed by Gregory Wood.

Full series…

This article was originally posted on Erskine Labs, September 2009.

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