Web Development, like most everything, is a process. Building a strong foundation of understanding is imperative for how the work plays out later on. This is what the Discovery phase of a project is all about. In an earlier article, I talked about prototyping a site’s layout. Before even that, some questions should get answered. Both developer/designer and client need to really think about these questions and get as specific as possible to get the best out the process of building a website.
What does the company do? A fundamental question that must be understood. It really should go without saying, but making sure your developer understands what you do or, from that developer’s standpoint, understanding exactly the scope of what your client does is imperative to establish the boundaries of what the site is intended to do.
Who are the stakeholders and what are their roles in the site’s development? As the client, make sure your developer/designer knows who he or she is dealing with. Conversely it’s a developer’s mission in discovery to figure out who is concerned with the design of the site, who is responsible for how the back-end should work/flow, and who ultimately is in charge of the overall project.
So, What’s the Site Supposed to Accomplish? You’ve got a comprehensive understanding of what the company does, and who is invested in the site, but other than having a presence online, what’s the site going to do? Establish the nature of the site – is it commercial? Informational? A marketing platform? More often than not it’s a combination of these things, and the nature of the business will influence this. Write it all down. Be specific.
Who is supposed to use this site? Identifying a target audience really helps set up the framework of the design later. Everything from font size to margins to copy writing can be influenced by establishing who the site is intended for. If there are disparities between the target audiences, look for common traits, and list out some adjectives/adverbs that appeal to each.
Company X is like a Tyrannosaurus Rex on a Rocket Fueled Sopwith Camel. Metaphors and similes can really help a designer/developer sum up what the company is about. Take the example in the title of this section. What is the image? Getting away from the ridiculousness, you learn some things about Company X. It’s got whimsy, but masculine, with perhaps a sci-fi vintage feel. Company X is not afraid of being out there. Company Y, on the other hand, is a stately mahogany wardrobe in a quiet sunlit room. You get a completely different feel for Company Y. Understated, calm, perhaps slightly heavy centerpieces surrounded by a lighter air, gender neutral with brown and beige tones. Come up with some metaphors; compare the company to things it typically would not be compared to – animals, different companies in different sectors, cities.
A good discovery period is a vital, but unfortunately overlooked, part of the web development process. Don’t let the excitement to get something committed to the screen overtake good web development processes.