Ever tried to buy something on a website but it was so badly designed that you couldn’t figure out how to give them your money?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the average website is a pile of reactionary, incoherent content. A lot of content on sites was posted simply because there arose a need somewhere at some point to post an asset or alter a design, and it was done with no regard to the ecosystem it was entering.
Web designers and marketers should initially say no to design requests and first ask why.
There are probably 1.3 million articles on the web about how to redesign a landing page, so why am I writing this? I’ve found that a lot of design and marketing how-to articles are talking about some fantasy world where everything is perfect and everyone is super excited about following a process.
What about all the companies that have no process and live firmly in the Wild West of the web? And no, I’m not blaming or even criticizing these companies. Websites are a beast. A big, fat, hairy beast that is extremely hard to control once it’s gone rogue (which it does in a hurry).
The truth is, not every company can afford a fancy web agency full of bearded white guys sipping cold brew laced with activated charcoal. In a lot of regards, they don’t need to.
Hiring a strong digital designer adept at asking questions and crafting a coherent architecture on your site will go a long way.
As a digital designer, you should be asking questions like this at the start of any design request:
- What is the #1 goal of this redesign? (you would be surprised how often this isn’t addressed)
- What priority is this work?
- When is the deadline?
From there, create an end-to-end journey map, starting with the routes your customers will take to arrive at the new page(s).
Reassess your flow chart and ask the following:
- Where and how will customers enter this page or set of pages?
- Email, direct mail, search? Explore all possibilities.
- Will this page make complete sense to someone who enters laterally, say through organic search?
- What contingencies and dependencies are there?
A flow chart/journey map will help you more easily identify even the smallest dependencies that could put your design on hold. Break the work into manageable chunks with their own deadlines.
You can’t design a page if you have no content. Look – I understand more than anyone how much joy you can get from using Back to the Future quotes as placeholder text, aptly named DeLorean Ipsum. But just don’t. Save yourself time and sanity by simply demanding content up front.
Start with a whiteboarding session that includes your copywriter and any other key stakeholders. Create a rough layout that you can combine with your flow chart and translate to a medium fidelity prototype using a tool like Adobe Xd. When you reconvene, it’s another chance to assess the flow of content. Your copywriter will then have a good idea of how the words will fit into your design.
All of these things were not things I knew how to do when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science. College gave me the skills to create smaller pieces of work, but I learned on the job how to connect all the dots and create coherent, usable designs.
Judging by the frequently chaotic state of the web today, I’m guessing there are many millions of people in the same boat! But I think this is a positive thing for digital designers – there is a lot of room for growth and to make a huge difference!