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Building Your Digital Home

Why planning matters

Kenny | 10/03/2017

Planning is an integral part of our process and our solutions and we believe that it is the stage in which we add the greatest value to our clients’ projects. Here’s why.

Something we’ve noticed in recent years is more and more clients deciding to skip the planning phase of website development, and only commissioning the design, development, and delivery of the final site. Planning is an integral part of our process and our solutions and we believe that it is the stage in which we add the greatest value to our clients’ projects. Here’s why.

Picture the scene: you’ve secured your deposit and mortgage for a plot of land, and you’re ready to build your dream home. You’ve hired your architect. In their office, you pull out a detailed list of requirements for your dream home. It must have three bedrooms, one an ensuite; you’d like an open plan kitchen and dining room; and the living room will be south facing with big windows. Your architect nods. You both shake hands. You don’t hear from the architect until 6 months down the line, when the house is built and you’re ready to step into your new home for the first time.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has watched Grand Designs can attest to, this never, ever happens.

UX Designers as Digital Architects

No matter how complete your set of requirements, most people would never dream of leaving someone else to interpret their home without their input. Planning a house is a team effort — , you go over plans, layouts, and materials with your architect, and you lean on their advice, experience, and expertise.

UX designers and architects are not all that dissimilar: fundamentally, the job of both a UX designer and an architect is to design a solution to a problem (be it a building or a website) that is accessible, usable, and aesthetically appealing to those who interact with it. However, the relationship between client and UX designer can be starkly different to that of a client and architect.

While you would never skip the architect and go straight to a builder to create your dream home, trying to demonstrate the value of proper planning to an unconvinced project commissioner remains a challenge in many industries. More and more we find ourselves employing the analogy of housebuilding to describe its importance to our process.

With an architects input, the final product is pleasing, functional, and cohesive.

The DIY Dilemma: Requirements vs Planning

One reason why digital planning can sometimes be disregarded is that organisations will undertake extensive preparations before commissioning a new site. They may have spent significant hours examining their digital strategy, appraising their current site, drawing up a list of requirements, collecting references and peer benchmarking. So, when a digital practice proposes a budget for planning their new website or app, it can feel a lot like duplication of effort.

In our house building analogy, this approach is akin to DIY-ing the plans of your dream home. While you may plan extensively, only a professional architect will be able to guide you to the best solution by utilising their experience, skill, and industry know-how.

An architect may look at a client’s carefully considered plan and begin recommending that the layout be switched around to make the bedroom quieter at night, or the arrangement of the kitchen be changed for a growing family where space is at a premium. While suggestions to change your plans to conform to building codes or to swap materials may not be high priority right now, having an experienced hand on your team ensures you get the best product possible within the budget you have, and can help you foresee future problems and constraints that can be tackled head on with the appropriate precautions.

Web design is not dissimilar. In our practice we are constantly referencing contemporary standards and designs, keeping abreast of emerging trends in the marketplace, and appraising and adopting relevant new technologies. This gives us a keen sense of what makes a website successful, something which is not necessarily obvious (as Joe Sparano noted “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent”).

As well thought-out a website plan may be, planning is still required to get to a place where the resulting website will be usable and enjoyable. It may be that switching pages around will let users find information more easily, or that certain features will need to be changed to keep the website within budget.

It’s often noted that digital products and technologies, despite being so widely used, are poorly understood in general. Developments in the digital space are small, but happen all the time. But as the architect constantly researches and keeps up to date with changes in building materials, technologies, and layouts; UX designers and planners constantly discover, develop, and incorporate these small changes into their solutions, creating outcomes more advanced than an industry outsider.

With no plan, and no co-ordination, building your project can quickly become a nightmare.

Jumping Headfirst Into Building

Even more surprising are projects where no plan has been prepared by the commissioners, yet still no budget is allocated for planning. For us this is akin to approaching a builder with just a vague lists of requirements — no floorplan, dimensions, plans for plumbing or electrics — and leaving it in the builders’ hands to design and build themselves. The result will lack the multidisciplinary input that an architect’s firm would provide, and would be built from the perspective of the builders, who would not share the same experience or expertise that an architect’s firm would.

If you do not interpret your vision, someone else will interpret it for you. Entering straight into a design and build will lead to a design without direction, a build with potential incompatibilities, key considerations being left out, or running over their budget due to incompatibilities with the site’s strategy and function. It may end up with hasty late additions which turn the finished solution into a site of compromises and quick fixes.

Taking a Second Opinion

There is another reason for bringing UX designers into your digital project, and that is because it is their job to make people happy. It may sound frivolous and a step away from the professional arguments for including them, but it’s one of the reasons why they can add such value to your final solution. Being so close to your project, it can be difficult to fall into the trap of being too focused on the business case or stakeholder needs. UX designers are fundamentally invested in ensuring that the final project is not only beautiful, but a delight to use for the end users; they aim to take your goals and find the best method of helping users to achieve them. This does not apply solely to B2C markets: ‘delight’ and ‘joy’ may not be the first words that stand out in the strategy for a B2B solution, but professional users and customers still appreciate being able to quickly and easily complete the tasks they visited your website to do. The fresh look from someone who has different fundamental motivations for achieving your goals is what takes your website from average to outstanding.

Preparing for the Future

Failing to prepare means preparing to fail may be cliche, but as with all cliches it stems from truth. A large website and a house may both cost £150,000, so why should we neglect the preparation for the former, but not the latter? Both will likely play a major part in your daily life for a number of years, if not significantly more. Both may take months or even a year to complete. Both need to consider the potential for expansion, user (or occupant) friendliness, and accessibility.

So the next time you are planning your website, give us a call and meet your friendly neighbourhood digital architects.

Kenny

Managing Director

Our MD Kenny has a passion for brilliant UX design within high standards of design and technology. His Best Practice approach and 21 years of industry experience underpins Screenmedia's critical and commercial success.

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