Email, is perhaps the biggest single thing that we use the internet for, but if email is the biggest then it is SEARCH which is the gateway to everything else that we do online.
Today, the internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives. As a business, its no longer good enough just having a website and being online. Today, your business needs to be found.
In any project that you are working on, one of the first basic needs is to communicate about the project with the people involved. In many cases people speak in jargon especially if its a technical subject, but you will need to understand it and in the case of website development, you will need to understand how your visitors think and talk about your product,brand or service. It imperative that you know your subject and its participants well. One of the first actions which I undertake on a project is to start with some form of research.
There are many tools and resources on the web to help with research, but the most important first step is to understand your own knowledge about a subject. I use mindmaps to figure out what I may know or think about a subject, – its a way of consolidating a lot of knowledge on one page, utilizing the way that the brain thinks and processes information in a graphical format. Its a very effective method of information understanding, and I urge you to read up on mindmapping here.
If at all possible I recommend that you go and visit the company you are designing for. Sit in reception, listen to the daily calls back and forth, the water fountain chatter, understand their business. Then go and understand what their customers think about them. This is valuable research, learning the language of the culture you are designing for, an you will design a better website, with superior content, all by taking the time to listen carefully to not just your clients business and more importantly to your clients customers.
So after researching, collating and assembling your content in the right context it comes time to decide how it will all fit together.
How the website is structured is vital, designing the architecture of a website is as much an art form as it is a science. It’s not just your design, it’s not just your content, it is how you structure your content that determines whether your site has any chance at all of being a success.
Information architecture is serious thought, yet the overwhelming majority of businesses have structured their site using the IMO method – “in my opinion”. Whilst common sense is a useful tool, there are many sites which are very simple (e.g. 5 pages total), there’s a better way to go about it.
If you have tens of pages on your site, you should do proper information architecture analysis. Guiding people through the vast amount of information on offer is something that requires thought and research. Intuitive navigation doesn’t happen by chance.
You need to keep everything that you have discovered about the client and their business, also how the customer reacts and interacts, in mind, when designing the flow of a website. Get it right and the site will be a success, get it wrong and the customer will go elsewhere.