Far too often we run into clients who mean well but aren’t exactly sure which steps are the right ones to take in order to go from a raw idea to a finished product. Many are under pressure from their bosses to “just get it done”. Others have had to go through an arduous process of securing budgets and approvals to move ahead and now they need to show progress a.s.a.p. When this happens we tend to get pulled in with requests to jump right to high fidelity designs or pick the CMS tools without the slightest idea of what actually needs to be built and delivered.
So Whata We Do?
In situations like this we like to go back to the basics. Just like in grade school, if you didn’t bother to do your homework, research, or understand the basics, there was no way you were going to pass the final exam with flying colors. Sure you might squeak by and get a passing grade, but a grade of 55% is pretty far from a grade of 95% on that big exam. Fast forward to the current state where you may have big budgets, stakeholders, and your users in that scenario and you really want to make sure you are scoring 95% or better.
First off, you need to park your preconceived notions. The tools you think you are going to use to solve the problem may or may not fit, but until you’ve done your homework you won’t be sure. Start talking to as many people as possible. Engage your user base, send out surveys, collect detailed stakeholder requirements, and consume everything you can – then write it all down! Once you are tired of talking, start looking for patterns in your data and feedback. If you keep hearing the same thing over and over you need to deal with it – even if it forces you to switch gears and rethink your original concepts.
You Wouldn’t Build a House Without Blueprints
Once you’ve collected facts, and organized the details, it’s time to come up with a cohesive blueprint. In the past we’ve worked with organizations that don’t necessarily understand the importance of good wireframes with descriptive documentation. They think a designer with Photoshop is the answer to their problems. Although there are many MANY talented designers out there, most of them are not going to be focused on the details that your developers will need to understand in a language they can comprehend. A well-executed set of wireframes act as the blueprints and underpinnings of how everything comes together. Stakeholders need them to make sure what they think and assume in their heads is actually what the developers will code. Developers need them for all of the little details like what is and isn’t optional, and exactly how every last piece of interactive elements work in unison. Quality assurance people need them so they can clearly understand how things should work versus what is delivered to them for testing. Finally, a good set of quality wireframes are the best tool for defining and advocating for positive user experiences.
Off to the Races
With a solid set of wireframes in hand, it is infinitely easier for a designer to know what they need to design and how to go about it. Instead of worrying about technical functionality, they can focus on being creative and bringing those blueprints to life. On the other hand, those same wireframes and specifications are key to picking the right tools for the actual build. It’s entirely possible that that all your research and homework have exposed some unique challenges that your existing tools may not be able to address. It’s much better to come to this realization early in the process when all of the work has been done on paper and hasn’t yet been coded.
Without a doubt, everyone wants their project to move quickly. Hopefully you can now see that spending the time up front to do your homework is one of the best ways to “get ‘er done” and still get a stellar grade on your end results.