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Your Site's Goals
If you already have a web site, or you have a site project in mind, what needs does it fulfil? How many different needs are there? How strong are they?
Your job as a web site designer is to craft a solution that meets all the most important needs.
To do this, you need to create a site that fits its environment. Specifically, it should enable all the important goals to be met, in the right balance of priority. Any noise or confusion will make that process less efficient, which could mean that the site fails to realise some of its goals.
The general purpose of design is to facilitate communication of information. What is the important information that your site wants to collect or promote? Is it hard data or soft impressions? What are the commercial motives behind the communication?
Consider the sphere of design. If the site's goals are softer (e.g. brand building, entertainment, or a fashion portfolio), you probably need a solution that's very strong on aesthetics and a little less focused on speed of use and other functional performance parameters. However, if your goals are harder (e.g. selling products online, giving access to data, providing applications), you'll need to focus more on functional imperatives, which means going a bit lighter on aesthetic richness.
You may discover a number of different objectives, to do with brand promotion, data capture, sales, marketing, legal obligations, even social or political change. Don't freak out at this, because hitting the right balance between all these competing forces is one of the major themes of this book. There is a right answer out there, maybe several right ways, and you can find one.
A good way to start to get a complete and clear picture of the full range of objectives a site needs to fulfil is to consider all the people or groups who have some significant interest in the project's success. These are known as stakeholders.
Stakeholders are real people, such as:
- the client who's paying they money and has a commercial interest in success
- the sales guy who follows up leads that come in from the web site
- the person in customer support whose job will be made easier
If you can speak to these people, get them to tell you what will signify success to them. Test each idea by asking: if this doesn't become true, will that constitute overall failure?
Stakeholder success criteria are useful in client management
Stakeholders' success criteria can also be useful for managing your client relationship, by helping you agree realistic and achievable goals in advance. For this reason, make sure you capture the stakeholder's own words, so that you can refer back to them.
During the design and development process, you may receive new requests from stakeholders, to include new features or link to other places. Everyone's human, and it's tempting to try to make a web site do more and more, as your focus changes over time. As a designer, you can find yourself under pressure from conflicting sources. Success criteria can be useful for keeping everyone clear on the true objectives.
Later on, you can revisit the success criteria, and help your stakeholders realise how your project has succeeded, even if their aspirations have changed over time.
What does your site have to do?
At this point, start writing down what needs to happen for your primary personas to reach their goals? Also, what must your site avoid to prevent failure?
In the next section, these vital factors will form the basis of a design touchstone. Writing this information down and referring to it frequently helps you stay on track and produce a more focussed result.
Examples of imperatives
- "The site must enable Janet to find out what help Scratchmedia can offer to help solve her web site issues, as quickly as possible, and without patronising her."
- "The client area must give Fool enough new information about the best of web design to keep him coming back regularly, and provide an environment where he finds it easy to express his views."
- "The site should enable Fool, Tracy, and Janet to register quickly and easily."
Balancing opposing goals
After you've identified your own goal for the project, the various stakeholders' objectives that the site should fulfil, and the set of important goals that you must help your primary personas achieve, you might feel like you're facing an impossible task.
How do you balance all these opposing forces?
Your purpose may include results that are different from what your visitor wants. For example, you might want them to be aware of a new product, or you may want them to understand what differentiates your company from your competitor.
These personal or commercial imperatives can be part of your site's goals. But what if you realise that your primary persona's goals are at odds with your goals? If you prioritise their goals completely, can your site still succeed? And if your users can't achieve their goals, why should they use your site?
Of course, the ideal solution is a win-win, where you achieve your goal at the same time as enabling your visitors to reach theirs.
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