Over the past few years, as I’ve gotten to know more and more other digital studio leaders, I’ve had the opportunity to get exposed to a slew of different work processes. While I had always assumed that everyone worked roughly the same way as we do, I was proven to be terribly wrong. The different methods of developing and designing digital projects are vast and diverse. As a result, I started reevaluating our own process, and how to make our client relationships at Plank more successful.
To do that, we had to be honest with ourselves. We had to be prepared to admit that the way we approached projects and collaboration wasn't perfect. We had to admit that others were, in fact, working smarter than us.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Plank was in bad shape, or that my team wasn’t talented or producing great work, just that we should always strive to be better. We started fine-tuning a better process to create quality work and offer a high value to our client partners.
The traditional web design process needs an update
Yes, I'll say it. The idea that every so often an organisation must embark on an expensive, ground-up website overhaul needs to die. When a company's IT / Marketing department stops everything to invest months into a project that will be trumpeted when launched and then left alone, there’s a problem. Assumptions made in the process will result in frustrations that build for years as everyone "works around" them. Technology moves and changes direction quickly, and soon a beautifully designed website starts to feel old and tired.
The weakness of this approach was further reinforced at an event I attended in New York City a few weeks ago. While the Digital Marketing Bootcamp for the Arts was obviously focussed on - you got it - digital marketing, discussions about redesigning websites came up quite often. The perspective wasn't what I expected. There was a consensus that embarking on a website redesign was daunting, arduous, frustrating, and littered with failure. No matter how successful the results were in the end, the cost, workload, process and limited shelf life of a major redesign was disheartening .
Clearly, if this feeling isn’t just a result of a few failed projects, but an overall industry perception, then a change is necessary. There is an opportunity here to offer a different way of working, one that isn’t fraught with pain.
Learning the hard way with our own website
It was our own redesign project that really brought home the need to change our approach. At the end of 2015 - after much deliberation and debate - we decided to trash our 4-year-old website, put up a placeholder page and start all over again. We saw it as a way to make a break from the past, from the tone and branding that we felt no longer represented our almost 20-year history as a company.
We were wrong.
We basically took the thousands of hours that we worked on that site, balled them all up and threw them away. Looking back now, the smarter thing would have been to work on top of what we already had. What we did right was to iterate the new site, and build it back up incrementally. So we did get halfway to the proper approach. And that experience really got me thinking about how we should be tackling our clients’ redesign projects.
There is a better way, and it’s iterative
First, let’s all toss out the notion that websites need to be torn down every few years and rebuilt from scratch. Let’s stop sinking hard-won budgets into massive, expensive, and stressful redesign projects. For my part, the next time a client comes to me with a ground up redesign project - no matter how big the cheque in their hand - I’m going to tell them it’s a mistake.
Iterative design incorporates testing, feedback and evaluation throughout the process. Problems are identified earlier in the process when they’re easier to fix. This means there’s no big launch date, no fanfare. Just incremental, prioritised improvement.
Quantifying and Measuring Success
Iterative design offers regular opportunities to review and analyse decisions. We can react quickly to choices made, and fine tune them as necessary. It also means that there’s room for experimentation and evolution. Incorporating A/B testing allows us to make decisions based on actual page performance, not speculation. Features can then be tweaked to improve functionality and user experience.
A better way to budget
Incremental improvement also means incremental spending. Take that lump sum budget and spread it into more manageable monthly payments over a year. Then let’s work together on a plan to tweak, repair, and clean up your existing platform. I would rather iterate the design so that we are responding to the need of the moment, not the need of 12 months earlier when the scope of work was signed.
The reality is that working iteratively isn't all that new. Many companies have embraced this way of operating, especially those organisations that are large enough to have an internal, dedicated full-time team. This approach can also work with external partners like us, and that when it does, it contributes to building a long-term relationship based on trust and understanding.
A better process makes a better product
So in the end, could we continue working the way we have and still deliver successful projects? Of course. But by changing our approach, we are improving the process and the product. We’re respecting the hard work that went into your existing project. While adjustments and changes may be necessary, it would be a shame to tear the house down. We are giving you a chance to control your budget and workload. We are reducing the stress and pressure of a successful relaunch. We are improving the chances of success for your digital project.