The Importance of Process in Web Design | January 17, 2004
Web design is still a relatively new industry, run by a highly creative and technical workforce. However, because we focus so much on the creative and technological challenges of our work, we often neglect the business side of things.
New media also tends to be very incestuous. Most of the people involved with new media come from within the industry, leaving a general lack of experience from outside the sector to draw upon. As such, a lot of the day-to-day challenges we face in web design are not necessarily new, but they are often new to us.
One of the ways of dealing with these challenges is to have a good process in place. The idea of a formal process can scare some people. However most of us have our own processes whether we're aware of them or not.
One of the benefits of formalizing your process is you don't have to permanently carry it around in your head. Often if you have an ad hoc process you'll miss steps or will have to do the same thing over and over again for each project. By setting up and following a formal process it can cut down on a good deal of wasted time and really help boost your productivity.
For most web designers, their process consists of a plan outlining the various stages of a project, and the forms and templates used at each stage. The process you use really depends on the size of you your business and the needs of your clients. However a good process is one that's easily scalable to accommodate your changing circumstances.
Most new media jobs usually follow a fairly similar pattern.
- Discovery - Where you find out about the job, the client, their customers and the marketplace
- Clarification - Where you make sure everybody understands what they're doing and what's expected of them
- Planning - Where you allocate resources and lay out how the project will develop
- Implementation - The bit where you actually create the thing.
- QA/Testing - Where you make sure everything works to a sufficiently high standard
- Delivery - Where we give the client the finished work
And will require at least some of the following documents:
Proposal, Brief, Project Plan, Technical and Creative Spec, Wireframes, Personas, Contract, Invoices, Sign-off Forms, Change Management Forms etc
While this is a very simplified example of a web design process, it's enough for you to get the picture.
Often designers worry that a formal process will stifle their creativity. This may be one reason why very few print designers I know can even stomach using contracts, let alone follow a systematic approach to a project. However having a good process can actually help you be more creative. In the discovery phase the use of techniques like brainstorming, mood boards and personas can all help spark your creativity, while creating specifications can help put boundaries around the project allowing you to focus your creative direction.
Clients appreciate working with web designers who have a set process in place. For clients who've never commissioned a website before, your process explains to them exactly what you'll be doing and what's expected of them. For more experienced clients your process is a form of security blanket. It's say's that you know what you're doing and that you'll produce what you say you'll produce, on time and on budget. If things start to go wrong, both parties can fall back on a good process.
Large clients like public bodies will often require their suppliers to have a ISO ratified process in place. These clients are used to working with professional companies that follow set processes and usually have set processes themselves. In fact many companies will hire you on the basis of your process alone.
However one of the main benefits of having a good process is its ability to help guide, educate and sometimes protect you from your clients. The relationship between Client and Designers is no different from any other relationship. Communication is key, and a good process is the cornerstone to good communication. A good process aims to make sure there is understanding and consensus amongst all parties. It lays out the ground rules, allowing for objective rather than subjective decision making, and can help prevent costly last minute changes to spec.
Finally if a project ever does go bad, a good process will provide proof that you did what you set out to do and that you had the consciences of the client (through milestones and sign-offs) along the way.
Having a good, flexible process is one of the most important things a web design firm can have. However I'm constantly amazed by how many designers are taking on work without even the most rudimentary of processes in place. So what do you think about the importance of process? Do you have processes in place? If you do, what processes do you use? If you don't, why don't you?
For more info on the subject of the process of web design, have a look at some of the following books
- Web Redesign Workflow That Works
- Web Site Project Management
- The Elements of User Experience
- Return on Design
Posted at January 17, 2004 10:52 AM