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From wish lists to whiteboards to wireframes

Intergen’s Web Redevelopment Project Part 2

(Previously entitled: How long is a piece of string?)

We’re getting somewhere. We laid out the homepage wireframes which Michelle, our designer, has been working on and things started making sense. After weeks of numerous workshops and whiteboard sessions and a sometimes dizzying freeflow of ideas and suggestions, there’s nothing like seeing things laid out right in front of you and starting to become concrete.

So far, I’ve found the early stages of a website development project to be an interesting exercise, not least in the respect that, as with any project, numerous skills, possessed by various human beings, need to be drawn upon. I have a newfound appreciation for leveraging the differing skills and input that other people in our project team have.

The project so far has given me curious insights into left brains and right brains at work. (As an aside, you can do this test to find out which way your brain leans.) I am an out and out right-brainer, although I do from time to time make concerted attempts to strengthen the slightly atrophied muscle on the more logical, systematic side of my head, just to even things out a bit.

For me, fleshing out the Information Architecture (IA) of our new site is the thing that has proved trickiest so far. To use an analogy, I’m not really the sort of person who can walk into a room full of furniture and visualise how things will look completely moved around without actually, physically moving them around. I can’t conceptualise that sort of thing spatially, I get confused and no amount of diagrams and lists will un-confuse me. Fortunately, I’m in good company and we have people on our team who are extremely good at moving the furniture around in their head – and on a whiteboard. Cue an introduction to the team…

As I mentioned in post # 1, the Intergen web development team comprises a project manager (Gabrielle), a business analyst (Kirsty, with a lot of the groundwork laid by Kirsten), designer (Michelle), a developer (Kevin), and then we’ve got the project’s key stakeholders, the marketing team (Tim, Wayne, Kelly and me). As key stakeholders, we represent the various interests of all Intergen constituents and assume responsibility for content development and search engine optimisation, plus ongoing ownership of the wonder to behold that will be the shiny new Intergen website.

We’re currently working on phase one of a multi-phased project, with a lot of the more complicated functionality scheduled to come into being in the later stages. In a perfect world it’d be great to create an all-singing, all-dancing, world’s-best-website in one go. But when we got together, brandishing whiteboard markers and propagating flurries of Post It notes with reckless abandon, the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question left us all (temporarily) without an answer, and no pre-prepared yardstick at hand to miraculously make sense of it all. At first it looked like our proverbial piece of string was going to be very, very long indeed.

We didn’t run for the hills at that point, though. Instead, once budgets had been finalised and approved and the project team formed, we entered the envisioning stage. We sat down as a group and surveyed all the things that needed doing. We systematically constructed an inventory of wants, needs, wishes, widgets, technologies to integrate, checklists and other miscellaneous must-haves. And bit by bit, little by little, meeting by meeting, we began to make out a rough outline of our ‘piece of string.’

We then met to discuss and define the personas of our website visitors, concentrating on understanding and capturing their various needs. We tried our hands at being objective. We put ourselves in the position of our website users and asked: What do they want? How do we give them what they came to our site for, and in the best possible way? Because ultimately, if we can’t meet their needs on the most fundamental level, then we’ve completely failed, no matter how beautiful our site may be as an artefact.

Then we started our card sorting exercise to start fleshing out the IA of the site. This involved lots of Post It notes (shuffled through several iterations into numerous permutations) and not to mention lots of Visio diagrams.

And with card sorting sorted, and the IA largely agreed upon, Michelle is now – at this very moment – beavering away on wireframes.
We have our first milestone at the end of this week: a presentation of wireframes to the Board.

Next up I’ll talk some more about wireframes and how we got on with the Board (and share some of Michelle’s design insights and experiences thus far).

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 21 May 2009

Tags: website redevelopment

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