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Designing the site: the KISS principle

Intergen's Web Redevelopment Project Part 3

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in an earlier post, there was nothing more reassuring to me than seeing the wireframes to our new site materialise. It was my first ‘a-ha’ moment in the project thus far, the first time I actually thought to myself, ‘Hey, we’re building a real live website here!’

The wireframes gave me something tangible, something that was starting to look like an actual website and that I could relate to as such, rather than just a set of Post It notes that looked like this:

All of a sudden I could point at things and make sense of them.

Fast forward a month or so and the wireframing phase is complete. We’re now getting towards the end of the UI (user interface) design now and into the production. Now we don’t just have greyscale sketches, we have full-blown screenshots so lifelike that I’m sometimes fooled into wanting to click on the buttons and have them work. (Although that point is still a little way off.)

Now that we’re into the UI stage of proceedings, with our lead developer starting to get involved now too, and our BA still faithfully tweaking the blueprint behind the scenes, there’s less talking and more doing. All our thinking and researching and prototyping is now turning into actual results. We have fewer roundtable meetings, and more one-on-one catch ups on a beanbag at the designer’s desk, with her talking me through, querying and justifying design grey areas.

One of the advantages of this being an internal project, and project team members working on site together, is that at this point in the project I can pop upstairs to the designer’s desk if she or I need to clarify anything. Often it can just be a five-minute ‘what if’ or ‘how about we…’ brainstorm, but it means we can keep things moving. The devil is in the detail, as they say, and we can iron out the details over a coffee as and when they arise.

Reminiscing with our designer this afternoon about the design experience to date – the trials and tribulations and our ultimate goals – we reflected on a couple of things. Design-wise, what have we been aiming for in all of this and what issues have we come up against?

Our brief, fundamentally, was to create a reinvigorated, clean, fresh, simple and grown up Intergen site. Something that engages, interacts and satisfies in a way that our current site is unable to. Something professional and upstanding and yet still an expression of our company culture (and yes, there will be no shortage of yellow).

We want to create a better experience for users, with content that is logical and findable. We want to embrace the new rich interactive capabilities of Silverlight, and integrate our site seamlessly with our core business systems, like our customer relationship management tool, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and our company intranet, based on Microsoft SharePoint technology. We want to lead the way for our clients and use EPiServer Composer, which gives web editors and administrators far greater control over the design components of the site, rather than just over the content, which can typically often be shoehorned into inflexible templates, making for a chaotic web page.

All these considerations have a significant impact on the design. How to make it look simple and intuitive with so much going on in the background?

As a non-designer who has worked closely with our interactive designers on a number of projects – the most important amongst these of course being our website redevelopment project – one thing has become particularly clear to me, irrespective of the nature of the project: in design, simplicity is key.

Being able to take a complex set of sometimes contradictory requirements and juggle features, functionality and content until all the elements are playing nicely together, and make it look easy, simple and logical… like it was always meant to be exactly as it has turned out… is nothing short of an art.

It’s the whole Keep it Simple, Stupid maxim; one of those clichés that seems to apply to just about anything you throw it at.

But sometimes you have to go through the whole process, blow by blow, in order to fully appreciate just how much of an art form simplicity really is. We sat in front of the drawing board for hours, bandied ideas about, got stuck down a few mental dead-ends and then settled on something, hoping we’d made the right decision. And then something quite magical occurred: everything fell into place. Our designer laid the UI out in front of us and it was everything we wanted. It made complete sense.

That’s exactly what I meant, I wanted to say. The trouble was, I didn’t know exactly what I meant until I was shown it by someone else. And it all looked so deceptively simple.

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 08 July 2009

Tags: website redevelopment

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