A Practitioner’s Guide to Usability Testing, Information Design and Content Strategy for Web Site and Web Application Development
Developing Web products (sites or applications) is a challenge because you must satisfy many masters. Senior management wants it done yesterday. Developers want to add as much cool stuff as possible. Security wants blood samples for your login credential. The subject matter experts want one of two things: they either dump 20 years of nuance into the system or they don’t want it (as it may threaten their job security.) How do you get all these players to work together?
In the age of shrinking budgets and compressed timelines, each team member must wear multiple hats. Borrowing from a term used in agile development, team members must be “generalizing specialist”. This means everyone has a specialty they bring to the project, but must be competent in the other disciplines as well. They can step in and produce when needed.
This is a critical skill for the team lead/head designer/project manager. You must be equal parts usability expert, information architect, business analyst, graphic designer, copy editor and project manager. This seems daunting. But successful projects have longer planning periods. They spend much less time rebuilding the things they got wrong the first time.
You might have a specialty in any of the aforementioned skills (the “specialist” part). But, how do you do a great job with the “generalist” part? How do you get to be good, or at least competent, at…well, everything? The systematic approach outlined below can help you perform the necessary tasks.
This approach blends best practices and literature from:
- Usability (card sorting, surveys, interviews, wireframes)
- Requirements Gathering (Business Analysis)
- Problem Solving (whiteboarding, Back of the Napkin, Blah, Blah, Blah by Dan Roam)
- Information Architecture (taxonomy creating, metadata structures, search engine optimization)
- Design (Don’t Make Me Think, Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug)
- Content Strategy (Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson)
- Project Management (Project Management Body of Knowledge)
Do not be overwhelmed by the length of the approach – 12 steps. Do not let the stakeholders, especially senior staff, complain that it will take too long and you should just start “building something”. Avoid falling into these traps:
It’s just a Web site, why do we need to do all this?!
We don’t have that many requirements, so you can start building after this meeting, right?
Either of these are a sure fire way to be doing this all over again in six months.
Depending on the size of your project and time constraints, many of the steps can be satisfied in short productive meetings. For smaller or well conceived projects, you might not need to have a meeting for each of the 12 steps. As long as you can answer each step clearly and get feedback, you can tweak your design. You will be on the path to making something usable.
The 12 Steps in Brief — from Concept to Completion
1. Research — Define the business need or goal and why it is important
a. Whiteboarding during the kick-off meeting promotes the free flow of ideas, so come with an open mind and an open schedule as this can span several days
2. Audit — Find out what content you have an analyze each piece to see if its useful or not
a. Ask does it speak to your audience. Think of answering the 5 W’s (who, what, when, why, where) and How
b. This is a research phase only – it doesn’t do any good to jump to solutions during this phase
3. Analysis — Figure out what your information really says, and make sure the information is complete
a. Give a value rating to the content from the previous phase (i.e. 1-10)
b. Content Analysis – Identify and create well-written, useful content and keep it up-to-date
4. Strategy — Brainstorm ways for improving content. Business process reengineering is a critical component to this step
a. Gap Analysis – determine the missing content and what fills it
5. Development — Build it!
a. Demoing beta sites or using agile allow everyone to see progress in small increments and make corrections early in the process
6. Test — Make sure it works, is easy to use, and delivers the right message to the right audience
7. Change Control — Ensure that all the components fit together in a timely and seamless way
a. Go/No Go decisions are made with senior management at this point
8. Delivery — Check in the final version before it goes live
9. Training — Get everyone ready to use it
10. Launch — Go live with the new solution and celebrate!
11. Measure/Metrics — Watch the solution improve daily life, and consider further improvements
a. Determine your metrics early during the strategy (step 4) phase so they are “baked in”
b. Gather metrics before release as a baseline
12. Maintenance — Fresh content is a constant process that takes effort and dedication
a. Assign an appropriate portion of staff’s time to producing and curating content
- NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.
Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.