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PracticeByte - How to Communicate With Your Web Site Design Group

Analyst: Steve Telleen
How to effectively communicate design requirements between business and the development team?
An issue which has not been given much attention is how Web site business owners communicate with their design group, be it internal or an external agency. Too often the interchange is cursory consisting of a high-level list of functions the owners want the Web site to perform supplemented by questions about the desired style or image asked by the design firm.
The result is a Web site that is heavy on traditional marketing design containing a few expensive functional destinations but that overall fails to meet the real business opportunities. While it is convenient to blame the design organization, this generally is not where the fault lies. More often it is a failure of the business owners to articulate and communicate the important business essentials that give the designers the substance to design around.
There are at least three common reasons for this failure:
1. Many business owners do not have a process for setting business objectives for their Web sites.
2. Web designers do not have an effective process for setting business objectives, nor should they. It is not their responsibility, area of interest, or expertise.
3. Even when the business owners have created explicit business objectives for the Web site, they do not have established vehicles for translating those objectives into foundation Web elements and efficiently communicating those elements to design specialists.
Setting business objectivesfor the Web site can be complex as determining Web site (see PracticeByte, "Dollars and Sense –Measuring the Value of Web Sites”, Steve Telleen). However, there are structured processes that can help. The process used by brings together information on the company’s strategic objectives, Web site audiences, and functions available on the Web site. Business objectives for the Web site functions are then developed and appropriate business metrics identified.
In addition to the explicit business objectives tied to each function of the Web site, two additional vehicles are used for translating the business objectives into Web elements and communicating those to the Web designers:
Business objectives generally tie back directly or indirectly to either reducing costs or increasing revenues. Clearly the easiest business objective to measure is a direct increase in revenue or sales. However, even in this case, additional metrics are advisable to track more detailed parameters that lead to that objective and to track early indicators of future changes.
Key Scenarios
1. A Stripped Home Page
2. Each not only delivers key information to the designers, but also becomes a tool that the designers can use to test the designs against the objectives.
Key scenarios provide the Web site requirements in an actionable story form that captures the motivation, intent and mission of a key type of site visit from the visitor’s perspective. A set of key scenarios not only describes the requirements, the scenarios can be used by the designers to power heuristic reviews to test designs during the design process and they can be used to build usability tests during the implementation.
There are a number of books available on building scenarios. However, many times scenarios are not created using the formal approaches because collecting the necessary data takes too long, is too expensive, or both. But even without the extensive research to back up the results, building scenarios is a worthwhile exercise. The discipline of using a structured process to think through a broader set of influencing factors is better than leaving the detailed requirements to chance.
The stripped home page is a technique borrowed from traditional marketing. In the traditional context it refers to stripping the marketing message down to its essentials then dressing it up for the various media situations in which it occurs.
Do not rely on the design group to extract the business objectives and requirements from you.
Develop it first, and give it to them as part of the request for a proposal.
1) You will get more accurate project cost estimates
2) If it is a competitive request you will have more accurate comparisons
3) Most importantly, you will get a Web site that provides the explicit business results you need and want.
1) Communicating business requirements to design teams is critical for achieving business results from your Web site.
2) The process starts with Web site functions by defining clear business objectives that are aligned with the business strategic goals.
3) Key visitor scenarios provide the requirements for the Web site and can be used to drive both heuristic and usability testing during the design and implementation phases.
4) A stripped home page and key broker pages identify the navigation and orientation information that is key to the business objectives and scenarios and provide the essential structure and parameters that need to be supported by the aesthetic design.
5) Do not shift responsibility for extracting the business objectives and requirements from you to the design firm; most do not do it well; it is not their responsibility; it removes the essentials too far from the business owners, and it deprives you of a key management tool (see PracticeByte, “Common Mistakes: Functional Specification for Web Development”, Nicolas Bürki”)
If you would like help implementing these processes in your organization, the Web Site Business Alignment Workshop offered by provides the structure and training for the processes outlined above. During the workshop, the participating stakeholders create actual deliverables that can be used to communicate the key Web site business requirements to Web site designers.