Shouldn’t my designers be doing this?

two pencils on a yellow paper background

The website planning process outlined in my book can appear that it’s an all or nothing approach to planning. 

I indeed think the owners of the web property need to be heavily invested in the planning process and take the lead on a large portion of it. 

That view comes from many years of watching site owners hand over all responsibility to other agencies and us. I firmly believe it to be true that no one else can make the most important decisions about the way the site should work.

That doesn’t mean though that the site owners and key stakeholders have to necessarily be experts in each individual skill that makes up the planning, design and development process.

Asked on twitter: 

I can understand why those on the client side might feel challenged, lacking expertise and know-how on specialised tasks. Some of these tasks are used daily by those of us in the web industry. While we might think they are simple, many feel them outside their capabilities.

So how to resolve the paradox; be more involved in the entire process yet don’t do all the steps?

Firstly the core of the website planning process is not about who does the task but rather ensuring the job gets done. 

In my agency, we often deal with new prospective clients who have neither the time, skill or inclination to do the scoping process themselves.

When they agree that it needs doing and the value in doing it, we undertake to run the full scoping process. We become the team who run the process and are responsible for delivering the outcome, a complete scoping document. 

In this circumstance;

  • we will prepare the templates, conduct the workshops and present the written documentation back for review, feedback and alterations by the client. 
  • We sill step through the process of ensuring we have created a goal-driven objective, before working through site mapping and functional specifications.
  • We work through each likely page on the site with them, discussing the possible functionality and drawing out from the client what it is they expect from that part of the website.

This is the real reason behind the entire process, to get to the actual expectations and requirements ahead of any development.

We take on board all pre-existing content, in all its forms, and use it as part of the process, not the mechanism to define the project. Existing sites, content and other materials were made with different objectives in mind and can cause unintended influence.

At the stage of writing the functional specifications page by page, I find that very simplistic wireframing compliments this. Yes, I am very familiar with wireframing, so I find that easier to do. 

If we are working on the scoping for the client, then we would create wireframes in conjunction with the functionality of that page and present them for discussion. 

That works well, but not everyone can afford to engage the full process like that. 

wireframe of a website page layout drawn on a notepad

So can you, or should you, put it off and get someone else to do it? 

I see no reason why not, and many design companies will want to handle the wireframing process. 

If someone else is doing that piece of work, they need to be briefed fully. In my response to Alex, I mentioned that not all design people are necessarily using high-level UX expertise when wireframing. They may merely be doing initial structural documents.

That means they aren’t necessarily bringing anything extra to the process. That isn’t true of all designers much as it is true many clients are more than capable of creating initial wireframes for their projects.

You do not need to be creating the finished product. The process is to inform everyone of your intention. 

When you go to hire a design and development team, the scope should be agnostic to the solution. It shouldn’t be designed in a particular way because the agency prefers that style or the CMS they use delivers it that way.

You should welcome their input in each area of the scope. Whether they have an idea for functionality, you would never have thought of or a suggested improvement in the layout that is the reason you use experts to help you.

The critical issue is that in many projects, so little of the intention of the owners of the project get onto paper. The agency then does the grunt work, and they often can’t bring all their best creativity to bear because they are merely doing the weed work. 

Or they are trying to deliver something more significant than budgeted because of misunderstandings.

You can use all sorts of people at each stage. Copywriters, UX experts, graphic designers, programmers and users all have valuable input as do others.

It isn’t about who does the task; it’s all about who owns the process and making sure they have a plan.

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