The website diaries: part 1

Dear diary,

It’s happening. We’re doing it. 2019 is the year we embark on a mark-making* website overhaul. We’ve got a cracking internal team together and the early phase is already in motion.

Like every internal project, it’s a multi-layered undertaking:

There’s the end in itself: a new website. It’ll showcase our best work to new and current clients, and give us a place to keep sharing our thoughts with our subscribers and readers.

There’s also an opportunity to put ourselves firmly in our clients’ shoes. We’ve seen lots of great brands through web projects in the last few years; we know it can be an intense period for everyone involved. We’re looking forward to taking a fresh perspective on this internal project and gaining insights we can apply in other contexts in future.

And then, there’s the opportunity to show you what goes on behind the scenes. We’ll be documenting each stage of the process and sharing it with you periodically via our newsletter, mm*e, and this blog.

If you haven’t been through this process before, we hope you’ll find this a revealing insight into how web projects work at mark-making*. If you have, we hope it’ll help you reflect with pride on your own website project – large or small, they’re all serious achievements.

So, without further ado, we give you:

Part 1

  • Leadership team: scoping
  • Chloe: user needs workshop
  • David and Tom: digital design inspiration
  • Shannon: analytics deep dive
  • Nic: brand expression

We’ve started with a whole lot of discovery.

We asked questions. Why does the site need to change, or even exist at all? Why now? What’s its purpose? Who will use it? Who do we want to use it? How will we know if it’s successful or not? Who do we need to involve from the team, and at which stages?

The tool we use to think about top-level questions like these is our scoping questionnaire, which key team members got together to complete. They then sense checked answers to more specialist or technical questions with other team experts.

The answers to some of those questions have real implications for how the site and its content are structured. To unpack and explore them fully, Chloe, our copywriter, put on her content strategy hat and got the project team together in the library and facilitated a user journey workshop.

We gathered a group from across the business to take part. The purpose of this conversational, post-it-filled session is to identify the places where what the business is hoping to achieve overlaps with what the users are trying to do. These overlaps form the basis of our most important content, and help us to create an information hierarchy that best serves the site’s purpose.

We looked at five key scoping questions:

What are the business goals of the site?
What does it need to do for us, our business, our brand?

What does success look like, functionally speaking?
Do we want forms filled in, downloads, traffic to a specific area, to shepherd people along a particular flow of pages towards an action?

Who are the users?
Who will use the site? Of those users, which groups are our primary focus as a business? (It’s a very rare brand that’s genuinely targeting everyone – it’s just as important to know which users that don’t serve your business as it is to make life easy for the users you do).

What are they trying to do?
This is where the post-its come in. For each user we’ve written down, every person in the room writes as many tasks (sometimes referred to as stories) as they can think of on a post-it. We use this template:

As a…
I need…
So I can…

It’s a method that’s up for some discussion, but it’s a useful way to open up the conversation around content, avoid dead ends and ultimately construct a sitemap that’s as user-centric as possible.

Bonus round: what are our internet loves/hates?
This bit isn’t strictly about our users or our business goals. It’s about airing our own loves, hates and internet prejudices. We found out, for example, that Chloe can’t stand a sticky nav in a mobile browser, Josh is waging a career-long war on over-engineered agency team pages, and Steve just enjoys a really good mobile experience.

We built this stage into the workshop for a few reasons. One: because it’s a nice low-stakes way to wind down a high-energy workshop. Two: because no-one is immune to their own subjective whims about what’s good and what’s not in web design. Airing all that out at the beginning, right on the heels of a very user-focused session, helps everyone involved to get into a user-focused mindset. Sure, some of the things we love might be great for users and some of the things we hate might not suit their purposes anyway. But it could be the other way round, and this exercise helps to remind us of that.

Outside of the workshops, Shannon has done some serious digging into the analytics to understand how the site has been performing, where people linger (and where they don’t), and how we can best structure the site to help people find what they’re looking for.

Tom and David have been gathering research and inspiration on web design and digital trends. There’s a nice chunky spreadsheet – still growing – full of things we’ve found that we’re loving (and some notes on things we’re not).

And last but not least, Nic is busy figuring out how to bring it all together as a compelling expression of the mark-making* brand and proposition online. No biggie.

What’s next?

Part 1 culminates in a presentation where we’ll all play back our findings and conclusions, including early thoughts on:

  • site structure and navigation
  • brand expression and user experience
  • performance benchmarks.

We’ll write again soon to tell you all about it. Watch this space.

Written by Chloe Marshall

About markmaking*

mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications