The Website Design Process Can Make Your Business Better
No matter the size or type of organization, or how simple or complex the endeavour, when designing a website, the big decisions always come down to answering questions about brand.
One of the most fascinating things about the process for designing websites is how it lays bare an organization’s internal workings and politics, its relationships to stakeholders, and of course, its hopes and plans for the future. The process of designing a website has the potential to make organizations rethink and transform the way they do business.
One of the pillars of user experience design and an essential part of brand building is information architecture (IA). IA is essentially about conveying meaning, and maintaining it, across contexts. The information you choose to share with the world and how that information is organized, structured, and designed is both the underpinning and expression of meaning. It’s the expression of your business.
For example, GE is a maker of household appliances and industrial products such as jet engines, wind turbines and equipment for the oil and gas sector. The content of GE’s website, and how it’s architected, illustrates how GE is structured in addition to communicating its business goals now and for the future.
GE homepage content categories such as Txchnologist (not a typo), Software for the Industrial Internet, and Ecomagination, are obviously meant to portray GE as being a leader in technology and innovation.
The main business units such as capital, aviation, and healthcare are completely separate sites that open in new tabs and have unique URLs. You can see that these businesses are highly specialized and likely have vastly different audiences from each other. You can also guess that they are run as separate entities. This makes sense, as surely the aviation division is vastly different than the consumer appliances business. That said, these businesses all are borne from the leading ‘technology and innovation’ concept, and the IA supports that.
Putting the pieces together
One of the first steps of a website redesign is to deconstruct the previous one. The content parts are broken down and analyzed in order to understand the whole. How are the parts interconnected, and why? What were the business reasons for content being what, and where, it is? Digging a little deeper, questions about workflow, organizational structures and employee responsibilities are asked.
Rethinking the site means jettisoning the no-longer-relevant content, cleaning up the content that stays, creating new material, and reorganizing it all. It could also mean new roles and responsibilities for current employees, hiring additional people, and creating a whole new internal process for content creation and maintenance.
Nothing is as simple as it seems
Even the seemingly simple task of designing a website’s Contact page can be more complex than it looks on the surface. Questions arise, such as: whose phone numbers should be provided? Should links to social media profiles be included? Should email addresses be kept hidden? Who should be contactable directly? Does the page need a form to direct inquiries to different departments?
To address these questions an organization could decide, say, to use a toll free number and a single point of contact, procure new phone systems and set up a call centre, or decide to engage customers primarily through social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn. In this case, the IA exercise is the catalyst for business change, not merely a record a of how things are currently done.
The design process itself can help bring to light ways that businesses can change how they operate for the better. It can get to the heart of how you interact with your stakeholders, and how your stakeholders see and interact with you. It’s part of the user experience, and by extension, the expression of your brand.