Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Skin Doesn't Fit

Want to know something ridiculous? I have a folder in dropbox called "website redesign." It contains 27 different designs, all created in the last two months. On my external hard drive I have roughly 30 folders just like it, all containing different takes on what my website could have looked like over the past 3 years - and not a single one has made it past development. My current site doesn't bring me any happiness, and the blog is only slightly better. Its like my skin doesn't fit...but if I peel it off before I'm ready I'll just be standing here...without skin.

I make the WORST client for myself! The root of my problem is not knowing what I want to say - is my website just a portfolio, or is it a business page? Who is my audience? Who do I want my audience to be? Do I want to show everything I do, or only what I enjoy? Is my site supposed to bring in work, or is it just available for when I need it? Since my freelance work is more or less a "side thing," I'm ill equipped to answer most of these questions. I'd have serious issues if I were trying to make a living off of it, but for now I continue to flounder around in the undefined space knowing I'm not required to sink or swim. Someday I'll have to figure out how to feed myself my own medicine!

On that note, I want to lay out some of the groundwork I do when starting with a new client, especially those who have the same problem with ill-fitting skin. Most people who hire me ARE required to sink or swim, and creating a website and marketing plan that will propel their business forward is really important.

Facing Reality

  1. Do you know what is at the CORE of your business? If you have one, return to your vision statement. If you don't have one, now is the time to make one! 
  2. Does your website suit you or suit your client? Realistically, which is more important? (hint: the answer should be obvious).
  3. Do you know your audience? Make a basic profile of some of the most common clients you deal with (age, gender, services required).
  4. Going back to your vision statement, determine what the most important things you want to communicate are. Then list them according to priority. 
  5. Going back to your audience, put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they come for. List them according to priority. It might be helpful to enlist some help on this, or get a few people to walk through this individually. 
  6. Now the hard part - put your list of priorities up against your audience's list of priorities, and take stock. Are they in line? Are they completely different? Keeping in mind that your audience's needs come first, but that the core of your business must be communicated, combine the lists and try to narrow them down. 

Finding The Fit

  1. Once you've figured out who you are and who your audience is, you've got to do some trimming. Keep in mind that you should only have one main message. Imagine trying to direct wedding guests to the reception venue, but giving them a map with all your favourite restaurants, shopping malls, and friends houses on it as well. They'll be frustrated and confused - why do they need all that extra information? Some might even end up at your favourite restaurant instead of your wedding reception. Even worse, imagine giving them that map but not telling them which location is the site of the reception. Chances of them ending up where you want them are slim to none! 
  2. Differentiate between the purpose of your website (get people to buy our pillows!) and the messages you send to your audience (our pillows are on sale, they are beautiful, we are trendy so if you buy our pillows you will be too). The messages should support the purpose, and can be sent using words, graphics, and usability. 
  3. Keep in mind that your audience has a very short attention span. If anything distracts them, frustrates them, or confuses them, you'll probably lose them. Make choices that reenforce who you are and what you do. 
Once you've answered these questions, we can design a site that communicates your messages in the right priority. This is done with the right mix of location, size, proximity, colour choices, graphics, etc. The end result should be logical and straightforward! Designing a website should be more than just putting a nice skin on confusing content - it needs to be a collaborative effort between designer and client to make sure you're putting your best foot forward!

PS. I DO have a re-design approaching... I think I'm actually getting somewhere and I hope to move forward with it soon! 

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