Designing For Intention
Early on in a website development project, I often encourage my clients to spend some time identifying or clarifying their intentions for the project. It's important to know why you are building the website and what goals you want to accomplish, both for your organization, as well as for your users. It’s great to be as specific as possible about this. Who is it that you want to visit your website and what do you want them to do while they’re there? Do you want to attract customers? Funders? Volunteers? Other organizations working in your field? And will they visit the website to find out information about your organization? Purchase a product? Make a donation? Or sign up to be a volunteer?
And what will the users themselves want from the site? People usually visit websites for particular reasons, like getting information, purchasing a product or signing up for a mailing list. It’s good to find out as much as you can early on in the process about what your visitors will be looking for.
A good tool for checking the alignment of your intentions for the website with the goals of your users is to perform a user test. Simply stated, a user test puts the actual people who will be using the website in front of its proposed design and asks them directed questions for their feedback. For example, what do they expect to find on the website? And how would they perform a certain key task on it? User testing is a strategy that is often overlooked, but it is among the best at clarifying intention.
Another helpful strategy can be to have a look around at existing websites to see how other groups are putting their goals into action. This is also a good way to identify design features and other elements that you like and might want to use in your project. One cautionary note though - it can be easy to be sold by pretty graphics or a fancy template that, while eye-catching and seemingly ideal on another site, might not have been built with your specific website goals in mind.
Once you’ve clarified your goals, the next step is figuring out the best strategies to achieve them. One tip – it’s good to be really clear with your users about what it is that you want them to do. For example, if you want people to make a donation, having a “Donate Now” button clearly evident on the website’s homepage is a more effective call to action then having the button hiding on an internal webpage (though you’ll probably want to put it there too!)
The overall success of your website should really be measured by how well it does at achieving the goals that you've laid out. Clarifying these goals up front is always time well spent and building a site based on them can really pay off in the long run.