Development Research

The second stage of the design process is known as the Discovery stage. During this stage, no matter what type of project you are working on or the extent of your knowledge on the topic, you will need to conduct some amount of research.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to spend days in the library searching archives and formulating long pages worth of findings. In simple terms the word research means to investigate systematically (in a consistent manner).

Types of research

Usually for a web project there are different types of research you need to conduct to ensure that you are meeting the needs of you client.

  • Research on the topic (the product/service or message of the client)
  • Research on the competition (what are others doing? )
  • Research on the target market (who are they and what do they expect?)
  • Research on current development and design trends (what’s new in web design?)

Topic Research

Let’s start with the first bullet on our list above. If you are building a website for a landscaping company but live in an apartment and have never gardened in your life, you might want to research the topic a bit.

The extent of this research doesn’t have to be much, just something to give you a better idea of what a landscaper does and who their target audience may be.

Research can be online, however, sometimes even a simple magazine on the topic might help give you a better understanding and spark ideas.

Competitor Research

Exploring the competitors websites is extremely helpful as it can:

  • Identify what type of information is already online
  • Provide ideas for design and layout
  • Offer insight to how such a site can be improved upon

Many times you can ask your client who their main competitors are. In some cases your client might be the only type of this organization in the area or in a niche market. In the latter case, you might need to look at similar companies on a broader base.

Let’s go back our Better Bean Coffee example. Let’s say that Better Bean Coffee is the only coffee shop in Java Town, so they have no direct competitors for miles. However, places like Starbucks, although not directly near them, are still a competitor in the idea that they sell the same product or type of product.

Another example is our niche market. Let’s say your client sells a custom strap for guitars and their really the only ones that make this product. While they have no real competitor, their product is an accessory for guitars. Therefore you might take a look at both guitars and musical instrument retailer’s websites.

Target Market Research

While we really need to have a good idea of our target market during the definition stage of the design process, during the discovery stage we may discover a other market factors or even a secondary market.

Researching competitors websites, for customer reviews is a good place to get an idea of your potential clients.

Conducting a search on product, service or message of the site could also provide you with blogs, forums and committees on the topic. Reading a few of these posts can provide more insight on just who the target market might be.

Development and Design Research

Depending on your client a lot of the previous research might be provided to you. However, as a web design/developer you will always need to conduct development and design research.

A few years ago it was popular to have a Flash splash screen. Basically an animated feature before entering a website. However, today many web users access the web through their smart phones. Slow connections, and Apple iPhone’s lack of support for Flash makes this feature pretty much worthless.

To ensure you are meeting the needs of your client and not doing extra work for no reason, web developer/designers need to keep up-to-date with current standard and trends.

Contiguous research on new technology, web standards and languages is imperative.

Design trends are also something that seems to change with the season. In the early 2000’s there was a move to more white space on the website, while today we see a move to more large scale photographic background images.

These design trends way heavily on the capabilities of the technology.

When choosing to implement or omit an element to the design of a website you need to provide justification to your client.

Explain to your client why the image they found on Google images can not be used on their website.

Cite sources as to why large typeface is effective for their site.

Don’t base your design for a site solely on design trends or just because you or the client likes it. Consider if it meets the expectations of your client’s target market as well as their technology limitations.

Documenting your Findings

The research you conduct for your projects often don’t need to be formal in any way. Most of the time you will be taking a few bullet notes regarding each.

This research can be simply put in your project notebook or shared with your team and client by formally typed in the creative brief.

When defending your design ideas it is often a good idea to cite some of your research points to help justify your choices to your client.

Branding

Branding is the iconic imagery that is combined with a company’s marketing message that identifies a particular product or service.

Call to Action

A company’s marketing message or call-to-action (CTA), which is a prompt to the target market to do something. In some cases it maybe to buy the advertised product, call for more information or simply spread awareness.

Branding should center around the CTA. Before you can start identifying your brand you need to know what your is client’s main message or CTA is.

Consider the following:

  • What product or service do you sell?
  • What do you want your target market to do?

Once you have a clear idea of the overall message or CTA you need to consider the design and tone of how that message will appear in the branding.

The design and tone of the message weigh heavily on client, the message and how people feel about the topic.

If an organization CTA is to spread awareness about drunk driving, which is perceived (felt to be) a serious topic, it would be best to avoid association with cute images and whimsical text. If you were to use such elements it would lessen the impact of your message and your brand.

On the flip side if your selling toy plush bunnies, you might avoid use of dark colors and formal typeface, that is cold and uninviting.

Elements of a Brand

The branding of an organization/product usually based on how their CTA is presented. This presentation includes:

  • design – visual appearance
  • tone – the feelings or mood of the design (ie. fun or formal)
  • organization – the order of how the message is presented
  • recognizably – unique look and feel that is distinct from other branding
  • consistency – the same branding look and feel throughout different mediums (ie. print, web , etc.)

The companies logo is a great place to start when trying to get a feel for the company. A more formal logo might require a more professional brand message while an informal logo can lean towards a laid back tone. In some case the brand message your client requests doesn’t align with the look and feel of their logo. In this case it might be best to suggest updating or revising their logo.

When you finally do nail down the right design and tone, you want to make as recognizable as possible. This can be done by simplifying both the message and visuals that accompany it.

Lastly you want to keep the message consistent, throughout mediums, whether print, or web. The message should always be the same and portrayed in the same design and tone.

Although your branding should be consistent, this doesn’t mean it has to be exactly identical throughout mediums. While certain elements should always be present, it’s okay if some colors vary by medium or some copy is omitted because of space limitations. Keep in mind as long as the main brand is recognizable and the message is the same, it should be just as effective.

“EAT MOR CHIKIN” A Branding Message

To get an idea of an effective branding message, let’s take a look at Chick-fil-A.

As many US consumers of fast food know, Chick-Fil-A sells chicken sandwiches. There main CTA for their chain is for people to Eat More Chicken.

It’s a pretty simple message that gets to the point, and is easy for people to remember.

For Chick-Fil-A their current branding campaign started in 1995, when they decided to use the personification of cows writing signs that say “EAT MOR CHIKIN”.

The design and overall tone of this message was light hearted and fun. After all we know cows can’t really write signs and there is also humor in their spelling.

This simple message is also very recognizable. What other company uses specifically black and white cows standing up right to sell their product?

The message is organzied  by telling the audience what to do (eat chicken) followed by where (Chick-Fil-A).

The message is also consistent. From billboards to merchandising either the cows or the “EAT MOR CHIKIN” phrase can be found. On Chick-Fil-A’s website there is even a full set of links just about the cows.

Target Market

Although it is nice to believe that once a site is on the World Wide Web that all web users will be visiting the site, this is simply not the case.

Who is your Target Market?

The target market  is the group of individuals who are most likely to be the  customers or patrons of an organization.

To define a target market one should consider the following:

  • Geographics – relates to the audience’s geographical location.
  • Demographics – the audience’s statistical information such as gender, age, income level, marital status, and ethnicity.
  • Psychographics – lists of people’s values, attitudes, cultures and lifestyles.
  • Generation – considered part of both demographics and psychographics and refers to a group of individuals, approximate the same age, having similar ideas, problems, attitudes, experiences etc.

Let’s consider each one of these areas regarding our example for the Better Bean Coffee website.

Better Bean is a small local coffee shop in Java Town, USA. They are located near the local university and offer a wide range of speciality drinks, a relaxing and study friendly environment with free wifi.

Now that we know a little bit about the organization let’s take a look at the target market for Better Bean Coffee.

Geographics: Java Town and perhaps areas within a 20 mile radius of that location.

Demographics: Since Better Bean is located near a University and they describe themselves by saying they have a “relaxing and study friendly environment with free wifi” we can assume that their main audience are college students ages 18-24. These individuals will most likely be a mix of male and female, usually singles but perhaps a few couples and married people. University students usually come from a wide range of ethnicity’s and cultures, have a slightly higher income level (after all they have to afford college), and a higher education level than an average consumer.

Psychographics These individuals value a good cup of coffee and wouldn’t mind paying a $5 or $6 bucks for it. Their lifestyle revolves around friends and campus activities, and enjoy the coffee culture.

Generation Current college students fall under the Generation Z these individuals were born in the 90’s & 2000’s and technology such as the Internet, smart phones and wifi have been apart of their daily lives from the very beginning. These individuals are tech savvy and consider a place without access to these technologies part of the “stone age”.

Do the research

Sometimes who you think your target market is may not be who they really are.

For example you might be a store that specializes in retro style t-shirts for teens. While your target market are teenagers, it turns out that the majority of your customers are the mothers of the teens, not the teens themselves. Because of this you will need to adjust the website to meet the needs of the latter target market.

Once you have an idea about your target market you should conduct further research. You might ask current customers to take a survey to better identify who they are.

Designing for your Target Market

The layout and design of a site can very greatly depending on the target market.

An older audience generation for example, what a clear navigation system with few choices and will often roam the site until they can find exactly what they are looking for. In contrast a younger audience generation like to have many choices, and tend to leave a site if they can not find the information they are looking for within the first 5-10 seconds of accessing the site.

When drafting the layout and design of a site you need to consider the following:

  • What information does your audience need to know?
  • What does your audience want from your site?
  • What does your audience expect from your site?

In the example of Better Bean Coffee, we can answer those question like this:

  • The audience needs to know where the store is located, it’s  hours of operation, menu choices and possible prices
  • The wants of the audience could vary but based on the audience information, let’s assume a tech savvy audience would like to see images of the menu items, the ability to rate items and share that information via social media.
  • Again expectations could vary but most likely this audience expects the site to be easily accessible, especially on mobile devices.

Universal Design

When designing a site to meet the needs, wants and expectations of your target market also consider universal design.

Universal Design refers to the design of products and environments that are usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design. (http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/about_ud.htm)

There are seven principles to universal design, which include:

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size & Space for Approach and Use

For more information on the seven principles of universal design visit: http://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/udprinciplestext.htm

Accessibility

Another consideration of your target market are any special needs (eg. hearing or visually impaired) regarding accessibility.

The W3C has made accessibility a major part of designing for the web. The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), cited on their website, their mission is to lead the web to it’s full potential to be accessible, enabling people with disabilities to participate equally on the Web.

In order for a site to be considered accessible it must meet the required validation standards that the W3C have put in place. A webpage can be checked for accessibility via the W3C online validator.

Besides properly being properly built for accessibility, websites also need to consider the design.

Certain typography choices could make content difficult to read.

Color is also a big concern. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s male population suffers from some form of color blindness. When choosing colors for your site design you need to consider if the colors will be visible or if their is enough contrast for content to be read. In some cases the color of your font and background might blend together for certain members of your audience, which makes it impossible to decipher the site.

One way to test your site for accessible color usage is by using the Colorblind Filter (http://colorfilter.wickline.org/).

Global Issues

One last consideration in designing for your target market are global concerns. Though your target market might be locals, the very nature of having a website on the World Wide Web makes it accessible on a global scale.

While you might not ever have customers coming from around the world, you still want to make your site global friendly, since you never know who might one day come to visit your little point on the map.

In our example of Better Bean Coffee they focus on a local audience geographically. However, since many of their customers are college students there are likely quite a few international students who make up that population.

When designing for global/cross culture audience you need to consider the following issues:

  • Language – not all people are native english speakers, therefore it is important to write in short easy to understand terms.
  • Symbols & Icons – symbols & icons allow for a message to be communicated quickly as long as the symbol or icon is familiar to the audience
  • Color – color is crucial to any design, because it has natural association, cultural meaning and psychological symbolism.
  • Stereotypes – avoid the use of stereotypes in images and copy. While many Americans might find it cute to use an image of a South American man wearing a poncho and riding a donkey in a coffee ad, this might offend your South American (or decants of) customers.

Planning a Web Project

All successful websites start with a good planning. Planning out all the details of a project ensure that the client is getting exactly what they require to meet their needs.

In order to plan out a web development project, whether it be a small or large scale project, it all starts with the Definition stage of the Design Process.

The master plan for the project begins with a project proposal or creative brief. This document helps everyone involved with the project a clear guide as to what will be created and the goal/outcome of the project.

Working with a team. Many web development projects (especially large scale ones) are built by a team of designers. Each team member may have a specific role, the graphic artist may be in charge of layout and design, while the web programer is the main coder for the site. Often times there could also be a copywriter / content developer, and media specialist.

Defining the Site’s Purpose

The first and probably the most crucial part of the planning stage is to define the purpose of the site.

The question being asked here is “Why is this site being built?”

In order to answer this question one might have to consider what is the goal that the site is trying to meet.

Website Goals

The overall purpose of this site is typically broad while the goal is a measurable outcome. The foundation of your planning should start two or three short goals for the site.

The following is an example for an imaginary site:

Purpose:
Better Bean Coffee would like a website to increase sales and customer loyalty.
Goal:
Increase in-store sales by 35%
Increase new customers by 10%
Increase return customers by 15%

The Timeline When coming up with the goals for the site it is important to consider the timeline for them to be achieved. It is often impractical to say for example that sales should increase by 50% within one-week of the site launch. Unless you are really lucky that kind of return on the site will not happen. Instead consider lengthening your goal timeline to 2-3 months. Also note that unless you are actively marketing your site, no one will know that it’s online.

Website Objectives

The objectives refer to the methods used to achieve these goals. Considering the goals from the Better Bean Coffee example above several different objectives could be set.

Objectives:
Provide images and detailed information about in-store products and services
Provide positive testimonials/reviews from current customers about the products
Offer online members club for returning customers that includes a discount on various products or purchases