Are you a brand/retailer and ever wonder why the design process for your new (or existing) site starts out new and exciting, but then quickly becomes a frustrating endeavor?
Are you a creative agency who has difficulty gaining full approval when undertaking a website design project? Do you become caught in a vicious cycle of continuously making design changes based on the feedback of the people in power?
There is a process/framework from which both agency and client need to follow. And if followed, the agency gains immediate approval and the client feels great about the design process and the new designs!
The purpose of this article is to provide the detail behind what this process/framework looks like to ensure both parties benefit from the business relationship.
This best practice framework has been developed from working with the world leaders in customer experience design and personally leading the design process hundreds of times for brands/retailers around the world.
If the planning, the process, the presentation, and the client feedback management is done right, the redesign (or the creation of a new design) should be immediately approved after the initial presentation, 99% of the time.
Setting the scene:
A brand/retailer has engaged with a vendor (design agency, creative agency, eCommerce agency) who will be conducting the redesign of your site and undertake the following steps….
- The agency has come in and asked you superficial questions such as what sites do you like/dis-like.
- The agency disappears for weeks and you hear nothing.
- The agency sets a date to come back to you to present the new designs and asks you to bring an audience.
- The projector (or big screen TV) is set up and in walks the agency.
- The “lead” creative begins by espousing the virtues of your brand and throws out buzzwords to build hype.
- The designs are then presented one-by-one and seeks feedback for each as they are being presented.
What’s wrong with this scenario? Why is this approach flawed and has never worked since the beginning?
There are two fundamental flaws with the above….
- The process of creating the designs is flawed
- The process of presenting the designs is flawed
What are the issues that lead to these flaws?
Showing designs to an audience and asking for immediate feedback leads to subjective opinions resulting in the people in power typically getting their way.
In the efforts to placate the client, the design vendor allows the client to have their way and influence decision making.
There is no rationale delivered to the following aspects of the design….
- The page layout (across all screen types)
- The functionality required
- The treatment of the functionality
- The page element and content hierarchy
There is no rationale because the appropriate planning of these designs has not been undertaken. The rationale commonly comes from what the agency has seen in other similar retailer business models around the world. This approach does not work.
Visual mock ups do not show "journeys", they show merely a single static step. No consumer conducts a single step in their information gathering and/or buying journey, so why are designs presented in this manner?
Agencies who state their designs have been tested by "real customers" means nothing.
“User testing” or “lab settings” to test the designs do not work because it’s impossible to replicate consumer buying intent and their information gathering journeys. No consumer will truly behave naturally when they know they are being monitored.
Lab settings show a false economy because test subjects are asked to complete a task. In the real world, when the experience is poor, consumers leave.
Usability testing is artificial. We do the best we can to simulate a scenario that is as close to what users would actually do with the software while we observe or record them.
However, no amount of realism in the tasks, data, software or environment can change the fact that the whole thing is contrived.
The true litmus test for all experience designs is once they are put live and properly monitored. With the right customer centric planning in place, this approach is not necessary.
Those agencies who conduct "workshops" at head office, are asking the wrong questions and speaking to the wrong people. The most valuable employees are those on the frontline, speaking to customers and solve their problems on a daily basis.
It is these people who contain the answers and has the information that should be influencing the experience design process.
Not the head office teams who are removed from the consumer needs and pain points.
If the above process is undertaken the agency exposes themselves to the cyclical “black hole” of….
- Client provides feedback that requires changes to the designs
- Agency makes changes according to the feedback
- Client sees the changes and changes his/her mind, and provides more feedback requiring more changes
This subjective-lead process continues on with the following results…
- The project incurs costs over-runs and delay
- The client becomes frustrated because the process drags on
So what does the right process look like?
What role should a design vendor take in this process?
How can a design vendor undertake a rigorous design process and gain approval with the first round of designs 99% of the time?
The RIGHT design process:
The first thing the brand OR the creative agency needs to do is to find and collaborate with a customer experience design specialist. This type of individual takes on the role of leading the creative team to ensure everything designed is...
- Supported by the client's business wide strategy
- All new design enhancements are backed by the right data sets
- Digital and eCommerce best practice is applied throughout
- The experience design aligns to the business architecture
This individual leads the process with the creative team and the client.
The process of customer experience design creation is a journey itself, and the client needs to be taken on that journey.
Below is a high level summary as to what the right steps look like with a brief explanation of each...
Step 1: Conduct rigorous research
To ensure the new designs achieve the purpose of better aligning to the business strategy, the planning process requires the following sources to inform decision making…
- Knowledge of the wider business strategy
- An appreciation of business architecture (what systems are talking to each other and feeding information to the online technology) – this influences experiences and functionality
- Rigorous research and data mining*
*Research and data mining does vary across all businesses, but the most common sources used are…
- Behavioural data mining
- Frontline employee interviews
- Consumer demand research
- Customer support trending data
- Online chat data
Step 2: Keep the client informed of research progress
Don't run and hide while conducting the research.
Provide regular updates and introduce little snippets of information to keep the client engaged in the process.
Step 3: Present the findings from the research
Once the research is completed, present the research findings and experience design recommendations before showing any new designs.
This is crucial.
In a carefully worded document that is written for the executive team, explaining the following….
- Where the client’s online conduct is currently
- Show what the online conduct needs to look like in order to match business expectation (this comes from the business strategy)
This becomes the business gap analysis in the context of the client's digital evolution.
Once the client approves of the document, it is time to create the visual mock ups to represent what the online channel needs to look like to make a large step towards closing the gap.
Why is this important?
- Showing the data and articulating gaps shows the client the process is strategic
- The document sets client expectation as to the size of change required
- This document manages the client's expectation as to what is required in the first phase of change which will be reflected in the new designs
- During the design presentation, if the client argues or challenges the designs, they are essentially challenging their own strategy
Step 4: Create the designs
This becomes a collaborative process between the customer experience design specialist and the creative team.
The customer experience design specialist knows:
- What functionality is required
- What journeys need to be designed
- What the content hierarchy needs to be for each new page design
- What best practice principles need to be applied throughout all page element treatments
- What specific consumer journeys require extra effort in design
- The logic and technical behaviours of the technology driving the new designs
The creative teams know:
- The brand DNA
- How to enhance brand DNA throughout the new journeys
- How all functionality elements need to visually behave once activated by consumers
- How to guide the consumer's eye across the page and how to apply emphasis to specific page regions
- An appreciation of the technical logic and how the functionality behaves across multiple scenarios
The above dynamic underlies the importance of collaboration.
Step 5: Presenting to client
Leading up to the formal presentation, set client expectation by calling out the ground rules for this session....
- The client's feedback is not required during the presentation
- The purpose is to present what has been created and explain why it has been done in this way
- The client can ask questions
- The client is to take time to review the mock ups after the presentation is done
- The experience design specialist is available to take on any new questions that arise during the client's review process (sometimes meetings are required which is fine)
- The client documents their feedback to ensure nothing is lost in translation
The client should also be warned of the dangers of circulating the designs to too many members of the organisation. Employees seeing the designs out of context, stimulating subjective opinions.
When presenting the designs, the customer experience design needs to incorporate the following information in the presentation narrative:
- Discuss how the data influenced each page treatment
- Show the journeys not the single steps – give clients a sense of the flow of steps consumers will be taking on the new designs
- If not visually represented, talk specifically on how dynamic page elements would behave
- Show the client where best practice is infused so they understand science has been embedded into designs
- Call out each time the business strategy is being directly supported
- Refer back to the document that called out the gaps and show how the designs are a successful first leap in the right direction
Step 6: Managing Client Feedback:
If the client comes back with feedback requiring changes, the following process is then undertaken…
- The customer experience design specialist handles all feedback
- If the feedback is in contradiction to the research, the client is asked where the feedback has come from – it’s important to call out subjective influencers
- Re iterate the data sources and/or business strategy that challenges their feedback
- Explain the negative ripple effects if the suggested changes are made
Ultimately, the client makes the final call, but it’s crucial they go into their decision-making with eyes wide open.
Feedback leading to design changes are rare if the above process is followed to a high standard.
The purpose of the design process is to identify existing “experience issues”, ensure they are not copied over into the new designs, and construct new experiences that are meaningful to the target consumer.
The process is not to placate the power influencers in the business.
The above process may appear to be adding extra time and cost to a project, but when considering 99% of designs are approved when undertaking the above approach, this process has the following ripple effects…
- Shortens the project timeline
- Immediately calls out the content requirements of the client and the resource needed
- Calls out the business architecture gaps
- Engages the executive team, who becomes increasingly supportive of the change
- Ensures success of the project
It's win-win for everyone including the target consumer.