Starting with the Foundation

Starting with the Foundation
Chad Heinle profile picture

By Chad Heinle, VP Consulting Services

Categories: Learn

There are a lot of analogies out there that can be fit to the world of web, but I thought I’d take a stab at one I could speak to that emphasizes building a smart and strong foundation to build on top of.
On top of this wonderful world of web, I enjoy building things. This summer’s plans include a shed, so let’s see if we can’t make this analogy take wings.

Requirements

You need to know what you’re going to build before you build it. Sure, you know you need a building, but what is its function? A shed built for storage is going to be different than a shed built for gardening or one used as a workshop. Like sheds, websites serve all sorts of different purposes; banking, video streaming, collaboration, and blogging - all have their own unique set of requirements.

Strategy & Governance

With purpose in mind, if you start building unrelated functionality into a building, it starts to become unusable. If I built a doorway to fit my lawn mower through, but then started adding decorative lattice which ended up covering it, suddenly the mower doesn’t fit through the door. By visiting this website, you probably don’t expect to order movie tickets or get the latest weather updates because that would distract from the website’s purpose and function. Websites should strive to stay on focus and cater to their audience.  Distractions lead to frustrated users and a bad user experience.

Information Architecture

You know your building will need a certain amount of floor space and shelving, and a certain number of doors. You probably intend to group your belongings so they are easy to find: gardening supplies in one area, lawn care in another. Defining the purpose and organizing your building to fit your needs will flush out what sort of functionality the shed needs to include. If it’s not obvious already, this is a direct comparison to content. Organizing your content and making it easy to find is paramount to making your website the trusted authority for visitors to continue coming back.  In website parlance, that is your Information Architecture.

Wireframe

Plans for a building come in all sorts of shapes and sizes from pure architectural diagrams, 3D models to a sketch on paper. You’re not quite ready to pick out your paint colors, instead, you still need to count the number of 2x4s you’ll need to complete your project. Wireframes create a website’s framework that the information architecture will fit into.  Wireframes help you large and complex the structure is and how much effort will go in to constructing it.

Usability Testing

The plans are made, the inventory taken, now it’s time for a dry run.  My analogy gets a little difficult here.  At this point, you will be putting time and thought into identifying whether all of the belongings you want to store in your shed will actually fit into it. Usability testing is a process that helps you make sure what you thought belongs within your website will actually fit into the space provided, or if there needs to be some adjustments done to the framing.

Design

Design is more than the way hour shed looks, it has more purpose than people may realize. If you need more wall space for shelves, you’re not going to want a lot of windows and doors. If you need a lot of overhead storage, the roof needs to have a higher pitch. Just as in a building, website design complements the content of a website, enhancing and guiding users’ eyes around the page without distracting from the function built into the page.

Development

I know what you’re thinking, this one is obvious, and you’re right.  Let’s wrap up.

Starting from the ground up

You can skip all of the steps and go straight to building.  How will you know for sure if what you’ve built will fit your needs? Laying the groundwork for understanding what you need, what you have, and how you’ll get there is as important in building a shed as building a website. This analogy fits my interests, but there are plenty of others to be made I am sure. Purpose, function, and ease of use are the cornerstones of so much in our lives from simple shed, a house’s interior design, or the civil engineering behind a city. If you’re planning on having users visit your website, why should your website be treated with any less thought?