I can’t tell you how often I meet with a new client or potential new client, and among the first words are “I want…” or “my boss wants…” I understand this need to keep the boss happy, but I still take a little time and suggest that the project’s overall success is what will make the boss the most happy.

No, favorite colors don’t come into play. No, there is never a right time to use Apple Chancery as your primary font. And no, that last sentence is not a joke. Yes, you want the boss to like the end result. And yes, you want something that will set you apart from your competitors (which is why the boss will love it!). But that’s not where great design starts.

How can I put this politely? It’s not about you!

Your project should be designed with one thing in mind: Your customer. It should be dynamic, appropriately cutting-edge, and award-worthy. To your customer.

Let me narrow this down. Let’s say the Triple Strength team is meeting with a prospective client about redesigning the company website. In the interest of great design, that first meeting will not touch on design at all. Menu options, logo placement and the appropriate shade of orange are not relevant at this point, because at this point in the design process, our concern is simply this: How can we make it easier for your customers to do business with you?

The overriding goal of excellent website design is creating a functional and engaging user experience. And that doesn’t start with the paint – that starts with the nuts and bolts. (Remember! Beauty is only skin deep, but great design goes all the way to the code.)

So when we take on a new website project, we start with a branching tree – a basic flow chart of site functionality. Our goal is to sketch out what the client wants customers to see and do on the website. Once we know our client’s expectations for their customers, we can set about enhancing that experience for them, all while creating a positive feeling toward our client’s service and brand.

With absolutely no discussion of shades of pink, logo placement or the boss’s favorite fonts.

And no, we aren’t eschewing great design – we are insisting on great design!

Understanding site functionality is so important to great design that we won’t write an estimate for a website without first having a branching tree. (How can we offer an honest estimate on a website if we don’t know how it’s supposed to work?)

Pretend you’re building a house instead of a website. Do you start with a pile of lumber in an open field, or do you start with a blueprint? Yes, blueprint. Color swatches and carpet samples come much, much later.

When we sit down with a client and together start sketching out a branching tree, we are literally creating a first draft blueprint for that new website.

Jeff Peyton

Author Jeff Peyton

Jeff Peyton is Director of Marketing & Communications for Triple Strength. A 30-year veteran of publishing and corporate communications, Jeff gained national prominence directing one of the largest grassroots communications efforts ever fielded. He was the architect of the nation’s first major nonprofit website, attracting millions of visitors per month in the early 1990s – years before social media, twitter, or even broadband access. Jeff spent nearly 10 years working with nonprofits, developing their communications and Web strategies. But don’t be fooled by his professional accomplishments – he also wing-walked on an airplane at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp, swam with sharks, and still managed to obtain paperwork officially declaring him “legally sane.” (No, really.)

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