Tips for Enhancing Your Web Project Plans with the Elements of Design
Client/Server Managers Are Key Team Members
by Sally Atkins, UniNews Online's Client/Server Correspondent
The web is a very visual medium. When conducting a web project, whether for the Intranet or Internet, you should include an emphasis on user experience, site navigation and flow, and graphic design. How can you best extend your current client/server project methods to embrace the artists whose project methods and terminology are more akin to the advertising industry than the information technology professions?
First, translate and clarify development stages for the whole team, programmers and artists alike. A web project usually involves the following tasks: identifying business requirements (account development in ad speak), performing systems analysis to scope and price out the project (concept development and planning in ad speak), creative concept development, presentation of a creative design proposal, designing the user experience, programming and prototyping (design, spec, prototype in IT speak), gathering of all content and digital assets (pre-production in ad speak), production (programming in IT speak), testing, and launch and public relations. In addition, account management, operations, maintenance plans and all relevant sign-offs by the business owners of the site must be included in web project plans.
Secondly, be sure you have a balanced plan. All too often, a project manager is from either advertising, marketing or IT and neglects the phases of the web development cycle crucial to the artists or the programmers.
Whether publishing content, creating an interactive system with a database back-end, or building a full fledged transactional system -- you will need to address the concept and design more wholeheartedly in a web project than you ever did for a client/server deployment within corporate firewalls.
Third, be sure that your project has the appropriate sponsorship and project plan with time and budget for each step. Be sure that relevant roles are filled to carry out the goals you've identified. It pays to keep everyone on your virtual team, as well as customers, informed about which phase you are in, and moving ahead with you through the life cycle to prevent too much circling back to requirements and design.
It pays to keep everyone on your virtual team, as well as customers, informed about which phase you are in, and moving ahead with you through the life cycle to prevent too much circling back to requirements and design.
Web Design Overview
Good web design balances form and function. One method for achieving this balance, developed by Vivid Studios in San Francisco (www.vivid.com), is to think about the six components described below:
- Content design: selection of content, and mapping within a functional flowchart for context
- Visual design: the "look" and visual elements
- Information design: the art of placement of quantitative information
- Interaction design: moving parts, applets, and responses to user input
- Compatibility design: consideration for various browsers and platforms
- Performance design: speed and responsiveness of the application
The first three elements of design are generally the domain of the designer. Interaction design takes a designer and programmer to develop. Compatibility and performance design are the realm of the systems developer.
The Content Tree
The Content Tree is a functional flowchart, or hierarchical map outlining the content design, or context of the entire Intranet or Internet site. Your site will fit within, or extend, this logical publishing architecture, or content tree.
User Experience and "Flow"
Hyperlink-based navigation within the site or application is a key part of designing a web site. Deciding on the flow is a major step in designing a web application. This activity is known as "creating the user experience". You should strive for "flow", or the uninterrupted train of thought which is achieved when the application navigation doesn't get in the way of the content, functionality, and overall purpose of the site. The website or application flow is depicted in a Site Map.
The Site Map
Content trees are the starting point for site maps. Site maps are the finished picture posted on the site to guide the first time user. Site map web pages are used much the same as a table of contents page in a book, to get a feel for the scope of the service. The Site Map is the real-time guide to your site and should be published on-line to help users navigate as they use your service. A site map is analogous to a subway map. You are shown the logical paths so that you can put together your route. You are not shown what you will find at each stop. (The content tree, especially in its lower layers, depicts what you will find in a given location.) Your on-line application should have a site map including pointers to any relevant departmental or enterprise sites.
These tips will help you begin to embrace web designers within a development team. Don't forget, the intersection of Art and Commerce is the very essence of good Web sites and on-line services. Striking the balance between the look-and-feel and functionality is key to a successful project.
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