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Choosing the Right Design Partner

  |  June 21, 2000   |  Comments

As you move into your fourth-, fifth-, and even sixth- generation web-site redos, it's even more crucial that you produce a spectacular web product for your visitors. As the vertical markets get cluttered with too many "me-too" sites, what separates the boys from the men is undoubtedly a superior web product. Don't make the mistake of hiring the wrong partner, one who doesn't have the "next- generation" skill set to create a category leader for your company.

As you move into your fourth-, fifth-, and even sixth-generation web-site redos, it's even more crucial that you produce a spectacular web product for your visitors. As the vertical markets get cluttered with too many "me-too" sites, what separates the boys from the men is undoubtedly a superior web product. Don't make the mistake of hiring the wrong partner, one who doesn't have the "next-generation" skill set to create a category leader for your company.

It doesn't matter if you have a straightforward VAR-oriented B2B site, a web application, or an e-commerce site everyone wants the same thing a pleasurable and intuitive experience. This means an outstanding user interface (UI) with great-looking graphics (minimum downloading), superior navigation and architecture, and easy-to-read messaging with quick access to those things users need immediately. Most users aren't getting what they want; there is a high level of dissatisfaction among users regarding their web experiences.

The most important component for user satisfaction (given that there is good customer service, good offerings, and product quality) will be the UI design. The challenge of superior UI design is even more imperative as the web gives birth to applications and deeper B2B-relationship programs. Below are some things to consider when choosing a design partner.

Broadband Partner

It is key to ask your potential partner what experience it has in the offline world with broadband (television, video, cable, radio, film, CD ROM, etc.). Below, a brief list of questions to consider:

  • Is there a producer on staff with video, audio, and film experience?

  • Does your partner's team or executives have related experience?

  • In what areas (e.g., graphic design, CD ROM, entertainment) does your partner have experience?

  • How does the production (video, audio, film, Shockwave, Flash, etc.) come together on a project?

  • Does your partner have offline branding experience in television (commercials, etc.), video, radio, film?

  • What sort of product marketing experience does your partner have in this arena?

Keep in mind that you want to understand the business use of multimedia productions (selling), not gratuitous-branding splash screens as seen by some of the big houses in late '98 and early '99.

Most firms don't yet have huge business portfolios of Flash productions because they design for "lowest-common- denominator" user stats. However, certainly a couple of choice pieces and past experience from one medium to another is a good start when choosing a firm to create a "broadband-enhanced" site.

E-commerce Partner

  • Sites that require "selling" must have a strong commitment to direct-marketing marcom. This is where most clients fail. Ask your partner what its strategy is to ensure a synergy between architecture, design and copy.

  • Does the partner have a human-factors approach to the key areas specific to e-commerce?

Beware, copy is as important to UI creation as it is to architecture.

UI Application Partner

As specialists in UI design, we at Busse Design USA have observed a lack of consideration for users' needs when applications are brought to the web. The intricacies of human-factors practices are key. Your partner should have an established methodology to the psychology of the customer-centric experience this practice is often overlooked. It is important to look at years of product design and understand how those human-factor principles and practices can be applied to how people behave, think, and work on the new platform.

The process of examining human behavior and creating a product that customers will want and will continue using starts with user modeling. A great amount of psychological analysis and testing goes into how human beings think and feel, how they use and break things, what level of satisfaction they have when using things, etc.

Customer-centricity

When embarking on a from-scratch or redesign application project, make sure your customer is the focal point. If you don't have aggregate user-profile information from experience, create hypotheses and test them as early as possible on prototypes. Don't believe your own conclusions too firmly. See what your users need and want, and how they intend to use it and teach it to their staffs, etc.

Prototypes

Applications that are robust in nature need several prototypes for the different parts of the application. Ask your UI design partner to explain its process for creating mini-apps (prototypes) within an umbrella UI strategy so it's clear to you how all the pieces fit together.

Design firms don't always have expertise in web information architecture. This is the skill set you really need to scrutinize. How your UI partner thinks and how it creates hypotheses and layout strategies for your product is key to creating the killer app.

Portal Partners

  • Does your potential partner have architects who understand how to construct copious amounts of information into a friendly UI?

  • How much experience does your partner have with personalization and UI modularity design?

  • What are the inherent differences between a portal occasional user, daily user, and web-surfer nonportal type?

Ultimately, carefully choosing the right partner with the right skill set for superior UI design will help give your customers a greater level of satisfaction and hence add value to your bottom line.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joy Busse

Joy A. Busse, Founder & CEO of Busse Design USA, is an expert in Web portal designs and information infrastructure development as evidenced on one of the most visible and successful Web sites on the Internet, Excite.com. Under her direction and management, a team of 12 designers helped to realize the creative vision for much of the design template used throughout the Excite Web site today. Joy continues to contribute direction to Excite's international sites. Joy founded Busse Design USA in 1997 to focus on e-commerce and business-to-business web design and development. Prior to Excite, Joy fine-tuned her digital media design skills while working on the "best-of-breed" accounts and products at Animatrix, a multimedia design firm in Northern California. She developed products for such high-profile clients as Clinique, Disney, AT&T, and Digital.

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