It Pays to Get People Talking
Short disclaimer: this article is in no way a complaint or shit-talking session. I intend this only to pass on lessons I have learned through experience.
A while back, I was working with a high-end interactive agency on a redesign project for a huge, international client. The reason that’s relevant is because the project itself was for product category pages that need to be comprehensive enough to include all the products in the different categories, but flexible enough to be customized across the client’s market countries.
So, What Happened?
We worked for some time on the big IA (Information Architecture) task of classifying the client’s products down to four levels. We then worked on designing the category pages in such a way as to present visitors with both inspirational lifestyle content and informational product content. The agency was happy, the client was happy, and we handed off for the next phase.
Then, the Hammer
After the initial review process, some key stakeholders took a more detailed look at our proposal, and we had to revisit our IA and IxD (Interaction Design). Those stakeholders, namely the client’s central IT department (responsible for their entire global website) let us know, with good reason, that our design wouldn’t work with their website’s infrastructure. That might sound like “bowing down to the tech,” but the sheer scope of their global site (a platform for hundreds of content managers, spread across many countries and continents, each representing a different business unit) makes it an infrastructure that cannot be changed without a huge investment.
How the Hammer Led to an Aha-Effect
Finally having sat down with those stakeholders, we were able to get crucial input on the overall capabilities and limitations of the site. The solution upon which we all agreed in the end was the most elegant in keeping with all global considerations.
Friends with Benefits
On a later project, our design team collaborated tightly with the client from the beginning. We got faster iterations, direct feedback from the client’s IT department, more active buy-in from business stakeholders, and overall a more collaboratively generated design. In no way do I mean that the process went perfectly, but it felt good getting stakeholders involved from the start, and given the scope of the project, I know it could have gone quite badly without the collaboration.
Time Saved is Value Added
Having that information has had a far-reaching impact for all similar projects we have done for that client. We were lucky. However, we could have saved time both during the IA phase and later while reviewing, if we had conducted that collaborative session earlier in the process.
We were lucky, and we learned a valuable lesson. I am constantly reminded of how wonderful it is to work directly with clients; lots of assumptions and problems are prevented when the right people talk to each other. Ultimately, that leads to happier clients, happier designers, and happier users. Everyone happy = added value!