Website Planning: Tricks Of The Trade

I was traveling last week so, unfortunately, I missed the class discussion about website maps, wireframes, and storyboards. While catching up on these topics, I came across an interesting article on Smashing Magazine by Kristin Wemmer of Paste Interactive.

Wemmer provides some valuable advice for website planning. She likens building a good website to telling a good story – both require a cohesive outline and a clear plot.

Below I’ve summarized the merits (according to Wemmer) of several website planning methods. A full list is included in the article.

  • Card sorting is simply labeling index cards to represent website pages and organizing based on hierarchy. A project manager can ask stakeholders to sort the cards into logical stacks and talk through their rationale. This activity builds collaboration and trust early on in the website development process. Card sorting makes people feel like they’re contributing.
  • A content inventory entails creating a spreadsheet of all of your website pages and their corresponding URLs. This process can help you understand the breadth of your website and the purpose of each page. It becomes especially useful when you add page notes and single-sentence summaries of why each page exists. A content inventory is a great way to find unnecessary pages on your website. Wemmer suggests this method is more useful for planning redesigns than new websites.
  • Powerpoint or Keynote slides are used as a website planning tool by many office professionals. Their wide availability and relative ease of use makes them a good makeshift option for some workflows. Tips from Wemmer: Don’t get too creative with “designing” your pages. Avoid color, graphics, and anything else that doesn’t illustrate hierarchy of content. Also, keep your system simple. The more complicated it is for you to drag pages and update links, the more reluctant you’ll be to explore new layout options.
  • Jumpchart lets you make simple and quick HTML wireframes. This tool organizes content hierarchically, compiles feedback, and exports to the next stage of the development process. It’s highly flexible and is great for small teams and remote collaborators. The ability to export to XHTML and WordPress (WXR) makes for a rapid transition between planning and development. Tips from Wemmer: Use Jumpchart as a single spot for all of the deliverables in your website project. Also, use the permission system to control who can view and who can edit.

I’m curious to know whether anyone in class has used Jumpchart – I hadn’t heard of it until now. Apparently it was created by Paste Interactive.

Speaking from personal experience managing website projects on the marketing communications side, I can see value in all of the methods above. Card sorting drives collaboration, a content inventory helps you trim the fat, slides allow for scrappiness, and Jumpchart streamlines the process.

The two key takeaways I pull from this piece are that 1) proper website planning will ultimately save you time and money; and 2) you should choose your method(s) based on the scope of your project and the dynamics of your team.

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