Professional web designers and graphics creatives can charge big fees, but until you’ve worked out what you want they’re a waste of money. Website expert Steve Benjamins explains the thinking behind lean design, where costs are tiny, but learning is huge.
If you’re building a top-spec, high profile, money-riding-on-the-outcome site, you need to get out there and find the hottest web designer and developers you can, right? Well, no, but you’ll hear, and more importantly see, hundreds of organisations, from startups to big corporate giants, behaving as if that is indeed gospel.
There is a very simple corollary to that situation and one that might sound familiar too – unless you know what you’re building, for who, why and when (not necessarily in that order), you’re potentially looking at a waste of money. You’ll end up with a beautiful site, or a fantastically complex and bespoke database system, but with nary a click to grace it.
This is where lean design and methodology comes to the rescue. Originally created by Toyota to eliminate waste and inefficiency in car production, Lean principles became a byword and spread far beyond the automotive and manufacturing industries – you might recognise them as ‘start-up thinking’, or ‘bootstrapping’ too.
When done correctly, lean can create huge improvements in efficiency, productivity, and also contribute to lower costs and improved competitiveness. The main five principles are value, value stream, flow, pull, and perfection, or in other words, define the customer need, assess the materials needed to deliver it and refine constantly.
This constant testing and refining is the important element for web design. Instead of first seeking to create a completely finished product, think more in terms of the ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) that will deliver that customer value, and enable you to test the extent and boundaries of that value. This minimises wasted effort on complex and expensive website functionality that actually turns out to be unnecessary, or at best of secondary importance.
For example, the vast majority of websites are completely conventional, and so is their functionality – they need to allow people to edit content easily, have simple forms that work, and maps that are legible. These problems have already been solved, and 99% of website builders can deliver this with a few clicks, so there’s no benefit in throwing money down the drain reinventing them. A good value website builder will buy you 90% unique customisation at 10% of the cost, and a tiny percentage of the effort, leaving you free to work on that one key differentiator – if you still need it at all.
The critical part of the lean process is getting the right data from your tests, and being able to act on it effectively. As well as a solid plan, a logical series of tests and a mainly stock website you’ll need to become a wizard at metrics. Luckily, there are legions of tools out there to test and evaluate almost anything. Google Analytics is the first place to start of course, and other services such as po.st and Hotjar can be incredibly powerful. The latter’s heatmapping is also excellent for presenting results to non-technical audiences of stakeholders.
Of course, ultimately you may actually need to employ a website designer, but if you’ve followed the principles of Lean to reach a precise definition of what you need and why then even this potentially big cost can be mitigated. There’s a big fat secret to getting the best out of any creative, and that’s to give the tightest brief you can.
This brief could include:
- Business information
- The project budget
- A clear summary of the project: What it is, and why it’s happening
- A simple breakdown of key KPIs
- The target audience
- All deliverables
- Information your brand, including tone, style guide, and any design guidelines
- A timeline, including key milestones and any relevant deadlines
- Key stakeholders who will be involved in the review process, and how that review process will be structured.
Whichever route you end up going down when setting up a new business website, it’s hard to argue against Lean as a first step, as a tool to create processes or refine existing ones, as well as a method of trimming away the fat of an operation. Don’t delay – get building and testing today!
About the Author
Steve Benjamins is a serial entrepreneur and has been designing and coding websites for the last 20 years. Most notable are sitebuilderreport.com, aguidetowebsitebuilders.com and Gift Ideas That Don’t Suck. Alongside running these websites, he also works as a consultant for companies who are doing investment research in the website builder space.
Over the last four years, he has written over 100 in-depth reviews of website builders— which, at over 100,000 words, is the size of a big book. In that time Site Builder Report has grown quickly. Today over 60,000 people every month use his resources to choose a website builder.