Getting Past Excuses: Using Strategic Planning for Rapid Website Redesign

By Nadine L. Monn

Matt Carlisle led the Strategic Planning of Web Sites workshop (photo by George Conklin).

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 3, 2014) — "This is the moment where I can pinpoint the intersection of my faith and my profession." Matt Carlisle, owner of Big Heart Creative, opened his Strategic Planning for Rapid Website Redesign workshop with a photo of him in the late 1970s proudly holding his first computer. Today, he lives out his calling by helping nonprofits and faith-based organizations embrace new media and create custom websites.

Carlisle emphasized that communities of faith use technology to create and carry out ministry. Part of this process is designing their websites as the authoritative online presence to complement their relationship-oriented one found on social media.

Carlisle advocated user-centered design to help organizations see the opportunity that a site redesign provides. It integrates the needs, wants and limitations of external visitors to a site with the internal stakeholders managing it.

The most important step is the pre-planning for the redesign. Gather organizational leadership, stakeholders and any web staff to discuss their hopes, dreams and fears about the redesign. Determine the deadline for the project, the budget and any roadblocks. Assign the roles and responsibilities, particularly the individual who has final say on all decisions. Lastly, decide together on the project's scope.

After the pre-planning is complete, the five phases of user-centered design are:

Phase 1: Discovery – Build the site from the inside-out by interviewing organizational staff and site visitors. Find out what the day-to-day work of staff running the site is or will be. Then, interview site visitors to ask how they found the site, what worked or didn't and what their experience with the organization was.

Phase 2: Analysis – Review the research from discovery to choose the best platform to achieve the goals needed for this redesign. Weigh the options against what you can afford and for any desired technology requirements. Research vendors and interview them. Make them explain anything you don't understand.

Phase 3: Strategy – Map the architecture for the site and its content. Create a site map for how content will connect. Do a content analysis for the existing site and decide what content you may not want to keep or that needs to be updated. Create the page wireframe for the new design, so there is a proof-of-concept to show leaders.

Phase 4: Design – Decide on the visual brand and design for the site. Conduct a visual design survey with internal stakeholders, to let everyone have their say. Create page comprehensives to show the new look. Determine if the new design is in line with the organization's identity. Less is more, since content is king and should drive the design.

Phase 5: Build – Implement the page comprehensives so that the programming, development and style sheets can be created. Content is populated to the new site, and then it's tested. When any issues found in testing are resolved, the site is launched. In Carlisle's opinion, "a soft launch is the only way to go."

Lastly, any time you work on a site design, remember not to build what you can't manage. It's better to under-build so that the resources you have can support the site.

Nadine L. Monn is a member of the RCC Board of Governors and Coordinator of Education Programs, The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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