Identifying Your Root Design & Strategy Problems

Tree roots growing on top of stone structures

It’s been a couple of years since your website saw some love. The style is a bit stale, the content a bit ignored, and it’s time to crack your knuckles and get to work. 

You knock on the door of your director, giving them a heads up that your website needs a refresh, if not a full redesign. “Great,” they agree. “Put some designs together and get back to me.”

Wait, what? 

It’s an easy assumption for people to make. Website design means making something look nicer, right? So just do that. Slap some fresh colors on it, add some new photos. Make it look good on mobile. The end. 

Hard stop. 

But building a great website — a website that’s people-first, inclusive, accessible, and navigable — is more than just good colors and photography. And fixing the design alone doesn’t make for a good website. 

Why do you think you need a website?

Symptoms that mean you need something new

Before you dive into hiring someone to “make it pop” (an unpopular phrase heard by many web designers), identify what prompted the need for something new:

  • Your design doesn’t reflect your overall brand or feels stale and outdated
  • Your content is inconsistent, poorly written, outdated, or all of the above, causing confusion for your users
  • Your site’s accessibility is poor; you’ve gotten complaints, or you’ve noticed several elements that aren’t accessible to everyone
  • Your site’s navigation is confusing, or maybe doesn’t represent your business or industry accurately anymore 
  • You’ve noticed an uptick in customers needing help finding information, services, or products on your website despite the information being there…somewhere
  • You find your authoring process cumbersome or clunky, taking more time and resources than you have to spare
  • Your analytics show traffic bouncing from page to page but never really completing a transaction 
  • You’re not ranking as highly as your competitors on search engines like Google
  • You just plain don’t like how your website looks anymore

One or many of these may be driving your need for a redesign. And, naturally, changing how it “looks” seems like the easiest route. But don’t put lipstick on a pig.

How to validate your symptoms

Just because you’ve identified these as potential symptoms doesn’t make them the valid source of the problem. It’s important to use data and research to analyze what’s really going on to understand the true problems and what you’re trying to solve.

Content strategists and designers are constantly thinking of how to best express the root problem on behalf of those experiencing it; in other words, the real people on the other side of the screen. Once the root problem is identified, it can be communicated to other team members and supporting players so actions and solutions can be explored together. 

Create user stories and presentation models

Consider starting by analyzing the current experience, talking with stakeholders, and creating presentation models. Presentation models help define things like user needs, business goals, key tasks, and requirements. As a team, we also spend time writing user stories together. User stories help determine what those user goals and needs are and how you’ll ultimately measure the success in achieving them. You can start a user story with a mad lib:

As a [persona type], I want to [goal] so that I can [benefit I want to achieve]. We’ll measure its success by [metric type].

Filling in the blanks helps you understand the true goals of individual audiences. For example, if you’re trying to make it easier for people to buy new products on your website, your user story might look like this:

As a [potential customer], I want to [quickly find new products of interest] so I can [complete my purchase quickly on my mobile device.] We’ll measure the success by [total completed mobile checkouts.]

Identify SMART goals

By identifying your personas, goals, and metrics, you can also set SMART goals for yourself. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

An example of a SMART goal:

We would like to make our new products more easily accessible on our website’s homepage. We’ll measure the success based on click-through and conversion rates from the homepage to the shopping cart. Ideally, we’d like to see a 10% growth in new product sales from the homepage over the next quarter.

Run usability tests

Usability tests seem like a heavy lift, but the lift is worth the data you get from them. Usability tests are great for testing new content, navigation, and designs, but they can create a benchmark to understand what is (or isn’t) working with your site today. 

Usability tests should always start with a goal or hypothesis: What’s the problem? What do you assume will come out of this test, and how many tests do you need to validate that hypothesis? It’s OK if your estimates aren’t correct right off the bat, but they should give you somewhere to aim.

You’ll want to consider the various types of user tests available, too. What test makes the most sense for what you’re trying to understand? If navigation is a problem, you might want to start with tree testing. If it’s design, consider first-click experiments

Neon words on a window spelling out "What is your story?"

Ask clearer, specific questions 

Strategy helps define the who, what, why, and where. Design helps realize the current state of things and visualize a better state. Together — as strategists and designers — we ask better questions and find more useful and meaningful solutions. Ask clearer questions to get clearer answers. Here are a few to help you get started:

  1. What's the story behind this website?
    • Where has it been? How has it evolved?
    • What is our team’s / our stakeholders’ vision for the future?
    • How do we compare to current competitors/
  2. How does this website/app currently work?
    • Where did this website/app come from?
    • Why was it created?
    • What does it consist of?
    • What works? What doesn’t work?
  3. How do people currently feel/behave? How should they feel or behave?
    • What are the current pain points? 
    • What are their needs and goals?
    • How can we change those pain points into gains?
    • What’s one big thing that could make the experience better?

Conduct problem framing

Problem framing is another approach to helping teams define a problem. Problem framing is an interactive exercise that’s best done with multiple people in the room. The goal is to bring the team together to write a problem statement. Similar to asking clear questions above, the outcome of problem framing is a brief statement outlining the who, what, when, where, and why of your problem. You should answer questions such as:

  • Who’s having the problem? Who are we solving for?
  • What is the problem?
  • When is this problem occurring?
  • Where is this problem happening?
  • Why is this problem happening?

Example of a problem statement:

Our potential customers are struggling to find new products quickly and easily on the website. Most of our traffic starts at our homepage, which has old, stale content and hides new products. This is happening because our website and its CMS are outdated and don’t allow for content to be automatically refreshed on the homepage.

Solving your design and strategy problems

The best solutions are delivered collaboratively. So often, design is siloed into its own deliverable; and the same goes for content. At their heart, they work best together. But how do you deliver design, strategy, and everything in between all at once?

Involve stakeholders in goal-setting and problem-solving

When possible, seek ways to include stakeholders and supportive team members who can help rally around the user needs, business goals, and overall project outcome. 

Getting your internal teammates in on the ground floor establishes a more understood goal, eliminating potential obstacles in the future. It also sets a cadence for their involvement as future phases come along. 

You’ll also want to establish your decision-makers after you get past research and into the solutions phase. Who’s got the authority to move decisions forward? When it comes to information architecture, design, development, or partnerships with vendors, who has the authority to give the green light?

Knowing who’s on your team to help you move the ball forward is crucial to any digital project’s success, no matter how big or small. 

Work iteratively with Agile

Once you have your problem defined, the next step is to explore solutions. For many Lullabots, working in a Lean UX approach involves the whole team working iteratively and collaboratively, solving problems and making adjustments without losing time or resources.

It allows teams to brainstorm solutions, analyze those improvements and make any necessary design changes over time. It enables stakeholders and users to give helpful feedback on how it's working and how it's not so you can make any necessary improvements.

Conduct content audits for COPE

As you evaluate the problems and symptoms of your website, think about how content is maintained and published today. 

When a page is needed, is it drafted, published, and shared one at a time? If that content you just wrote needs to be linked somewhere else, how do you do that? Is there content that’s repeatable across the site that needs a place to live?

Asking some of these questions could be crucial in establishing a more governable technical strategy known as COPE, or create once publish everywhere. It’s a method of using your content management system (CMS) to deliver content to specific places of your website and beyond when you need it, without having to “reinvent the wheel” every time it’s referenced.

Along with COPE, a full review of your existing content may also point to some ah-ha moments that reveal how a better publishing environment might solve many of your resource and content quality problems. 

Engage a vendor partner, if needed

If you’re feeling stuck (or your head is just swimming with possibilities), it never hurts to ask for help. If you can resource a research process of this magnitude in-house and you know the superheroes in the background who’ll do the work, then you’re already a step ahead. 

But if you’re swimming solo or on a small team with multiple responsibilities, turning to a vendor who can help might be worth your time. Prepare your conversations in advance, so you know what you need from a potential partner and can direct the conversations in a way that meets your goals and budget.

Your website is never done

Insert heavy sigh here. It’s painful to think about this big “thing” never really being done, but it’s true. Your website and digital brand are an evolving part of your story and need frequent attention and TLC. It’s always hungry for more. It could always use another iteration.

Even after your new, shiny website is launched, you’ll need to keep design and strategy audits going. Keep your stakeholders and teams involved; identify opportunities for better authorship, governance, and gatekeeping, so you establish a regular pattern that’s maintainable for updating the site. 

And as always, time marches on. New design trends and strategic approaches reveal themselves in your marketplace, or via your competitors. Keep a close eye on what’s changing and evolving, and be prepared to restart the cycle to identify what’s working for your users and what’s not, and get ready to grease the wheels for another round of needed changes. 

If you’re not sure how to get started, reach out to Lullabot for help. You’ll benefit from skilled user experience experts who’ll help you identify your problems, provide solutions, and lead your website to the next step.

Ana Barcelona

Ana Barcelona
Ana is a Senior UX Designer at Lullabot whose creative vision stems from user needs, a sensitivity towards concept, typography, color, and kinetics. 

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