A book review of The Strategic Web Designer – how to confidently navigate the web design process, by Christopher Butler. Published by HOW books in September 2012.
Christopher Butler is vice president of Newfangled, a US web development firm on the cutting edge of modern digital marketing and technology. I am honoured to review his fantastic new book.
In The Strategic Web Designer Chris shares his deep understanding of how to lead a successful website project. Website creation is a real art form, and I don’t just mean that from a design perspective. The skill is in creating a website that meets business goals, attracts and engages the audience you want, motivating them to take action. This is no mean feat. Too many business websites, whilst looking attractive, fall short of the mark when it comes to generating results. Chris lays out the strategy to get your web project right.
Strategic lessons for your web project
From planning to prototyping, measurement to mobile, content creation to optimisation Chris sets out the perfect web development process, helping us think strategically about a web project.
The perfect web development process
Here are a few of my personal highlights from the book.
1. A good website cannot be built without significant client involvement at every stage of the project. Collaboration is absolutely key.
2. Start with planning - careful, fulsome planning. A period of investigation setting out the purpose, goals, intended audience for the website puts the project on the road to success.
3. Be realistic about timescales. Deadlines are important but give the project time. Web projects always take longer than expected to – not because of avoidable delays (there will be some) but because they simply need more time than they are given.
4. Set goals for the new website, and stick to them.
“For businesses that offer services, the immediate goals of their website should be to capture the attention of prospects that don’t yet know about them, speak directly to their need by clearly identifying pain points and solutions, and compel them to action.”
5. Content and design must go hand in hand in the web development process.
6. Don’t start with design. Begin web development by prototyping. Build a working prototype in grayscale with no visual distraction. Focus on the structure, content and functionality at the start.
7. Your website is not for you (<- my particular favourite). Far too many website builds are inward looking, narcissistic projects – more for the company than its customers. Chris advises us to think of a website like a shop, not an office – built for the customer, not the shopkeeper.
8. Developing customer personas is the antidote to chronic project narcissism. The key here is to ask the right questions. Interview clients and employees, including sales personnel because they are at the front line with a clearer idea of who the buying audience is.
9. Create valuable content. Don’t just add to the glut of content in the world: produce something of value. A clarion call to restore content to its own gold standard.
“Whereas a disconnect between money and value has created disastrous fiscal bubbles, a disconnect between content and value is inflating a bubble of its own. Content—today’s currency of attention—has taken the place of money as the panacea that will solve all problems.”
10. Content marketing works well for those in the knowledge industry; better than for those those selling consumer products.
11. Content marketing relies on commitment and good leadership. “No single piece of content, no matter how excellent, will be as successful as a steady, long-term flow of quality content. This is why the success of any content marketing strategy is achieved by committed leadership.”
12. Content must fulfil a purpose and be focused on eliciting action.
13. The job of promotion should be to enable your content to do its job, to offer attention toward what you have to say.
14. On mobile technology: those employing a content-based digital marketing strategy should continue to focus on the web and adaptive design for mobile devices rather than dilute their focus by developing for the apps marketplaces. (He goes on to defend that statement – read the book if you find this contentious!)
15. The web is a permanent work in progress. Your website will be too.
I think that this is a wise and important book, beautifully written, addressing fundamental yet important questions – what is the web, what is the future of the web? It’s more on the why than the how – there are plenty of books that tell you how to build a website. Whilst it has been written for designers, developers and agencies, there are lessons here that any client can learn too. I’d highly recommend it to anyone embarking on a website project. It will increase your chances of success.