Behind every effective website is a plan. Though the plan is invisible, it is far more critical to the success of the site than the visual elements that more readily grab our attention. The plan identifies the key audiences of the site, figures out what content these audiences need and sets the strategy for delivering the right content to the right people.

This short paper outlines the True Electronics process for crafting such a plan. Each design group has its own way of doing it, but the True Electronics process has four steps:

research and discovery,
sitemap development,
wireframe development and design.

For the purposes of discussion, we illustrate each step with examples from our own website, www.trueelectronics.com, which we re-launched in the Summer of 2006.

Step 1: Research and Discovery
Setting Goals

At the start of each project, ask your team, “What will this website need to do to meet our organizational goals?” While the long-term answer might be to solve a major social or environmental problem, the short-term answers vary, but often include one or a combination of these goals:

  • Funding
  • Increase networking
  • Provide educational resources to the public
  • Introduce services to clients
  • Collect petition signatures
  • Enable people to express their feelings about or support for an issue
  • Link people to the resources they need to change a particular behavior
  • Provide data to researchers and/or reporters
  • Networking supporters with one another

In the case of our website redesign, we first separated our organizational goals from our website goals. Organizationally, our aim is to move the needle on a variety of social issues. To do that, we have the goal of being a full partner in the collective of progressive NGOs and socially responsible businesses working for change. Our concrete site goals, however, are much more specific. They include:

  • Clearly presenting all of our services
  • Displaying samples of our work
  • Staying current with announcements about our work, our events and our clients’ accomplishments
  • Telling people about True Electronics and the people behind the company
  • Making it easy to contact us or start a job with us

Once your goals have been clearly articulated, they form the first pillar of your plan. It’s now time to figure out what audiences you need to reach in order to accomplish those goals and, as importantly, what you will offer those audiences in return for their help.

  • Defining Audiences

Audiences should be grouped by a simple characteristic. Ask yourself, what reasons do people have for coming to my site? What motivates their visit? This will tell you everything you need to know about how to design your site to effectively make first contact with them. Typical audience breakdowns look something like this:

  • People who came looking for a way to make a difference = Activists
  • People who came looking for data for their research = Scientists
  • People who came looking for information for an article = Press

Note that when we think about audiences, we are not thinking about our goals, we are thinking about theirs. A successful engagement begins with meeting your audiences’ needs quickly and then asking them to help you meet yours. This is the basis of user-centric design.

Now you can create your Audiences and Their Needs chart. This is a critical piece of your site plan and will guide all future decisions.