May 23, 2020 - By Joe Lashinger
It’s not about buying a website; It’s about applying a thoughtful methodology to create value for your business
This post isn’t about Ben or Jo-Jo or Sam Hinkie’s 7,000-word resignation letter. It’s not about a perplexing inability to win on the road against bottom-half teams. Aside from borrowing a hashtag, this post has nothing to do with basketball.
This post is about our process; the Think It First process. We want to share it because we believe in it. We believe in the value it offers to our clients. We believe it’s what makes us different and a true strategic partner to our clients. So let’s dig in.
Yes, companies hire us to design and develop websites and consult on digital products, but those outputs are not the endgame. Our process and our experience is what they buy. The process has value because it gives structure, clarity, and predictability to our collaboration. It gives our clients confidence that we’re strategic and thoughtful in our approach. It shows that nothing we do is “one-size-fits-all” and that from-the-ground-up customization beats “off-the-shelf” templates any day of the week.
Over the years, we’ve refined our process to 10 steps:
• Planning, Sitemaps and User flows
• Brand Identity and Positioning
• Content and Copywriting
• Ancillary Content
• Code and Development
• Foundational SEO
• Device Testing and Launch
We start by asking questions and listening. We don’t start by telling or dictating. We want to understand deeply how your business works, who your customers are, what pain points you solve, your revenue models. We synthesize all of this information in the context of what we’ve been charged to build for you.
Planning, Sitemaps, and Userflows
We believe strongly in usability. At its core, the structure for a product—whether it’s a website a mobile app or something else entirely—must allow us to understand where we are as users, and where the information we want is, in relation to our position. Products that consider organization, structure, and logic consistently outperform the competition and provide tangible benefits to users.
If we’re refreshing an existing product, we’ll create an existing site map or user flow showing the current architecture. Using these artifacts as a guide, we then develop a revised version that outlines a proposed structure that includes to-be-developed features and functionalities.
Brand Identity and Positioning
There are a million articles on what a brand is. We think it’s a gut feeling. It’s look, feel, style, tone, mission and so much more—all balled up into something you can’t quite put your finger on but you know it when you feel it. We think the keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity, and accountability. Our job is to take those keys and infuse them into what we’re building for you. Tactically, that entails using existing or creating new brand materials such as logos, color palettes, fonts, and styles.
Content and Copywriting
For us, it all comes down to creating purposeful designs. When content is an integral part of the design process, each page will successfully bridge gaps from one to the next and take the viewer on a literal journey through your company. It’s succinct and fluid and cohesive; not pieced together and forced to meet a fleeting need.
This is when we direct a cooperative effort to create a “master copy” working document that outlines all existing website copy. If starting from scratch, we develop a content outline to help frame your words. Our editors provide support to fine-tune, review and make suggestions to improve the messaging and informational value.
Over the years, most businesses accumulate a variety of infographics, newsletters, press articles, webinars, videos… you get the idea. We collect whatever you’ve got, review it and propose ways in which we can use, display, archive or otherwise repurpose—because at the end of the day, this stuff can be useful to both your future users and search engines.
Blueprints, or wireframes as some call them represent the design of connections between different screens within a website or product. Decisions related to the customer and/or user’s “experience” are made here, ultimately allowing us to craft a desired behavioral outcome from elements on the screen.
We take blueprinting seriously.
As a key part of our design process, blueprinting allows us to plan your site visually. But what good are hastily drawn boxes and squiggly lines representing text on a page? We go beyond your standard wireframes and produce the equivalent to full site designs without color or images. The idea is to inform layout, typography, size, and relationship while limiting distractions to keep you and your team focused on the goal at this stage: the design of an experience your customers will love. We think of our wireframing as not only a valuable deliverable to our clients but an internal roadmap for our visual designers and developers to reference as they build mockups, prototypes, and functionality.
Armed with our sitemap, brand, content, and user-centric design direction, we now shift to the look and feel of the site. Through a series of design mockups, we collaborate with our client to synthesize the previous six steps of the process. We make collective decisions on imagery, color scheme, video, iconography, graphics and more, taking the project beyond the written word. We create static design comps, visually producing an accurate picture of how the product will ultimately look and feel.
Code and Development
Now we’re getting under the hood. This is where things start to really come to life, as we set up a private staging environment to build. With the URL to this staging environment, you can view the product in progress. But don’t worry: no one else, not even search engines, can find it.
At this stage, we’re establishing the content management system, integrations, code for all forms and third-party apps and any custom functionality needed to build out the project. If we need content or data migrated from other sources, we’ll do that too.
SEO. Search engine optimization. Here we’re talking about making sure that Google and the other search engines can find your site. We optimize our projects from the start to be search friendly, including setting up proper formatting of site titles, pages, and meta tags; installing and configuring SEO plugins; hooking up Google Analytics, Search Console and Webmaster Tools to make sure the site’s getting indexed, crawled and monitored; generating XML sitemaps; optimizing images; formatting .htaccess and robots.txt files for site transparency to bots; and installing anti-spam features. We even provide a quick SEO training session so that you can manage this stuff going forward.
Device Testing and Launch
A Think it First website is a flexible and durable marketing tool designed to evolve with your business and the ever-changing tech world around us.
The landscape of web browsers and devices changes regularly and our approach is to look forward, not back. We optimize for all the major current browsers at the time of release including IE 10+, Safari 5+, Firefox 30+, and Chrome 35+.
Responsiveness is also mission-critical. Every site we build will look, feel and function properly on all the major devices: desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone.
The last piece of this step in the process focuses on debugging and device testing, launching and maintaining a 30-day post-launch quality assurance program.
The Process Comes Full Circle
By now you know you’re not just “buying a website or an app.” Our iterative, collaborative process designed to help your business put its best digital foot forward is what we offer. We believe in it and we have hundreds of projects that support its value.
So as we say here in Philly: Trust the Process. Just note that the Think it First process is proven. The Sixers’ process? Still TBD…