Saturday, February 25, 2006


So you're redesigning your 1

There's a lot of information about site design on the internet, and an endless array of designers and consultants ready to help you (mostly for a fee) as you prepare to set up a site or revamp an existing site. Its enough to make a poor nonprofit staffer's head explode.

I've put together a few websites now (for different nonprofits) with external consultants, internal controversies and design committees. Any one of these can lead your site down a path to failure--take them all together and you get the nightmare that is probably the average nonprofit staffer's experience of site development. Perhaps I'm an incorrigible optimist, but it doesn't have to be this hard.

When I start a new web design project now, I start with the questions
  • "who is this site for" and

  • "what are those people coming there to do."

  • Then I ask myself
  • how can I best enable the main activity people come there to do, and

  • how do I make the surrounding information credible to the audience coming to do it.

  • Throughout the process I just keep reminding myself of these questions so that the myriad small things that come up don’t distract us from the goal.

    The first question is probably the hardest. If your answer to that first question includes everyone from experts in your field to activists on the street and elderly people clicking away at home, then you will have a hard time developing any design that is going to be easy to use and credible to everyone. So maybe you need more than one website!

    Consumers Union has two very different websites devoted to changing the prescription drug marketplace. The first, Best Buy Drugs, is primarily for people seeking better information about the medicines they take. The audience will be disproportionately older people and they come to the site to read about their medications. We hope to change the marketplace by showing people through credible, comparative studies that they can enjoy better health and save money by avoiding certain designer drugs. If they take that information to their doctor and get a different prescription as a result, we have succeeded.

    We also want to change the marketplace through legislative reforms (Congress and the states), and created a completely separate site for this, Prescription for Change. We simply place the logo for Best Buy Drugs in the information section of the site. This site's audience is broader--anyone who is disturbed by drug company lobby power, misrepresentations, and secrecy. I'm disturbed, and I just see the terrible ads on TV! The site design is entirely focused on directing viewers to state and federal action, with supporting information under "news" and "learn more" tabs.

    Having multiple sites can be controversial, and it can get out of hand I suppose. We have a lot of sites, and I often wonder if I will know when we've reached an upper limit on this practice. But this solution can help you resolve some difficult decisions and make your site design process easier and more focused on results.

    Once you have focused on your audience and the activity they expect to do on your site, you can start to cut away all the extraneous information and functions that will distract your readers and make navigation more difficult. But lets leave that discussion for Part II!

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