We want to get every client to the same primed starting point, where we know enough to reliably do a great job. Informed design pays for itself, so “informed” is our goal.
We meet you at whatever level of clarity you have. Through conversations (and emails, though we prefer Slack), we load your mind into ours.
You’ve undoubtedly been thinking about this project for weeks (or months, or years). All of that rich information will nourish the design process. We will pick through it like gold miners.
You might see a similar phase referenced elsewhere as Discovery, Strategy, or Definition.
The house metaphor
It’s helpful to think about new concepts in familiar contexts. We often find that a digital product project is a lot like a home construction project. (Also, Cozy’s offices are in an architect’s officespace; it’s parlance we hear a lot.) We’ll compare against this metaphor in each phase of this Digital Design Overview.
In the Dive phase for a construction project, we would have a series of conversations with you about the project. We’d try to figure out if this was an add-on or new construction; what inspired the change; if you were familiar with any homes that you wanted to emulate; what city ordinances to be aware of; who our construction crew would be and what their preferences and limitations were. We wouldn’t get into blueprints or paint swatches or window selection. Instead, we’d sip coffee together and get to know you and your project.
We need to understand the project’s purpose (as discussed in Purpose in design vs. art in the Introduction).
But we also want to understand what’s behind the purpose. What triggered the project? What’s motivating the people involved? What does success look like? What is everyone secretly worried about?
Often we find hidden, very human forces at play. Perhaps the CEO overheard a comment at a dinner party that inspired him and triggered a redesign. Or maybe an article posted by a developer led to a bigger conversation. Maybe a revitalizing new product line is due out, and the company’s future is riding on its successful debut. Or perhaps a new hire is trying to make an impression on her team or her boss.
Understanding these forces helps us not only build the right product, it helps us support you along the way. It ensures we’re all pushing in the same direction. Often, it gives us a map for the kind of success that a product description alone could never outline.
In short: we’re all people, and we want to understand the people in addition to the product.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
If a project is complicated enough, our first deliverables aren’t visual, they’re text.
We’ll build a Project Brief to summarize what we’ve learned and to give everyone involved in the project a shared baseline. Then we can all agree to this foundation and build on it.
In the Project Brief, we’ll cover things like:
- Project summary
- Client summary
+ Market position
- Project goals (measurable, ideally)
- Target audience
If possible, we love to also include:
- Google Analytics insights
- Domain vocabulary
- User interviews
- Industry research
- Strategic recommendations
As we learn about your company, project, and industry, we’ll record our findings and recommendations in a set of strategy documents. Only some of these are likely to apply to your project.
In all likelihood, these documents will continue to evolve as we get into the next phase, Diagram, which is still strategic in nature.
Many sites are essentially repositories of information. Content with style. This content may be words, photos, or videos.
There’s a lot to figure out to ensure that these kinds of sites will succeed, especially over time. A content strategy addresses things like:
What are the goals of the content?
What content is needed to meet the project’s purpose? What is the messaging architecture, the target audience, the voice and tone?
What is the structure of the content?
How is content organized? What is the taxonomy?
Who will provide the content?
Who writes the words, shoots the photos, and produces the videos? What tools do they use? What tools would benefit them?
What is the content lifecycle?
How is new content identified? What is the editorial process? How is content monitored, optimized, and retired?
We'll take a look at what type of site – content and functionality – you need. Maybe you need e-commerce with a robust shopping cart and user profile, or a simple template-based content management system. We'll evaluate where your money is best spent, whether it's on the custom coding of a unique website or an out-of-the-box solution with less control (and less cost).
In short, we’ll figure out how to approach building your product. We’ll be as technical as you want us to be (or not be), and we’ll always aim for keeping your costs minimal. Often we find that our clients can get away with a more canned, lower cost approach (e.g. Squarespace) rather than a more custom, tailored, expensive solution.
In a heuristic analysis, we deeply analyze the current product against an industry-standard, time-tested set of design principles, or heuristics.
This elucidates the current state, fosters a deep familiarity with the product, and highlights opportunities.
A heuristic analysis is considered a “discount usability method”. A small team of UX experts (or even just one) can uncover key design findings for a fraction of the cost of a full usability study, which involves recruitment, test design, test execution, analysis, and presentation.
It's important we understand who you're up against. We want to know what your users (and potential users) are comparing you to, and we want to find opportunities to win.
So we'll analyze each of your primary competitors. We might also map your product and its competitors against a list of key features and qualities. This can help us all understand industry standards and also find opportunities to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes we even find new ideas that competitors have or – better yet – don’t have.
Perhaps most of your competitors don’t have responsive sites. Maybe they all have tiny product photos that hide much-needed detail. Perhaps everyone in this space is dominated by blue. Maybe your competitors are have mediocre product browsing experiences and there is an opportunity to win with minimal effort. All of this can inform our strategic and design choices.
Personas are fictional archetypes of your target audience.
We create these characters to make it easier to empathize with your users. We might create “Joe the busy dad”, and as we design part of the product we might walk through it saying “So Joe’s just home from work and throws his keys in the bowl by the door and pulls his phone out of his pocket…”.
We’ll create 3-5 personas for a project. It’s important to keep this number limited or else we’ll all lose focus (and besides, the product itself might not have enough focus). Each persona includes a photo of that “person”, their demographics, typical behaviors, needs, and motivations.
A system map is an overview of all the ways you connect with your customer.
It can highlight paths your customers take across channels (e.g. from a television ad to a Facebook page to a product page), or how different types of customers use different channels (e.g. moms come through magazine promotions while managers come from intranet links).
This all serves to make sure we’re addressing important users at key places. It can also identify new ways to address users.
This might be a system perspective of the Customer journeys (below) so both may not be needed.
A customer journey outlines the steps customers take as they typically perform a primary conversion task.
Along the way, we outline the customers’ goals and motivations to ensure we’re building a product that serves the real needs of your customers. Maybe your customers never even realize they need your product (so we need to work on awareness before we worry about optimizing the cart), or they are getting frustrated when they don’t know where to start their process and Google doesn’t help (so we can invest in some solid search engine optimization).
This might be a user perspective of the System map (above) so both may not be needed.
A measurement strategy outlines the most critical metrics we can use to monitor the success of your product's user experience.
These metrics help keep design choices focused on the bottom line. They’re essential to measuring our progress when your new product is live and then as we work to optimize it. A measurement strategy includes identifying key performance indicators (KPIs), primary metrics to quantify your product's success.
There are tons of KPIs to choose from for different kinds of projects, but some of the most common:
- Conversion (sales / visits)
- Bounce rate
- Unique visitors
- Returning visitors
- Page views per visit
- Time on page
- Time on site
We'll work with your development team to determine which KPIs we can track (with a reasonable level of effort). Our collaboration will continue as we find opportunities to optimize the product (again focusing on low-cost, high-return opportunities).
At this time we'll also set up a Google Analytics account, and provide page level tracking code to be implemented on your site.