Designing large projects can quickly get complicated for developers, clients and designers alike. While the designer isn’t the only role that must stay organized, everyone on the project must also stay organized, but everything starts with the designer. Losing control of the site at the design level means the entire project will be off track.
I keep the three R’s for conservation of the planet which I learnt in elementary school in mind while I’m designing an enormous project: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Reduce and Recycle
I’m combining the two because they’re similar yet slightly different at the same time. Picture reducing as avoiding what you haven’t yet planned and recycling as removing excessive plans or waste.
You might not be able to reduce the scope or the size of the website, this is probably dictated to you by your boss or a client, but you must do what you can to reduce the complexity on the design level. Failure to do this will result in a messy development, a bloated schedule and a confused end user.
Reducing the complexity of the flow of the site is another way to reduce the task. Create a flow diagram of all the different sections and functions in your gigantic project. Soon you’ll notice loops and dead ends that don’t make sense or can be rethought, realigned or even just removed.
Once you have the majority of the flow done, it’s time to make more flow charts, these ones specifically for each function. Don’t forget all functions including back end support like updating content and products, as well as customer facing events. Each of these flows are miniature, bite sized flows that should be saved alongside of the complete diagram you drew before. Remember to reduce each feature as much as possible as well.
Finally – with your flows in hand – revisit them with a list of users in mind. No, you don’t need to imagine both Jim and Sally Walsh, the couple from Boston that visits your site on separate days of the week. Reduce the list of users to 3 or 4 groups. Sales Teams, Backend support, Buyers and Information Seekers generally those are the 4 user groups that I usually use. You may need a different set of users yourself, but this list should get you started.
Each user group has a different goal when they use your site. Any feature that’s not supporting one of your groups should be tossed into the recycle bin.
Finally, with all these user groups, flows, themes and the rest of your design, you’ve got to reduce the complexity in your naming conventions. Keep related things named together, and keep them as brief as possible.
No website, mobile or otherwise, needs more than a handful of buttons. There’s no reason that your action buttons can’t be the same – with but a few highlighted ones in another style. A few basic layouts that are again reused; and a content strategy that reuses themes and ideas can be added to your website’s to do list. The art of reusing without copying is a tough one to balance, but as a good designer, you can do it.
Mr. Burns from The Simpsons described Recycling as “pawing through his garbage like a starving raccoon” to sort the paper from the plastic.
Designing monstrous websites includes something you no longer have to do, and that’s sort. Keeping the plan organized for the entire team. We talked briefly about naming conventions, but sorting also includes keeping design documentation organized in folders.
A “Design Bible” referencing where everything can be found, and hyper linking it for easy access, should be kept as the go-to document for everyone. In addition to a central table of contents, this document should include a revision history for every design change that was made. Some people also include the goals and target audiences in this document, but others keep it as a reference only. Where you put the goals and audiences is up to you, just as long as it’s noted in the Design Bible so it can be easily found.
Controlling the Site and not Being Controlled by it
Reigning in the site and being its master requires exponential investments in time, increasing when the size of the site increases. As a designer, you’re responsible for keeping everything tightly tuned as well as other things like testing and communicating the design.
And to think, you thought being a web designer would be a walk in the park!
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