Growth-Driven Design: An Incremental Approach to the Web

Mike Ibberson on May 05, 2017

Why Your Next Website Could Be a Resoundingly Stupid Investment

A bright theoretical physicist once quipped: “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” The very same man devised the famous theory of special relativity, E=mc2.

Just as Einstein has influenced our modern philosophy on science, his sage words speak to businesspeople everywhere. Unfortunately, most are deaf to the fact their approach to the World Wide Web is certifiably crazy.

Traditional web design is a fundamentally broken process, yet many agencies today remain married to it. If you shop around, you’ll start to see trends in how different creatives approach the digital space. Most hit the following milestones (often in the same order).

  • Brainstorm. The client and designer—maybe the project coordinator and developer too—sit down and hash out a rough sketch of what users might find useful and visually pleasing. In most brainstorm sessions, both parties draw inspiration from competitors in the industry and think about what digital assets the current website (if one exists) is missing.
  • Design and Development. After parting from the meeting, the creative minds get to work. Usually within a few weeks, the client receives several mock-ups, which showcase how the new website will look and annotate its functionality. If approved, these mock-ups get shipped to development and coding commences.
  • Launch. Supposing all went well in the previous step—realistically, directives got changed, resulting in process breakdowns and missed deadlines—the production phase ends and the site gets pushed to a live environment. That’s it.

So, what’s wrong with the process above? Seems standard—even logical—and most of it is. The true problem exists between the lines, particularly before the brainstorm and after the launch steps. Let’s consider what prompts a new website:

  1. The business doesn’t own one currently;
  2. The existing website is underperforming;
  3. The existing website lacks necessary functionality to grow.

Only one of the aforesaid situations will result in a satisfactory new website—the one lacking functionality. This is because the client has already identified the business’ successes in the digital space and intends to scale them. New functionality also implies a review of the old; the redesign has initiative. This equips the production team with enough past data to really make an impact on all things new and updated.

But how about the client who’s never had a site before? Or how about the client with a bad website. Both inherently run into the same challenge that inevitably breaks the web design process—assumptive planning. Unlike the brand with an existing website generating data and results to guide further digital expansion, these other clients enter the process blindly. They simply rely on inspiration from competitor websites or their own personal preferences to figure out (a) what needs to go into the website or (b) what went wrong with the last one.

There’s an adage about assuming, and it applies here too. When building a new website on assumption, the chance of it succeeding after launch is small. Then, in two to three years, that unhappy customer comes back to try again. Every new redesign builds upon the same fundamental flaws, which ultimately wastes capital and resources. Seriously, though, what’s that called when someone repeats a process and expects different results?

Growth-Driven Design Proposes a Cure

Traditional web design misses validation—every graphical and textual decision is, at best, an educated guess. But what if instead of investing in gut feelings you could buy into actionable data? Data that can transform your website into your largest sales and marketing asset?  In other words, how can one client become the client described above that comes away from the whole process happy and effectual?

Using the innovative methodology, Growth-Driven Design (GDD), we can kick the crazies to the curb and develop websites poised to outperform themselves month-over-month. GDD is a lean incremental approach to web design where only users dictate change. How they interact online reveals the areas worth developing. This results in fewer resources and less capital wasted on guesswork and error.

Sounds good, right? Well, let’s delve a bit deeper to see just how rational this system is.

Unlike traditional web design projects, GDD is a recurring service. That’s how it effectively avoids pitfalls like stagnation. The deliverables from the first few weeks comprise its foundation. While we may tweak them later, the initial phases of a GDD retainer are crucial. Suitably, the whole process begins with an intense strategy session.

The Pillars of Growth-Driven Design

As we go over the key areas of a growth-driven design retainer, consider how the following principles effect the approach taken in every phase.

  1. User-Centricity: Catering to user expectations and helping them to realize goals aligned with the business.
  2. Creativity: Redefining the “box” for better marketing performance and stronger user experiences.
  3. Productivity: Maximizing the resources and time invested in a website by focusing on outcomes rather than features.
  4. Adaptable: Evolving daily to meet new traffic demands, retain more visitors and convert more leads.

Phase One: Strategy

The strategy phase produces three core documents.

1 Customer personas

Fictional representations of customer groups for increasing marketing empathy and calculating key metrics like cost of acquisition, lifetime value and retention rate. To construct these personas, we conduct both internal (employees) and external (clients) interviews. By getting these two perspectives, we can build well-rounded profiles.

2 Buyer journeys

An overview of the stages each persona passes through before, during and after contact with the company.

  • Awareness—the user gathers information to determine if he or she has a problem.
  • Consideration—the user identifies a problem and researches how to solve it.
  • Decision—the user sets search parameters to narrow the selection of businesses that can help solve the issue.
  • Delight—the user enjoys a positive onboarding experience and continues to derive value from being a customer month-after-month.

3 Wish lists

A brainstorming sheet of 75 to 200+ actionable ideas for engaging each persona and funneling such people along the buyer journey. All ideas seek to solve challenges, facilitate learning or prompt conversations in a remarkable way. Ideas include features, functionality, pages, sections and more.

Through these documents, we assess and understand the company—its goals and competitors. The information collected helps our team determine low-risk developments. In other words, hashing out the biggest impact ideas that are easy to implement and sure to succeed.

Ideally, our wish list will shrink by 80% before phase two, leaving only the best ideas for the foundation. All others sit on the backburner as “nice-to-haves” rather than “must-haves.”

Before bringing these ideas to life, they do need some validation. After all, GDD resists assumption-based decisions. Largely, there are three types of research we use to assemble data.

  • Qualitative—direct feedback gleaned through persona surveys and other client communications.
  • Quantitative—data on the previous website’s performance that reveal trends and patterns worth leaning into.
  • Observational—behavioural data based on tools like heat maps, screen recordings and conversion funnels.

For clients without a previous website or analytics, we rely mostly on qualitative data and industry-level quantitative data. When lacking basic metrics, accelerating the launch pad date is critical to start collecting real numbers. It just so happens the launch pad comes in stage two.

Phase Two: Launch Pad

When GDD first surfaced, many agencies criticized it as an incomplete model. This is because we launch a lite-website within a month and then build on top of it over time. Traditionally, the live website is a finished product, but GDD changes this with the launch pad, a robust starting point. The purpose of the launch pad is to evolve and not stagnate over time.

We start with a launch pad because it allows us to go live in only a few weeks. The sooner the site goes up the more data we can collect. This means no more assumptions.  Rather than building, it shifts focus into testing, measuring, experimenting and accentuating. In effect, businesses feel the effects of their websites faster.

For example, following the launch, every new website goes through a harvest period. During this time, designers look for low-hanging fruit—easy changes that produce significant results. Eventually, the only fruit left to pick is on the higher branches, at which point we return to the remaining items on the wish list. We might embellish it at second glance, too.

Phase Three: Continuous Improvement

Once the harvest period concludes, the continuous improvement phase commences. At this point, GDD marries design and marketing through an 8-step cycle for streamlining resource allocation and data assessment.

Each step passes through three stages: planning, executing and learning. Learning is essential in every task as it informs future decision-making.

  • Audience: Establish a consistent fresh flow of organic visitors for conducting experiments and producing actionable results.
  • Value: Optimize the clarity, focus and purpose of each page to help users solve problems and digest information.
  • Usability: Deliver more value through intuitive, interactive digital experiences that help user segments complete tasks and navigate pages.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization: Eliminate all friction between action steps on the website. Simplify all processes to lift barriers from users wanting to convert.
  • Stickiness: Create regular users by giving them incentives to return, share and progress in their buyer journeys.
  • Personalization: Customize the experience to suit the needs and expectations of each segment earlier identified.
  • Assets: Establish free tools (not resources) that qualify leads and solve pain-points for the personas.
  • Promotors: Encourage users to share the resources and assets on the website with friends, family, colleagues and clients.

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