Setting Priority of Goals in Web Design

Posted on May 8, 2012 by

Many web designers don’t realize the importance of goal-oriented design and fail to weigh several competing factors. Web designers need to determine which goals are the most essentials and establish a priority of goals to ensure better experience among users. Designers often debate among themselves over what the primary concept, principle or idea is for developing a great design. Some designers always look for a magic formula that tells you to follow a set of steps and guarantee a success every time.

Even the best web designers in the industry don’t posses such a magic formula nor do they believe one exists. However, many of them are proponents of goal-oriented designs and speak about them often. We can generally say that the difference between good design and bad one is that the former always meets its goals and the latter doesn’t. Often bad designs are the result of not having a goal in the first place.
However, fully accepting this premise still can’t get us very far. Too often the conversation on this matter is whittled down forcefully to much narrower topics. What should we focus on? Usability or aesthetics? Users or the client? As if being a web designer merely involves choosing a high priority goals and sticking to it.

Many project managers are too ambitious and defined that it’s like trying to hit a golf ball and making hole-in-one consistently, which even Tiger Woods is incapable of doing. Professional golfers have one primary task: hit the ball. But much like web design, golf is more complicated than that. You need stand, grip the club, swing the club and twist your body properly; while transitioning through various stages seamlessly. What seems like a fairly straightforward task of hitting a golf ball; turns into a very complex series of mini-goals that new golfers get right only after trying for hundreds of times.

Web design is the same way, trying to find a magic formula is as silly as believing that you can always put the ball right into the hole with one beautiful, elegant swing. When working with a web design project, you often need to deal with a myriad of goals and assign various degrees of priority.

It would too easy to say that web designers need to handle all goals equally to make for a well-rounded design. But unfortunately, real world projects won’t afford you such luxury. As they can’t or won’t set priority of goals, web designers oversimplify these goals, just to make them manageable. It communicates a fact that there’s indeed a limit to goals that they can achieve. Given a finite amount of resources and time, they should establish goals and define a list of priority. After defining goals in a project, which compete for your attention, you next step is to list them based on the order of importance. Before prioritizing your goals, you should understand what type of goals that exists in a web design project:

• Client’s Goals: A client is usually the most demanding stakeholder in a project with various wants and needs. You’re often asked to develop a design that can accurately represent a brand or a company and encourage visitors to read or take certain desired actions. Clients also expect designers to stay within established budget and meet important deadlines.
• Users’ goals: They are the most important stakeholder in a web design project with set of goals that can define the success of a website. This is where UX (user experience) goals come into play. Users want everything in the website to work fluidly. Unfortunately, client’s goals and users’ goals are sometimes mismatched.
• Web designer’s goals: Designers do have their own goals in a web design project. If you deny it, you are probably lying. Get your own goals and better be honest about them, so you can decide whether one particular goal is worth pursuing. Your goal might be to implement new design styles or CSS3 tricks that can help you achieve stakeholders’ goals. Designer’s goals should be viewed in light of all vested parties, to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
• Stakeholders’ goals: Stakeholders are all involved parties (client, users and web designer) in the project and web designers should consider their common interests. Meeting stakeholders’ goals are a huge step toward successful web design project.

The hierarchy above only defines common categories of goals and they should help you to organize goals in a project. The reality is that, some projects may have different goal categorizations, as there are more than three stakeholders involved.

As indicated previously, the key to defining goals priority is to consider whether the goal is a win for everyone. If conflict does arise, which will be ultimately pursued? Chances are, client’s goals sit above all else. Ideally, users are the most important stakeholder and should be prioritized, but in the end you’re hired by a client who wants to get as many things as possible for the money spent. Designers who insist to put users’ goals above the one who writes the check are often considered as rogue designers and get a bad reputation. The web design industry can be a little unfair sometimes. Ideal clients always put users’ goals high on their priority list and makes things much easier. However, if you face a conflict, you need to be persuasive.

Given the fact that some clients have zero interest in pursuing users’ goals at this juncture, you should propose adding a new element that can benefit users without disrupting client’s goals. Show them examples of poorly executed client-centric websites, perhaps your client will be sold on completely.

In a goal-oriented design, it is impossible to achieve “one size fits all” approach. No web design experts can give you a correctly delineated list of goals that will work on any project. Great designers don’t start their projects in Photoshop but with a piece of paper and a plain old pen. Start by listing goals for you design and then order them based on order of importance while considering relationship between client, users and you, as a web designer. Once the step is completed, go over this approach with the client.
If you do this right, often your client would be amazed by how thorough you are. It’s likely that your client wants to make some adjustment on the list, if so, find a compromise. After you and the client have list of goals that’s mutually agreed, everyone will be better prepared to create something effective. Agreed upon goals can also help you defend your ground if a conflict occurs later in the project. Sometimes, the client tells you to go to a random direction; just pull out the agreed-upon list of goals and remind the client that the best end results could only be achieved by following the original plan.

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