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Identifying Website Requirements

Identifying Website Requirements

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01/12/2011

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Identifying
 Web Site
RequirementsIdentifying
 Web Site
Requirements
6June 2001
cover
B
 Y 
 ATHRYN
S
UMMERS
Piedmont Chapter 
 AND
M
ICHAEL
S
UMMERS
 
T
alented graphic designers. Infor-mation architects who can serveup the Library of Congress inthree clicks or less. Technical developers who can invent completely new tech-nologies “just for you.” None of it mat-ters until you know THE answers to twoquestions:“What should we build? And why?”Identifying the requirements of what  you should build is the hardest part of the design process. It is also what sepa-rates excellent Web shops from aver-age ones. The methods they use, andthe time they take before a single lineof code is written or a single designconcept is applied, are what make thedifference.Identifying requirements is about pur-suing the answers to a series of impor-tant questions. How do we make money? What is our brand position? What are ourusers’ key goals? What technology assetsdo we already have, and what core com-ponents will we need as part of our e-business architecture?The following sections present four cat-egories of questions and considerationsthat you should discuss with your clients:(1) client business goals, (2) client brandpositioning, (3) user goals, and (4) tech-nical and human resources. We also dis-cuss some of the tools you can use forgetting answers. The questions are theresult of years of experience and many client engagements.
Client Business Goals
In the complex world of e-business, asuccessful Web design team needs morethan an eye-catching layout and usablenavigation. Even if you’re working for anonprofit, understanding and settingbusiness goals is a critical part of identify-ing what specific functional requirements your client’s new Web site will have. Ask-ing your clients a series of important questions early on lets you use theiranswers to help create your design. By getting these answers early, you canreturn to them later in the design process when things might otherwise have a ten-dency to get out of control.But be careful. Relying too heavily onclient ideas can also be a good way of run-ning
 yourself 
out of business. Clients usu-ally do a great job articulating what they  want the outcomes of their site redesignto be: “We want to be THE pet supply retail destination on the Web.” “We want to RE-INVENT the concept of businessfinancing.” However, they can do a terri-ble job translating those goals into spe-cific details about what should be built,and why. Help your clients focus on theirbusiness goals rather than get into pre-mature efforts to design the site itself.
How do we make money? 
This is a great question for helpingclients gain focus. Once, while talking tothe marketing vice president of an onlinebank, we were discussing what the top-level “tabs” of the site would be. Ourdesigns had four major tabs: (1) bank-ing, which included all of the accounts,billpay, and account transfer manage-ment tools; (2) brokerage, whichincluded trading and account manage-ment, research tools, and financial news;(3) insurance; and (4) financial plan-ning. The discussion turned on the issueof whether the bank should attempt toadd a fifth tab that made it possible forcustomers to compare rates and searchfor the best financial deals on the entire Web—something similar to an MSNMoneyCentral model.Of course, the problem was focus. Didthe client want the site to offer the ser- vices of a bank, with its own set of bank-ing and investing products as well as theinsurance products of its partner, or did it  want the site to be a financial portal,offering news, information, educationand advice, and providing impartial prod-uct comparisons? We were arguing that it couldn’t be both effectively.
June 20017
cover
June 20017
 Editor’s note: This article touches on both Web site design and branding. If you’re interested in these topics, be sure to check out STC’s Web site at 
www.stc.org 
. It recently underwent a major redesign and now incorporates the old 
www.stc.org 
site as well as the old 
www.stc-va.org 
site. In addition,the results of STC’s recent branding efforts are available at 
www.stc.org/admin_docs.html 
(select “Guidelines for Integrating STC’s Brand”).
 
In the case of the online bank, it mademoney when more of the 30,000 daily  visitors to its site made the decision toopen new or fund existing accounts. By focusing on the user behaviors that actu-ally supported the bank’s business goals, we helped ground the discussion on howto shape the site. Even if you are working with a nonprofit organization, asking themoney question is a great way to get executives focused, because they’refamiliar and comfortable with that way of thinking.
What is the size of the market opportunity? 
 When trying to weigh the amount of time, technical resources, and money that should be spent on different phases of a site design, it is obviously helpful to know how much demand isout there. If research estimates that more than a million people are goingto begin using electronic billpay in thenext six months, but only a few hun-dred thousand would even be inter-ested in expensive customizationfeatures, deciding which of the two toimplement gets a lot easier.Of course a larger issue is whetherthere is market demand for the entireoffering. Even before the recent market slump, there were lots of spectacular dot-com failures. Not every business belongsonline, and not every site will provide agood return on investment (or generaterevenue), no matter how well it’sdesigned.
Who are our most formidable competitors? 
This question seems so obvious that it’salmost not worth mentioning. But thefirst thing you and your client should do when you start a design process is to iden-tify your client’s biggest competitors. Takea hard look at what they’re doing andnot doing. Then, as you identify require-ments, evaluate how your offering willcompare with theirs.But watch out for the tendency to“keep up with the Joneses.” During aredesign of a major airline site, ourclient’s response to any question or dis-cussion about requirements was“Delta’s doing it.” This reaction wasn’t so much a competitive analysis as it wasa knee-jerk impulse to declare that if other airlines did it, it must be a goodidea.
What are the specific revenue and growth goals? How will we measure success? 
These are important questions evenfor nonprofits. Of course, you can’t really convince yourself or your client that thesite (re)design has been a success if youdidn’t begin the process with some goalin mind. Our best recommendation isto be realistic. During a recent financialservices site launch, one of the big fiveconsulting firms participating in the pro- ject predicted that the site would have amillion customers by the end of that  year. It had 107,000. Don’t just make upthe numbers. Instead, try to connect them to some real metric of success forthe venture. If the client is a nonprofit,do some field work before the redesignand find out what impressions peoplehave of the site. After the redesign, dothe same test. You hope to be able toshow your client that yes, users who vis-ited the site were more readily able tounderstand its purpose (for example,fundraising, issues education), and yes,they were immediately able to explainhow to make a donation.If you’re working with a corporationor a business, set success metrics rela-tive to what the client is spending onsite development. Of course, the site’sresults can far exceed expectations, andif you do things right they probably will,but set some realistic metrics based on what the client is investing in(re)designing the site. If the client isspending $800,000 on a redesign, breakthat down into numbers of new cus-tomers, reduced support costs, product sales, or some other measure. Estimatehow many user behaviors the client needs to see to recoup its investment.Executives appreciate this kind of think-ing, and it will help you be accountabletoo.
What user behaviors best support our business goals? 
Information architects love this ques-tion. They are very interested in under-standing the most important pieces of functionality and information. Just like agrocery store putting staples like milk in
8June 2001
cover

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