Spend the time to plan before you build, to set a clear direction.

Just as you wouldn’t build a home or remodel a room without a blueprint, you can’t start a successful SharePoint site by rushing into the building phase.  Planning for success is a key part of achieving success, and without a solid plan, your site design could go down a path that leads to never realizing the value and adoption goals you envisioned.

So how do you accomplish this?  I typically start by asking three key questions:

  • Beyond the typical requirements gathering process, do I really know what the target audiences need from this site?
  • What are the typical activities the users will perform on the site, and can I design ways for them to take multiple paths (highly recommended) to get there?
  • And because most people cannot envision how it’s really going to look, have I created a visual representation of the navigation and overall site design to make sure people can picture what it will be like to work on the site before we start to build?

Designing for a positive end user experience and ensuring your solution will sustainably meet your users’ needs is both an art and a science.

  • In site design, target audiences are often referred to as personas – essentially a detailed description of the wants and needs of a particular type of site user. Each site will typically have 3-6 distinct personas.  Defining personas helps to ensure that the site will be designed for all of its users.
  • Activities are often referred to as use cases, and help you clearly define the paths that people will take to find the information they need or to perform a particular task. Providing multiple ways to traverse your site, either through navigation, search and graphical design, will ensure that the different personas – who will each view your site slightly differently – have an easy and intuitive way to get to where they want or need to go.
  • Your visual representation can be achieved through navigational schematics and wireframes – pictures of what the site will look like and what content will appear on each key page. This process helps translate your requirements into images, and allows stakeholders to react to how they feel about the design before the building phase starts.  These wireframes also act as a guide for your site development team to ensure everything is built to spec.

At this point you may be asking, “Who does all this work?”  This is where your information architect comes in, one of the most crucial roles of a successful site design.  The information architect’s job is to take the vision and transform it into something real.  They understand good design, site architecture, user experience, and technical implementation.  They involve site users and stakeholders throughout this process to ensure everyone feels ownership and is bought into the final solution.  And most importantly, they understand how all these components impact each other, so that the architectural elements (the parts your end users don’t see), and the end user elements (the parts that they do), support a seamless and positive user experience.