Here is my simple, patent pending method to use to help users design good SharePoint sites. It combines two very effective IA methods into one and its amazing how it turns people from wanting 1990’s era sites complete with horizontal scrolling banners with animated GIF’s into usability and IA gurus within minutes.
The tools of the trade you need for this method is:
- Balsamiq, a terrific wireframing tool that I previously reviewed.
- http://www.websitesthatsuck.com/ – a hilarious site dedicated to teaching people how to design sites by looking at particularly crap ones
So now you know the ingredients, let’s run through the recipe
- Put key stakeholders into a room (ensure the ones with poor taste are there together)
- Visit websitesthatsuck.com and review the 2010 contenders for worst websites of the year. (For what its worth, my personal vote is Yale School of Art)
- Have a good laugh and discuss all the crappy aspects to those sites – make particular note of the write-up on websitesthatsuck for each contender
- With the group’s sucky website radar now primed, have them load up their existing intranet (if they are really big organisation, go around to various departmental sites around the intranet). This time they will not laugh, due to the effect of your “crapness calibration” ™ exercise, they will see many faults in the existing site straight away.
- At this point, crank out Balsamiq and start to wireframe what the site should look like while you have the fleeting moment of clarity (crapness calibration fades with time and needs to be re-primed). The wisdom of the crowd should ensure that most of the common mistakes will be avoided there and then.
- Statistically, one of every three times you do this, there is always one user who’s taste is so bad that calibration will take another round of deprogramming. So if you have someone that persists with crap taste or has ideas that 99% of the user base would balk at, move to the 2009 hall of shame for sucky sites. Faced with the reaction from their peers, as well as the parallels that can be drawn between their current site and the contenders, it usually does the trick.
- Also be sure to draw attention to sites that have similar underlying concepts, but where one works well and the other has agonising lameness. For example, the New York Times compared to Havenworks. Discuss the layout, colours, fonts, images, navigation, search and the like and relate back to the site being envisioned.
In about 30-90 minutes, one of two things will happen.
- You will have a pretty good wireframe or three
- The group will realise that they have more soul searching to do.
Although your business development manager will whine at you if outcome 2 happens, consider it a good thing. You will be saving yourself and the participants a mountain of stress later and have them thinking more holistically about the outcomes they are trying to achieve.
(Final serious bit at the end alert)
What you will notice when performing this process, is that with a recent and clear frame of reference, some of the biases that people carry with them can be temporarily lifted. In some ways, this exercise is very similar to the “down the pub” calibration of estimates exercise that I wrote about previously. The trick is to find ways to change the lens people look through to see other aspects or facets to the problem at hand.
To that end, if you are in the UK or nearby, consider coming to my Governance and Information Architecture Master Class in London with Andrew Woodward and Ant Clay. Lots of other (more serious and rigorous) methods for developing shared understanding will be covered.
Thanks for reading