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|Ensuring Website Consistency in 5 Not-So-E-Z Steps. Posted on 05/07/2002.
Go read Part 2 of my essay on how big organizations can achieve unity in their online presence. In the piece, I set out examples of things like style guides. If you folks know of other good resources that would be of help, please post them in the comments section.
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Thanks for the article, Peter. I've found it very timely, as my group - an enterprise customer experience group acting as internal consultancy to various business units, much like the model Lou suggests - just embarked on a project to revise our Web standards and guidelines. The project's been initiated because although we've had a fairly detailed Web style guide for some time now, we've found it hasn't been particularly useful for us in promoting consistency across our site for two reasons. First, it doesn't go far enough beyond specifying page and pixel level design, leaving out important IA and interaction design guidelines. Secondly, while getting developers and third party agencies to adhere to the style guide hasn't been too much of a problem when we've worked with them directly, product managers and business executives have not found it to be particulalry useful or relevant because it leaves out "the why". Because it can sometimes cost them more time or money up front to comply with the guidelines than not too (a promblem in and of itself), they have been difficult to enforce without a fairly compelling explanation of how their products will ultimately benefit by being following our guidelines.
So we're attempting to remedy these problems through an approach much like the one you've outlined. Our first step is to conduct contextual research to better understand our users. In this cases, "user" means two different things. There are the end users of our web sites, the people who we ultimately hope to benefit by improving the consistency and quality of our sites. And there's also the users of the style guides - developers, designers, product managers, QA testers, etc who refer to the style guide in a number of different ways in the course of building new pages or sites.
The findings of the research of end users will be developed into personas and usage scenarios to be included into the style guide, as a basis for subsequent design decisions about the behavior of our site, navigation design, and the like. That's one way we hope to make a case for the why - demonstrating how typical people use our sites and how our designs will best support those behaviors. Findings from the research of users of the style guide are intended to help us create requirements for the style guide itself - understanding how different types of people will use the style guide differently and using that to inform our decisions about the form and contents of the style guide document (or web site, or whatever form it ultimately ends up in).
So I expect the research to be an extremely valuable part of this project. That's obviously just the first step though - we'll still have a lot of work to do to make sure we translate those finding into good design solutions. And figuring out to best leverage our CMS to promote and enforce those designs is going to be a pretty significant undertaking as well. But thanks to your article, I've got a little bit more confidence that we're on the right track, and that we can do this well. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
Posted by jz @ 05/07/2002 10:48 AM PST [link to this comment]
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