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Usability: A Key Ingredient for Successful Websites

Have you ever cooked something that ended up being a surprise “fail” when someone else tasted it? It’s hard to forget that moment when someone tastes your lovingly-prepared, thoughtfully-sourced dish but it fails to generate comment, let alone the desire for more.  Somewhere in the process, your kitchen alchemy failed, and even if everyone is nice about it, it doesn’t matter– they won’t be coming back for seconds. I recently experienced a culinary “miss” of this sort at a holiday potluck. In this case, I made a fragrant dish with some rare spices I collected in the course of my travels. It sure was memorable, and it smelled great, but all of those wonderful elements were lost at the moment of truth, because, frankly, it didn’t taste good. The guests quickly moved away from my Wall of Exotic Flavors and filled their plate with twists on proven, easy-to-manage classics.  

How does my potluck folly fit into what we do at Newfangled? Just like my intricate dish, many websites are crafted with the finest “ingredients” but fall flat when it comes down to the user experience. You can craft pitch-perfect messages, employ the latest design, and your collateral materials may win industry awards. However, if your website does not reflect (and leverage) the way people actually use the web, you will inevitably lose time, money and business. In my previous work with public relations agencies, the strategic lens through which I viewed the web development process focused on the clarity of messaging, attractiveness of layout, and including all of the important stuff my clients did. Typically, by the time a web developer became actively involved in the process, all of the marketing “ingredients” had already been bought and assembled. The work of communicators and developers was usually siloed, even though their mission was the same. This approach usually resulted in web sites that required a lot of post-launch work and serial meetings to figure out why the carefully-planned new site was not engaging users.

Usability is a critically-important part of the web development process, so it’s a good idea to bring in the development perspective at the beginning of any marketing initiative. Newfangled’s Grayscreen Prototype process was developed as one way to address this issue. Working together from the project’s inception, clients, agencies, and Newfangled’s team of developers and project managers come together to build a mock-up site that allows clients see how their website will look and work before design is applied or content is entered. The team reviews each prototype page and element at every step of the way and makes strategic adjustments as needed. This ensures that the site gets built the right way the first time, and that all of the work that went into the marketing plan is not lost in translation, and importantly, on the user. It’s like having a team of tasters to let you know that the recipe is solid, that your unique twist on it will get attention, and what you can add to make it even better. I really could have used their help when I made that dish.

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