Building with a Blueprint

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If you were to start building a house without a blueprint, running only on vaporous dreams of utopia, you’d likely miss a few things, like that big dining room your wife has always wanted. A blueprint for a house is an artifact borne out of detailed thought and consideration. Those thoughts are captured and documented so that all parties are pleased.

Whether you’ve set out to make a small website for your startup business, or you’re attempting to put Facebook out of business, creating blueprints for your project, we call them mockups, will allow you to nail down your ideas in a highly visual way. Mockups tend to act as visual requirement documents. They might show pages that you’d expect to see in the final product or showcase navigation and layout options. Our general rule of thumb is the more mockups, and the more details, the better the result.

Think of a mockup as a nonfunctional picture of your website, none of the pieces operate, but you can get a clear sense of user experience. In general, mockups are created in applications like Photoshop and then posted for clients to see. As we develop mockups for our customers, we post the mockups in our special design index, created for easy publishing.

Mockups are valuable assets to any venture, below are a few additional reasons to leave some room in the budget for this phase of the design process.

Expectation Management

Just like the wife who is upset about her lack of dining space, project team members can become disgruntled when their particular feature is missing. Additionally, the website might not look like what they had envisioned during the planning phase. When you omit the mockup or design phase from a project, depending on its size, you may be asking for heartache. Thorough mockups and requirements help set and maintain expectations with both the client and the contractor. The client can call out the contractor when a feature in the mockup is missing, and the contractor can call scope creep when a feature was clearly missing from a mockup (and the requirements doc).

When we work on projects, bigger ones especially, we like to break it down into two main phases: Design and Development. If the RFP (request for proposal) is vague we may wait to give an estimate for the development phase until the design phase is completed and requirements have become more concrete. Generally if you can wait to start the development phase until the design phase is complete, you can also avoid unnecessary scope creep.

Usability before Development

Usability testing is the process of discovering how usable your website is for the people who will actually be using it. Generally, in usability testing, users are given specific tasks in regards to your interface, and rigorous notes are taken to capture interaction. This testing can occur long before development completes, in fact, the sooner the better.

By printing out mockups, and setting them before usability participants, much can be learned. It is a tragic thing, to finish development, only to find that users find your interface complicated and hard to use.

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