Focused Design

Image from Flickr via Untitled blue

Image from Flickr via Untitled blue

Many higher education institutions have multiple target audiences and multiple goals they want to accomplish.  This is usually represented by the institutional website.  You may see messaging for alumni, parents, donors, government, faculty, prospective students, current students, partners, etc.  With each of these audiences, there are usually tasks the institution would like to see these visitors accomplish.

There is great risk in attempting to address all our audiences equally on your public website.  A  consultant we have been working with really summed it up with this quote:

Where many are served, few are served well.

Having your public website provide information and tasks for too many audiences cause your visitors to weed through irrelevant content which causes confusion and a lack of interest.  Taking a Focused Design approach will help you achieve your goals online. I’m going to share some of the tips that I’ve observed so far in our redesign project.

Work an External Consultant

I realize that working with external consultants come with their fair share of difficulties.  But there is one benefit that trumps all the difficulties – they are an outside resource.  As you being your journey, there will be many internal stakeholders that will have their opinions about how the site should work, who the audience is and what the goals are.  Bringing in outside voice into the mix remove some of your internal subjectivity.

Identify Primary Goals

A large reason why websites focus on many audiences is because they don’t have a primary goal identified for their website.  Organizations that have not formally agreed on primary goals for the website are not guided and are subject to wavering and constant circling with regards to their messaging online.  Identifying your primary goal, with the help of an outside voice, will help to narrow down the target audience(s), messages, tasks, etc.

Identify Primary Target Audience

Once you have identified your primary goal, it becomes much simpler to identify who your audience(s) is.  Identifying your primary audience will help in crafting messages, which content is important, tasks etc.  Your messages should speak to your audience(s).  It should motivate them to take action.  Anything short of that is a waste of time and will clutter your website.

Stick to Your Guns

This will be far the most difficult.  You can have campus-wide agreement on goals and audiences, but sticking to your guns after-the-fact will be challenging.  It is absolutely critical that you do though.  When new content is suggested for your website, always go back to the goals and audience(s).  Does the new content speak to primary target audience? Does it support the primary goal of the website?  If not, then it needs to find another home.  Failure to do this will cause your website to become cluttered very quickly.

There is more to it than these four suggestions.  The Focused Design is really about a new way of thinking.  It’s not about being everything to everyone online, but identify your primary audience and being everything to them.