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Design Retreat Jump-Starts Web Redesign

The Challenge

Our client had been through a recent website redesign that failed. They wanted to redo their website, but they were wary of going through another redesign project. The organization also needed to make a case to the board of directors to fund another website redesign project.

Because the previous project had not delivered what each department expected, some departments felt left out and even betrayed. Every department leader and other key stakeholders wanted to be involved in the new website project, to ensure their departments’ and audiences’ needs would be met this time, but that meant a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Also, the departmental stakeholders were used to working in silos; they didn’t know how to collaborate, they didn’t trust each other, and it was going to be hard for the group to reach consensus and make decisions.

Our client hired us to get the team communicating and working together productively so we could kick-start the website redesign and get the board of directors to fund the project.

Our Work

We reviewed the existing website and sought to understand why the design process and outcomes were flawed. We conducted survey research internally, with staff and leadership, to determine goals, priorities, and where the first project went wrong. We also content research externally, with site audiences, to understand their needs and preferences.

We then planned and led a three-day, off-site retreat to present our research findings and lead the executive team and other departmental stakeholders through a series of planning workshops aimed at getting them ready for the redesign. To gain buy in from the departmental stakeholders, we tapped each department to help lead one of the collaborative sessions in the retreat.

Together, using sticky notes on the walls, the large group worked iteratively on a high-level site map, debating the importance of different information, and how it should be organized and labeled. The session was lively and at times a bit heated, but the collaborative setting allowed the team to create a proposed navigation structure we could later test with users. The session also helped the group feel invested in the way their organization communicates digitally with its audiences, and the way the departments communicate with each other.

Next, the group worked in pairs to lay out important page types. They then presented their work to the larger group, who helped refine the “sketches.” This was a fun, collaborative exercise.

The retreat also included sessions on taxonomy (content classification) and functional requirements–what the site needed to do functionally to serve internal goals and user goals, as determined through our research.

All the collaborative work was tied back to the organization’s goals, strategies, and what we knew about the website audiences. This helped keep the planning work on track strategically, but it also helped instill user-centered values in each department within the organization–values that had far-reaching implications for their work, beyond the website redesign project.

The Outcome

By the end of the three days, we had the start of a new site structure, page layouts, taxonomy, and functional requirements–enough to start formally planning the site and put out an RFP for a new technical vendor to build it. The leadership team felt good about working together successfully and accomplishing a lot in a short time. And, we got a standing ovation for our work leading the workshop.

We helped write a case for funding from the board of directors, and were successful in getting the project funded.

We participated in selecting the new technology vendor and content management platform.

After formally documenting and testing the sitemap, wireframes, and taxonomy, we handed off to the incoming design and development firm, who used our project documentation as the basis for a successful new website.