“Phase Zero” essential for union websites

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New Signature is the web design firm behind the Working America, Collective Bargaining Facts and I Am Not Your ATM websites. I’ve previously rated their websites very highly in terms of design and innovative features (especially the Not Your ATM site).

Recently, New Signature redesigned the Working America site, and their case study highlights the importance of “phase zero” — the proper planning and “discovery” (that is, user research) that goes into effective websites.

Here’s how they describe “phase zero”:

At New Signature, we refer to the bundle of strategic and tactical thinking that precedes any “real work” on a web project (that is, design and programming) as Phase 0. This collection of tasks typically consists of the following:

  • Strategic Analysis and Planning
  • Information Architecture
  • Wireframing
  • Technical System Design

We consider these steps absolutely mission critical for delivering great results, and we think our approach to them separates us from a lot of other firms delivering attractive websites — because being successful takes much more than being attractive. As XKCD eloquently demonstrates:

Credit: XKCD.com

Phase 0 addresses more than just the potential gulf between what users are looking for and what a website offers, but ensuring there’s no such disconnect is certainly a large part of it. To understand what makes our Phase 0 so valuable, though, you first need to understand what all the steps are about.

Clearly setting and articulating the goal for your union’s website is essential — and “phase zero”, where you determine what your goals are and then how you can achieve them (e.g. through wire-framing, system design, etc) is very important.

I have recently been advising a major Australian union on their website redevelopment. A key element that I have tried to emphasise is that the early stage of determining what you want the site to do, and also what your members, staff and officials and potential supporters want, is critical to the success of the site. Without getting this right, your union could waste a lot of money.

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