Features - Interviews
by Carolyn Wood
Kelly Goto is the principal and founder of gotomedia, an award-winning strategic consultancy specializing in user experience and branding for technology and product focused companies. Gotomedia has created or redesigned sites and web based projects for companies including Adobe, Macromedia, Verizon, and the FDIC. A popular speaker at web design conferences, Kelly Goto has just released the second edition of her highly-regarded book "Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works".
Gotomedia.com regularly publishes an e-newsletter and articles on web development, project management and design. It features an archive of valuable information for web designers and developers, including a newsletter, case studies and material from Kelly's speaking engagements.
Kelly Goto and Web Designer Carolyn Wood discuss project planning and management, building and reinforcing client relationships, structuring web development contracts, and creating identity, content and structure that build successful brands online.
CW: Kelly, thank you so much for the opportunity of an interview. The designers/developers on the Wise Women discussion list create and redesign websites with budgets that run the gamut from very small to quite large. Will your book be useful for designers working with budgets under $5000?
KG: "Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works" is actually touted as a "one process fits all." However this might be misleading to some; even I don't believe you can have one methodology to fit all types of projects.
The history of the workflow aspect of the book is that over time I realized that every project, from a small $3,000 site to a larger $30,000 initiative, had similar structural needs. Every project needs to be defined and structured, designed and built. Every project needs to have a certain amount of attention placed on the end-user and aspects of usability. Every project needs to be thought through from a site, page and user-view. So the basic truth of the book is, yes, the process outlined in the book works for any and all projects (including new site designs or smaller initiatives) as these are the 'core elements' of a standard web project. However all projects are different. So this book is like a solid structure to start from, something that has some definition and room to modify and grow.
We provide a 'toolkit' of experience and methodology along with various tips and tricks throughout "Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works" to really make sure a designer and developer can read, take away what works for them and apply it to their own process. Or, teams can start with this as a baseline, and modify it to fit the needs of their specific organization.
CW: If a potential client isn't informed enough about web design and development to effectively determine site goals or complete your initial Client Survey, how can you construct a contract? Do you shift to a consultant role, and charge them to help put together their RFP?
KG: We actually are in the lucky position to be able to screen and choose clients we want to work with 80% of the time. We have been able to reduce the time and effort put into project management and client handholding (thus dollars and time) simply by screening our clients more carefully. We choose to work primarily with technology and product-focused clients who understand the value we bring to the table.
We prefer to develop long-term relationships with our clients, and help them grow over time. We spend a lot of time understanding the business and the customer needs for a product or service-based site, so this is best served in an ongoing relationship with a company that extends several years or more.
To answer your original question, if a client does not have an understanding of what their needs are, we approach a project by working on a smaller initiative to do initial discovery work. This might include a heuristic analysis (expert review), a series of informal usability tests, a competitive review, etc. This way we can start with a longer 'discovery' process (that is outside of the core process because not every site needs this level of pre-project exploration.)
CW: What are some red flags that warn you that you just shouldn't work with a company?
KG: There are many warning signs - some we heed and some we do not. Many are listed in the book, but here are a few that come to mind:
Conversely, we enjoy working with companies if they have a clear RFP, a realistic timeframe and budget allocation, have a sense of scope and also clearly recognize and value the quality of our work and the expertise we bring to the table.
CW: The entrepreneur personality type often isn't interested in filling out forms and may even be impatient with having a process. Have you found a way to work successfully with companies run by people like this, or do you always screen them out?
KG: This is a tricky question. We often work with these types as they are the innovators and we live in a very innovative world. Generally, this entrepreneur type has a "right hand" person who becomes our main point of contact and is also generally more realistic and down to earth. This has been the case for the majority of clients of this type. I have also been burned and have lost thousands of dollars due to the bankruptcy of a company during our engagement, or someone just decided not to pay and flee. I feel for people of this type—that their karma will somehow reflect back on them. I also learn from these experiences.
CW: If a client hires you to design their website and they are a startup company without a logo, or an established company with an ugly or inappropriate logo, how do you say, "Wait, we need to backtrack and do all of this other work first," when they haven't hired you to do that and they aren't sure it's necessary?
KG: We've worked with many companies who have a really outdated logo, inconsistent usage of their logo or something truly inappropriate. This gets into a much larger discussion about brand, brand standards and brand value.
If a company truly respects their brand and makes efforts from the top down (this must come from the highest level of the company) it is apparent in the usage, policing, and distribution of materials such as a brand standards guide and easy access to eps logos, usage examples and so on. Once we made a hat for Warner Bros. Online and it didn't fit the brand standards of Warner Bros. so they confiscated them and would not let us wear them.
However, if a company does not place value on the consistent use of their mark, and allows it to be used in many inappropriate ways from their web site to their corporate advertising, it says something about that organization.
The solution? Depending on how widespread the usage is—meaning is it a mark or type that has been around for several years and is it emblazoned on the company's products, international offices and business cards around the world? If so, we strive to help them create consistency and point out where their logo is not being used correctly. But usually that is all we can do. For a company who is just starting out, or is reshaping their brand identity and the logo or mark is not yet outside the organization except for current business cards, and web site, we can suggest they readdress it.
CW: How would you persuade a company that is reluctant to hire a copywriter for their website project?
KG: I suppose the easy answer is to tell them to read my article on content management:
This article brings up a common problem many organizations do not realize they need to deal with; it comes up in nearly every web project. A copywriter that the company has worked with before is usually hired to help produce the web site, or someone within the marketing department is asked to provide content. What might be unclear is how the copywriter and the web team need to work together to develop the structure, navigation, page layout and final content for the site.
We usually recommend an outside copywriter or for larger sites, a content manager who will work directly with the company to create or manage the content process. We usually suggest a direct working relationship without gotomedia as the middleman. This allows for a more effective development process to take place.
CW: A client may tell you he wants a "high-tech" look for his site, when he really desires something "warm and inviting." But, he won't know that until you've done 3 "high-tech" designs that he doesn't like. Have you found a way to prevent problems such as this?
KG: At gotomedia, we do our best to outline the goals of the project early on with all stakeholders. Sometimes the CEO wants the look and feel to be "traditional and innovative" while the Marketing VP wants the look and feel to be "hip and cutting edge."
We try and lock down the site objectives using the client survey and subsequent interviews to find inconsistencies in the organization. The Communication Brief (also called a Creative Brief or a Marketing Brief) gives parameters for the project, including setting the tone, voice and personality.
Most clients are not able to think visually, and it is only when we get into the design phase of a project that many inconsistencies arise. We've started presenting what we call 'branding boards' which convey specific looks and feels based on key words given to us by our clients. This allows us to focus our client's thinking prior to the design phase, and align their visual expectations before getting into actual look and feel.
These boards do not outline content or layout; we have tried to evoke a visual meaning to combinations of words our clients articulate such as 'techie/innovative' or 'conservative/clean' and then nail down the desired look and feel in this manner before we start the actual design. We have gone through a dozen rounds of design with a client who could not make up his mind—if we had been able to use branding boards earlier in the process it would have saved several rounds of design and a lot of spinning.
CW: As a successful businesswoman, what advice do you have for someone who wants to break out of the category of, say, $2000 to $3000 website budgets?
KG: I think the question isn't so much about the project size or budget, but specialization. My recommendation is to develop a niche and focus for your services. Securing a niche streamlines marketing, allows a designer to ultimately charge more because of her expertise, and helps to avoid the mishmash of unfocused projects that do not help to establish a clear brand in people's minds. I've spoken to many independent female designers who struggle with this very question.
My co-author Emily Cotler has focused on the romance author market (her sister is a romance novelist) and has gained recognition in this niche that has allowed her to become an expert in the field of romance novel marketing. Although the projects started out quite small, she acts as a consultant and also handles the project maintenance, and has built a loyal group of consistent clients who she works with to manage and grow their web presence.
When managed properly, smaller projects can yield a great outcome without a lot of expectation and stress. Don't increase the size of the project, increase your expertise, processes and learn to charge more for your time and streamline your approach.
CW: To help businesses align site goals with business goals, should we be educated about business terminology and trends? Can you recommend sources of information that have been particularly helpful to you?
KG: It's interesting how much we learn by doing. In this field, and as we move forward into new territories, we largely have to establish our own methodologies and practices. I read a lot of books, but generally learn through my own experience or through lectures and conferences. The AIGA design conferences and GAIN conferences inspire and innovate. There are many other conferences, including the HOW design conference (more for designers than web specifically), and the Web Design World conferences I speak at regularly. Sometimes I like to peek into other sessions and learn what my colleagues are up to.
As we move into research and ethnographic studies, I learn and read a lot of academic journals and white papers. Clearly there is a lot of information online, including forums and groups to keep you up on the current trends. I am a member of the Wireless World Forum for example, and focus on user experience as it relates to mobile devices now and in the future.
CW: In "Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works", you recommend using other consultants/firms for many aspects of the job rather than trying to be all things to all people. Web design companies can be afraid to give up any section of the pie. Do you believe that your approach actually helps your own company's bottom line?
KG: For very specific services that are outside of the web team's expertise, I believe it is helpful to bring in someone who knows what they are doing. For instance, when working with search engine expertise, we offer a lot of general guidance and direction based on our own experience. This includes the proper use of title tags, keywords and HTML text placed to the top left of a page whenever possible. But for really in-depth search optimization and ongoing consulting for keyword purchases, it is important to work with someone who takes the time to keep up with the current technologies, search engine requirements and more.
At gotomedia, we've started to focus our services more and more, and are set up to handle certain types of jobs and say no to others. Understanding our expertise and serving our customers successfully within this parameter does help improve our bottom line.
CW: You tell clients that if content is late, "production will be held up and cost overruns will commence." How do you determine overrun costs?
KG: Overrun costs are dependent on clear communication before the overrun occurs. It is an art, maybe a science, to predict the amount of hours it will take in order to properly scope a project. There are actually two questions here, how to manage scope creep when content is late, and how to predict overrun costs.
Late content can only effectively be managed if the deadlines for delivery of content from outline to navigation and sample content are clearly outlined from the beginning of the project, and managed alongside the rest of the project development. As long as we have the outline and breakdown of how content is organized and prioritized on a page, we do not need to have the final content in place until the site is completely built.
We've been delivering page templates for the home page, primary and secondary pages with a style guide to allow the internal production team at a company to build out, populate and launch the full site. This way, the client can 'pour' the content in at the last minute with their own resources and foot the bill for overtime and the rush charges prior to launch.
Determining overrun costs is rarely quantifiable. One memorable email entitled "slippage and consequences" sent to a London client clearly outlined the 'slippage' of content that was happening and the 'consequences' if the content was not turned in on time. A reasonable email sent with a lot of notice works. Threats and panic after deadlines have been missed do not.
Most of the time, I need to determine a reasonable fee for slippage and schedule changes. This is either reflected in a certain percentage of the production fee (say 5% of the production budget will be charged for every week the content is delayed) or a dollar amount, say "we will be holding our resources while waiting for your content at a fee of $2,500 per week" and as a final option - the project goes on hold if the content is more than 3 weeks late, with an indefinite restart date, depending on our overall schedule.
CW: Typically, what percentage of the budget should be reserved for work done after the site has launched, assuming you haven't been hired to design future iterations of the site?
KG: We either allocate a set amount of hours (say 30 - 40) to be used post-launch, or will give a set amount of time (say 1 month) post launch for fixes and ongoing work.
This question actually leads into maintenance which is a separate job and project after the primary site has launched. We cover maintenance fairly extensively in the book as it is a very important topic. It should be understood well in advance of the launch—who will be managing ongoing updates and how often these updates will be made. For most clients, we recommend they hire someone independently or in-house to manage content updates if more frequent, such as daily or several times a week.
CW: Beyond being the owner of gotomedia, do you perceive your company to be distinctly a "woman run" company?
KG: Yes, we are a women-owned and managed company, run by a very impressive collaborative team. We highly value having a "life" outside of work: two of our primary team members had babies in the last 8 months, along with two key contractors. Our usability guru is expecting in June—more goto babies!
We've managed this growth and change by adding even more flexibility and support to the schedule. For my creative director this has meant working from home two days a week; her husband watches the baby one day a week and she has a nanny for the other days. For the single members (and families) on our team, we really follow the mantra "exceed expectations and take vacations." We support sabbaticals and travel, as well as the concept of working remotely and working when it makes the most sense for a project or work style.
CW: Thanks very much, Kelly, for your very informative answers.
Read our review of Kelly Goto's book "Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works".
Carolyn Wood (www.pixelingo.com) is a website designer and copywriter in Portland, Oregon.