Websites live at the epicenter of organizational strategy—brand ambassadors that welcome audiences in and build relationships; trusted advisors that provide valuable thought leadership and counsel to the field; and operations managers that help make sure everything’s running smoothly. What’s more, when it comes to helping audiences understand a business and believe in its mission, for many, a company’s website both makes the crucial first impression and is the primary driver of their ongoing experience with the organization.
Common Failings With Most Websites
Unfortunately, in our experience speaking with new prospective clients, and surveying the field, too many businesses suffer with websites that hinder, rather than help, their efforts. What’s worse the list of website problems are so consistently similar that it reads like a who’s who of worst practices:
- Confusing and difficult to navigate
- Content that fails to engage
- Underwhelming design
- A CMS that’s painful to use
- Clunky systems integration
- A poor representation of the brand
The Risks in Getting it Wrong
As Stanford’s Web Credibility Research demonstrates, websites have tremendous power to persuade and to change what people think and do. Externally, every part of a website—content, design, and technology—contributes to how strongly a person believes in an organization. Internally, websites and technology play an important role in aligning operations and creating organizational efficiencies. For organizations seeking to elevate issues, steer conversations, and build support to help tackle our biggest challenges, the negative impacts of an ineffective website are profound.
A weak message. When a website fails to properly tell a brand’s story with a strong voice, speaks in organizational terms and jargon, or simply suffers from being poorly structured for online reading, the result is a brand that lacks clarity of purpose and a message that fails to resonate and a website that fails to engage.
Damage to the brand. When a website is difficult to use, isn’t mobile-friendly, is hard to read, or just suffers from inconsistent and low-quality design, the bad user experiences it creates online undermines an organization’s credibility,eroding valuable trust in the brand and its mission.
Ineffective operations. When websites suffer from clumsy integration with back-office systems or publishing workflows that frustrate your staff, it harms operations, places a burden on teams, and makes websites a cost center, rather than a tool that improves efficiency.
If an ineffective website can create so many problems, then the inverse is also true. Effective websites deliver equally profound benefits—greater clarity of purpose, better brand alignment, deeper engagement, stronger support, increased efficiency, and ultimately, greater social impact.
A New Approach to Strategic Collaboration
Every website is created with four essential ingredients: brand, content, design, and technology. If you’re a practitioner in any one of them, there’s no shortage of resources to help perfect your craft. Here’s an overview of how the process works and the mindset teams should bring:
Starting with a deep understanding of organizational strategies and how a nonprofit’s brand translates into experiences is the foundation upon which everything is built. A Strategic Brief details organizational and brand priorities—listing goals and priorities for developing content, design, and technology in relation to supporting these overarching goals.
Once we’ve answered questions like, “What content do we have?” “How good is it?” and “How will it be produced?” we need to determine what the implications are, and how content will live on the site until initial design comps are done. Firm up the things that are unlikely to change and make sure everyone (especially writers and developers!) understand that there likely will be adjustments during design.
Both UX and visual design work are the connective thread between content and technology in service of the brand. As a result, they need to be incredibly integrative of the other three strategic foundations. Features, page templates, editorial design devices, and other details must be regularly reviewed to make sure the team is not failing to tell the brand story, nor creating something that will blow up the budget.
Technology gives life to nuanced brand and design details online and connects to the systems needed to make operations hum. Start with a core installation on the right platform that meets most of the needs of your teams; then help inform content and design execution rather than waiting to be handed specs and comps. Proactivity is critical to making sure budgets don’t get blown up or corners get cut.
Ultimately, websites serve as a gateway for people to experience and embrace an organization’s brand, and to support its mission. As a critical tool in executing nonprofit organizational strategy, they are vehicles for helping the world make progress on some of our most significant challenges.
This demands that design firms be as strategic and ambitious in their efforts as their clients are in their own. If a design is to be successful, then the content, design, and technology created must all work together seamlessly to accomplish the goals and help achieve organisational mission and vision.