Tips for Designing a Website from ZehnerGroup

September 25, 2012

9:00 am

Matthew Zehner and his team at the ZehnerGroup work with entrepreneurs and businesses to create, launch, and grow successful web startups and online businesses. In the interview below, Zehner shares insights that are valuable to any tech entrepreneur trying to grow their startup.

Tech Cocktail: What is your best tip for getting a website right the first time?

Matthew Zehner: Getting your website right the first time will help you avoid money-wasting mistakes such as multiple site revisions or changing developers mid-way through.

Choosing the right talent is the best way to ensure you get your website right the first time. The right talent can make or break the success and early traction of a website. This may take a bigger investment upfront, but in the end it will save you. Also, make sure you choose web technologies that will allow you to scale. As soon as you start to become a success, you don’t want to have to take your site down and rebuild from the ground up.

It’s also important to be involved in the beginning stages of planning, definition, and prioritization. Each hour spent defining these initial stages with save you days of headache later. If an element of the site changes while working on the wireframes, it is simple to change; if there are revisions in the design stage, there is a bit more rework required; but if it changes in development, you could be looking at throwing away code and reworking the whole architecture of the system. In short, it pays in the long run to spend the time getting it right in the beginning.

Tech Cocktail: How do I communicate my vision so that designers and developers understand what I want? 

Zehner: Articulating your vision can be difficult, but it’s important to communicate your ideas in a way that designers and developers understand.

First, create a clear and simple list of what you want the user functionality to be. For example, “a user can upload a profile photo” or “an admin can view flagged content.” If you can translate your business goals into a list of simple actions, then the web team should be able to determine the best strategy to execute those actions on the site.

Next, take a look around the web to find functions you like on other sites. It’ll help speed up the conceptual process if you can say, “I like the simple top-bar navigation on Twitter, and the photo slideshow on Facebook.” Just make sure you don’t say “I want a site with all the functionality of [insert site or app name here].” Doing this will cause a lot of issues, because most likely you will be referencing an established site that has millions of dollars of effort and giant teams of developers working on it, with functionality you or your development team don’t know even exists on it.

If you like to communicate your ideas visually, use free tools like Mockingbird or Balsamiq to create mock-ups.

Most importantly, make sure your design and development team truly understands your business.  Building a website should be a collaboration, and the team must understand what you do in order to give you a website that will achieve your goals.

Tech Cocktail: What is the fastest route to an MVP? (Minimum Viable Product)

Zehner: It’s tempting to rush the process of creating a minimum viable product. Yes, it’s important to get your site live, but it’s even more important to release a product that will satisfy your users’ needs, include functions that are critical to your value proposition, and differentiate you from the competition. Don’t interpret the word “minimum” too literally or you could end up with a lackluster site that has no chance of gaining a competitive advantage or early adoption.

To begin with, you’ll have to identify your users. Think about every function as though you were the user and build the app for them. Don’t say, “We shouldn’t require login via Facebook because my Grandma doesn’t have a Facebook account.” Does “Bobby,” who is a 24-year-old web designer and your target user, have a Facebook account? Yes? Then it’s fair game.

Most importantly, develop an Alpha Hypothesis. What are you looking to prove with your website? What problem is the site attempting to solve? Focus on that and don’t release your MVP until you’ve satisfied this Alpha Hypothesis.

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Micah Cohen is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in startups, innovation and growth strategies. Currently, Micah is a Director at the fast-growing social dining LA startup, Grubwithus, and previously worked on user acquisition at LivingSocial.

Micah is passionate about using technology to re-imagine our world across industries, social classes, and countries. He loves playing soccer, painting, and biking.

You can follow him on Twitter @miccohen

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