For the past few months, we’ve been developing the next iteration of One North’s brand and digital assets, including a new website. One of my favorite things about working on OneNorth.com is that I finally get the opportunity to collaborate directly with our Brand, UX, Creative and Technology teams. I always seem to learn a thing or two about digital from them, either directly or through osmosis.
Here are a few highlights from what I’ve learned so far:
1. User testing can help you make informed and objective decisions.
Throughout our design process, there have been a few times when our key stakeholders have argued that users would take completely different actions. It has proven somewhat difficult to successfully sway either side to abandon their opinions or preconceived notions, or find common ground, which has ultimately resulted in more design time and an extended timeline.
I’ve come to learn that user testing can be the voice of reason in these situations. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be a timely or expensive add-on to your project. Sampling a small group of users (as few as 5 people) can help prove or disprove hypotheses and provide guidance on what they need from your experience. It’s also a great way to keep your website fresh and relevant.
2. Your user personas and content should evolve as your business does.
When you feel like it’s time to refresh your digital experience, it’s likely because you have something new to say or prove. And although you might need to say it to the same people you were communicating with before, you likely also have an entirely new audience you’re aiming to reach. Whether it’s a new market you’ve grown into, a new practice area you’ve formed or a new generation of people you’re communicating with, there’s always a good reason to reflect back on your user personas.
Make sure they’re still painting an accurate picture of your key audiences, and also taking any potential changes to their buying journeys, purchase behaviors and/or digital preferences into consideration. With each “digital release” we do moving forward, my goal is to dive even deeper into each of our main persona groups.
I’ve also been advised to look for ways to develop content that is more focused and targeted to these specific groups of users, and once that content has been created, think about how it can be used to create the most relevant experience for each visitor that hits the site.
3. It is best to design with real content.
Developing or updating all of the content you’ll need for a digital refresh can be a daunting task. And although I don’t believe all of it needs to be in its most final draft or form before you begin the design process, it definitely helps to have a rough draft of real content to influence the experience you design, at least for major pages or campaigns.
Throughout our process so far, we’ve done a little bit of both. At the end of the day, giving our designers real content to work with has allowed them to truly highlight the key messages we’re looking to deliver in thoughtful ways. It also prevents us from retro-fitting content into a design simply because its length “fits nicely.” And finally, I found that it was easier for stakeholders to understand and accept our favorite concepts when they were able to see actual content at play.
4. You have to expect (and budget for) the unexpected.
Our team has always stressed the importance of setting aside time and money to address unexpected updates or advancements in technology. I’ve learned that you have to be flexible enough to take advantage of new technological capabilities, but you also need to be ready and willing to upgrade when the technologies you’re using are no longer supported.
To better articulate this point, let me tell you about a few curve balls that have been thrown our way this past year:
SSL or SOL
In January, many browsers began rolling out upgrades that introduced a warning to users if they visited an HTTP site that did not automatically redirect to an HTTPS site. The warnings would effectively label the sites as “not secure,” which is not a good look for legitimate organizations or websites that simply hadn’t yet jumped on the SSL bandwagon. We decided to purchase an SSL certificate for OneNorth.com to assure our visitors that it was indeed a secure site to browse.
Goodbye to Google Site Search
On April 1st of this year, Google announced that it discontinued sales/renewal of its Google Site Search product, and that it would completely shut the product down a year from the announcement. Unfortunately, this was no April Fool’s Day joke. As so begin our own search for a replacement to power search, for our site, and for our clients’ sites. We’ve narrowed it down to a few promising options: SearchBlox, Swiftype, and Coveo.
Node.js Security Vulnerability
Just last month, Node.js revealed a security vulnerability, as well as an update to address the vulnerability, for all active release lines. Our challenge was two-fold:
1.) Because we went with an open source technology to power the current OneNorth.com, we were able to save on upfront software licensing fees (there are none for KeystoneJS). However, that also meant we were now on the hook for the development time it would take to apply the update to our Keystone instance.
Unlike other CMS options that have (oftentimes pricey) software licensing fees that are designed to fund security and maintenance updates, getting our open source site updated with the “patch” involves research, development and testing by our team prior to deploying – all of which require additional time and budget. This is all fine when you have an “insurance fund,” to address these situations. It can be quite a headache if you don’t.
2.) The second thing we realized during this incident is that the version of Node.js we were running was actually in a Maintenance support mode. This meant it was no longer being actively supported, and only critical bugs and security concerns were guaranteed to be addressed.
It became clear that we’d need to build our new site on the latest version of Keystone and Node.js, which essentially required us to start from scratch when building out the back-end. In the end, however, it means that we’ll be actively supported and aware of any bugs or security vulnerabilities moving forward, regardless of their severity, and so it is worth investing the extra development time to upgrade.
It’s important to note that none of this was due to poor planning on our part. We had to address these things simply because the technology landscape had changed – and it will continue to do so. Setting aside some extra time and money to address these situations means we’ll always be progressing with it.
Look out for an updated OneNorth.com in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll keep documenting the process and sharing best practices I hope will help my team and yours.