Concept design done right

Ida Aalen gave an excellent presentation about concept design process at the CS Forum 2013 few weeks ago that should really be mandatory reading for every concept designer and content strategist.

Since everyone couldn’t be at the CS forum, we’ve attached the slides of the presentation and some key highlights from the case study for you to see for yourself. Of course there are thousands of somewhat similar presentations around the internet, but this presentation works nicely as a stand-alone learning material with great visuals and real-life images from the workshops.

As a little background, Ida Aalen is a senior interaction designer in Netlife Research in Oslo, Norway. Ida works with user research, interaction design and concept development. She has also written a book on social media in Norway, and previously he has also worked as a journalist in an online newspaper.

Download slides

Inspired by the presentation, here is a brief summary of the key things to keep in mind when putting together a concept design for a large website:

  1. Everything starts from setting goals and choosing the target audiences for the website, which can be somewhat different from the general business goals. Ida points out the goals for the website should always be as specific as possible. Setting KPIs is cool, but not always needed.
  2. Choosing top user tasks is the first step in tactical concept design. Researching top user tasks can also be done before the project starts. Great tools for the work are analytics stats, focus groups, surveys and interviews. But in the end, choosing the right tasks is an expert task usually done in workshops.
  3. Find out which top user tasks align with business goals for the website. Choose them as your “ultimate top user tasks”.
  4. Choose core messages or themes for the website. It might be “bring out the people” or “faster self-service”, whatever you think needs yelling out. Choosing core messages should be aligned with the user research findings, but they can also be influenced by the business goals. (Note: Top user tasks should be highly user-driven, but these core messages can be more about business goals.)
  5. Key site sections should have dedicated editors who are responsible for collecting, arranging and publishing the content. Those key editors need to understand the user goals and top user tasks thoroughly. Only this makes sure that the concept will also work after the launch and keeps improving.
  6. Editors need to have a system to decide whether new content goes to the site or not. Not everything should be stuffed to the website even though some business decision maker thinks the content is important. (There is a great example of this kind of criteria in the presentation: slide 79).

2 thoughts on “Concept design done right

  1. Hi Perttu!

    So glad and flattered to hear that you enjoyed my talk :D

    The user tasks are _always_ dictated by user research, but sometimes there might be tasks that are important from a strategic standpoint, but isn’t very often asked for by users. For instance, at the Norwegian Cancer Society (NCS), not that many users come to donate, but it’s so important for the NCS, that we still put a lot of effort in :)
    Beate Sørum at Kreftforeningen har written more on this subject:

    Best regards,

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ida! I think that was one of the great things in your case study. You honestly describe the fact that you have to balance between expressed user needs and the tasks that need to be promoted because of business reasons. I agree that all tasks must come from the user, but the priority of the tasks is the trickiest thing to get right.

    And sometimes the #1 promoted task has to be something that only works for the occasional visitor (as is the case a little bit in your case) and the tasks for the “true fans” have to be put aside. I think this is pretty typical challenge in concept design nowadays. Organisations need to make their sites primarily for other audiences than to their strongest fans and closest supporters. Luckily we sometimes have other channels for them (eg. social media).

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