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Spaghetti, Marshmallows and Iterative Web Design

Iterative Web Design made easy…

Have you ever undertaken the marshmallow challenge?

A favourite undertaking of team-building day providers everywhere, there are a number of variations on this simple theme:

Work as a team to build the tallest weight-bearing spaghetti and marshmallow structure that you can in a limited period of time.

Written By
Dan Partridge

By all accounts the psychologists love this kind of thing. The goal is not simply to build a tall structure, but in so doing to learn about the dynamics, strengths and weaknesses of your team. When this task has been run as an experiment some of the results have been surprising.

One researcher found that preschool children were better at the challenge than business school graduates. Apparently the distinction was very simple; whilst the graduates were preoccupied with internal politics, discussion and planning, the children immediately began to build simple structures, test them and then work out how to make them better. The graduates ran out of time; the children were improving for the duration of the challenge.

What does this teach us about web design?

What we’re not suggesting is that we get preschool children to design and build websites (although actually that’s not a bad idea…) Instead, we can familiarise ourselves with this process of create, test and improve. This is a simple way to describe what we call iterative web design.

The premise is very straightforward. The website design process is broken down into a series of manageable steps, each of which offers an opportunity for testing, feedback and improvement. The goal is that by the time the website is launched (and indeed thereafter) it has been through numerous tests and improvements, all of which are informed by the web designers, the client and a selection of end-users.

How do we design websites?

We have found an iterative web design approach to be extremely helpful. It can be tailored depending upon the size and complexity of the project, and gives clients high ownership of their new site.

The first step is always a detailed consultation with the client. This informal process gives us a clear understanding of the core specification of the website. It’s a great time to share ideas, think big and dream of what the new site might look like.

At this point our designers will get to work. This might entail a combination of wireframes (simple skeletons of the new web design), moodboards (a collection of colours, themes and inspiration) and photoshop mock-ups. This gives the client an early opportunity to share their feedback and think through what will serve them best.

We’re then able to begin the development of the site itself. The client will be able to see, comment on and approve updates throughout the development of the website.

As the website design is nearing completion, we begin to think about a different kind of iteration; testing. Where a site has a particular technical requirement (or the client is keen to see how end users respond to the site) we can start to test the functionality and performance of the site, in order to iron out any teething issues before the live site is rolled out.

It’s a simple process – one that even a 4 year old understands – but it helps us to overcome misunderstandings and deliver exactly what the client is looking for.

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