Getting things done… in web design

Paul Boag

I have just finished reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Not only has it seriously helped me to get control of my workload but its also made me rethink how I approach web design projects.

If you haven’t read “Getting Things Done”(GTD) then I would highly recommend you do so. I know not everybody likes it or implements it, but it definitely gets you thinking about your workflow and processes.

For me personally I have found it an invaluable tool that has enabled me to feel a lot more in control of my life and pack even more into my average day. However, the real reason I am talking about it here is because I believe some of the principles it lays out applies very well to web design.

There is one point in the book when David talks about how to handle new projects you are considering undertaking and in particular a series of steps you should complete. These steps are very generic and can be applied to pretty much any project, including the development of a website.

Step 1: Ask the Question, why?

  • Why do you need a website? – What is its function, what need does it fulfill?
  • Why will users choose to visit it? Why will they stay at the site once they visit it?
  • Why will users choose you over your competition?
  • Why are you considering redesigning your site?
  • Why are you considering outsourcing the design work instead of using your in house team?

The list of “why” questions could go on and on. The basic principle is to challenge your assumptions and get you thinking in detail about your motivation. Don’t just flick through vague answers in your head. Rather, record these answers in a format that you can refer back to later, in order to make sure you are on track.

As David Allen says; asking the question why helps define your success criteria, it motivates you, and focuses your projects. In short it is worth asking this basic question before getting too far down the track.

Step 2: Setting your underlying principles

Another interesting question that GTD recommends you ask is; “what are your underlying principles for this project”. In other words, what are the things about this project that you are not willing to compromise over, that are set in stone? This can be a hard question to answer and so David recommends completing the following sentence:

I would be willing to give others totally free rein to do this [website] as long as they…

This sentence is particularly relevant in web design projects when a lot of the work can often be completed by an outside agency rather than the website owner.

In many ways this is not dissimilar to the website constitution proposed by Bruce Lawson.

Step 3: Establishing your vision

David argues in his book that our subconscious is exceptionally good at working out how to achieve an aim. However in order for it to do that you need a clear vision of what it is that you are trying to achieve.

As you have probably already guessed I am no psychologist (!), however the principle of having a clear vision of what your website will finally look like seems extremely sensible to me. I have worked on too many projects where the client (and in some cases the designer) had more of a wish list of disjointed functionality rather than a picture of the final user experience.

Having a clear picture in your mind about the final objective will help everyone have a better sense about how to work towards that goal and what methods to use to achieve it.

Step 4: Brainstorming

The final step David talks about in this section of his book is something I am particularly passionate about; brainstorming. Once you have a picture of the site in your mind, brainstorming can be a marvelous tool for:

  • Fleshing out that vision
  • Identifying any potential problem areas
  • Working out how to best achieve the vision

No idea is too dumb whilst brainstorming. Its important not to censor yourself, but to allow your mind to dig into the problem and add depth to the vision. Only when you have put down literally everything you can think of do you start weeding out the impractical or downright ridiculous and compiling a final list of tasks and functionality.

Too often we jump to the very last part of the process and begin our web design projects by defining lists of functionality and work to be done. I would encourage us all to take a leaf out of GTD and lay proper foundations first.