August 1, 2018

Winning & failing, creating our agency site

Richard Trigg

Design Partner

Article 89

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This is the story of how we created our own agency website. The things we got right, the mistakes we made and most importantly the lessons we learnt.

#Fail – Unrealistic timings

We had been discussing redesigning our agency site for about 12 months. But for all the talk, we hadn’t got any closer to starting the project. We set deadline after deadline, but paying client work kept taking priority.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of not planning internal projects properly, thinking you can cut corners and the quality of your output won’t be affected. You need to give your team time and space to think. If you rush them into making unconsidered design decisions you’re setting the project up to fail.

The lesson we learnt

Internal projects need to follow the same process as paid client work. Don’t communicate unrealistic timings to internal stakeholders. Creating a quality product takes time.

#Win - Design sprint

We’re fans of Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint, and have been encouraging our clients to run Sprints for the past 18 months. If you haven’t read the book, here’s Jake’s own definition:

The big idea with the Design Sprint is to build and test a prototype in just five days. You'll take a small team, clear the schedule for a week, and rapidly progress from problem to tested solution using a proven step-by-step checklist. It's like fast-forwarding into the future so you can see how customers react before you invest all the time and expense of building a real product.

We followed our own advice and sent our strategy & design team away to the Cotswolds. In just 4 days, we defined challenges, produced 100s of solutions, wrote copy and built an interactive prototype. The Design Sprint allowed us to fast forward and get a glimpse of our final product.

The trip was also great for building team spirit. We stayed in a beautiful manor house with open fires, took turns to cook and went on winter morning ideation walks. It was great for the team to be able to spend time together focussing on the same project.

The lessons we learnt

Design Sprints are great for getting your project off to a flying start. We condensed months of work into just 4 days and had a shared vision for the project.

#Fail – Skipping testing

I hang my head in shame when I write this. But we didn’t spend the final day of our Sprint testing our prototype with customers. We assumed we knew best and could skip validating our ideas to save time. Boy were we wrong, especially as we had made some bold design decisions that definitely needed to be validated.

In our quest to stand out from the competitive agency crowd we had decided to take a different approach to navigation. Instead of a standard nav at the top of the page, we tried to be clever and disguised it inside a sentence.

A week after the new site launched we knew we had a problem. Our homepage bounce rate was low, but traffic wasn’t getting through to our ‘About us’ ‘Work’ and ‘Contact’ pages. No matter how obvious we thought it was, the data confirmed users didn’t realise the underlined green words were links.

We spent the next two weeks running impromptu usability tests with friends and family. Mums, wives and cousins confirmed our fears – our navigation didn’t work!

The cost to our agency of designing, developing and testing the failed navigation ran into the £1,000’s. A simple usability test would have uncovered the issue earlier and for a fraction of the cost.

The lesson we learnt

Never launch anything without testing it with customers. Failing early should be celebrated. It’s much cheaper than developing bad solutions.

#Fail – Not involving developers from the start

When the project kicked off, our development team were busy working on several large client projects. Rather than delay the project and wait for a development lead to be available, we started the project without their input. This was a massive mistake.

Creating digital products requires input from a multidisciplinary team (researchers, strategists, designers, developers and product owners). The team needs to work together to review solutions and ensure they are fit for purpose.

The lesson we learnt

Without developers, you can’t create a website. Have regular team check-ins to ensure each discipline is happy the proposed solutions are feasible and can be delivered within budget.

#Win – MVP

Early in the process we decided to launch an MVP of our site. The day after it went live, we began understanding its strengths and weaknesses.

We ran a social campaign to recruit buyers of digital products and services to join our panel and take part in short interview and usability tests. Participants were asked about their previous experiences of hiring an agency, factors that influenced their decision and if our MVP would meet their needs. Here’s some key take-aways:

  • Agencies are famous for not delivering on their promises - cut the bull
  • We want value for money - demonstrate commercial impact
  • We’re busy people - keep it concise, reduce clicks
  • Chemistry is key - showcase your team
  • Sector experience is reassuring - hero your client wall

The MVP helped us identify opportunities for improvement quickly. Having a real product to test allowed us to collect detailed, actionable feedback. The MVP approach delivered a clear roadmap of proven user issues that would keep us busy for the next 2-3 months.

The lesson we learnt

MVPs are great for failing quickly and collecting feedback. Just make sure you allocate budget to be able to fix the issues you uncover - there is nothing worse than an abandoned MVP.

#Win – Living in Beta

One of our values at Tangent is to ‘Be Brave’. We encourage our team to have the courage to test, fail and improve quickly. The approach we took to launching our own was testament to this value.

Our site will never be finished. We will continually be reviewing data and testing with customers to uncover opportunities to improve. If you would like to become part of our customer testing panel, please complete this form and we will be in touch. We even have a few special prizes to give away.

The lesson we learnt

The launch is the beginning, not the end. Make sure you remove assumption from the design process. Only release features and functionality that you have proven will bring value to your business.

In conclusion

Overall our new site has been a huge #win. Engagement with content and leads generated through the site are all up. But we’re not stopping there, we’ve got some exciting new releases planned - watch this space!