There are no constants in digital. Customers demand change, marketing strategy shifts, and new products roll out -- more quickly than ever. Yet many agencies cling to a traditional model of web development, taking 6-12 months to launch a final, “perfect” website.
That’s no way to build a website that drives continuous growth, customer retention, and ROI. It’s only after those long months of design and development that you start to receive real feedback from customers and gain a better understanding of how users actually use the site.
Rather than building until it’s “done” (a constantly moving target), agencies should adopt an iterative design process to create a website that delivers true value to clients. Here’s why:
1) Launch usable products faster.
First, let’s look at the traditional, waterfall model of web development. A project manager meets with the client, then sits down with a designer. The designer mocks up a few variations and finally lands on a winner to pass to development. Meanwhile, the client’s market has shifted, and the design they loved months ago just won’t cut it. Change orders are made, and the cycle repeats itself until finally the site is ready for launch.
Too often, that months-long process results in our clients missing their opportunity to connect with their customers. Competitors might beat them to the punch, customers might have lost interest, or the company might have just lost steam. Sure, there’s a working website at the end, but neither client nor agency benefit.
An iterative process brings designers, developers, and marketers together on a single cross-functional team to focus on a single project. Rather than waiting for the team to build every feature the client wants, the team distills the client vision into a fully functional, beautifully designed core platform: a minimum viable product (MVP) that delivers enough features to connect with real users and provide real-time learning.
Embracing iteration minimizes the chance that agencies follow faulty design hypotheses or build features that don’t provide value to the product. Launching new features and functionality every few weeks, rather than every six months, creates a continual flow of information to help validate our ideas and build better digital platforms.
2) Make decisions backed by real customer data.
Until a website launches to market, most of our design and development choices are simply guesswork. Sure, user tests and research can guide development, but there’s no substitute for putting your product into the hands of real customers. What people say they’re going to do and what they actually do are often two very different things.
At its core, an MVP is simply a platform to learn and improve upon, and there’s no better source of actionable data than your actual customers. Armed with ongoing user feedback, your agency can deliver new features and enhanced user experience with each successive launch. Rather than launching a website after months of development and discovering you built the wrong site, iterative development makes it much quicker (and much less expensive) to change direction or follow a promising line of development.
3) Produce better results for clients.
Working with the right client, iterative web design offers a lot of freedom to agency web teams. However, it can be challenging to find a client that’s flexible enough to adjust to a continual, rapid pace of change. Most traditional companies stick to their five-year plans and quarterly marketing strategy -- if plans shift constantly because of user feedback, some clients might not be game.
With that said, iterative web design offers superior outcomes for both client and agency. Clients receive websites or SaaS products that are in a continual state of improvement, offering superior experiences to their customers. Rather than completely redesigning a site every five years, clients can focus on incrementally improving their user experience, guided by a constant stream of data.
When my agency, 352 Inc., transitioned to an iterative development process three years ago, we saw an immediate increase in client satisfaction, production, and employee morale. Since then, nearly 80% of our work comes from returning clients looking for iteration or wanting us to work on entirely new products. By focusing directly on users and building only features that customers request, nearly every kind of organization can apply iterative practices to achieve positive results.
Originally published Jan 6, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017