How to build a website: Step 1. Discover your purpose and scope

Recently at work I’ve been tasked with reviewing a handful of internal, CMS websites for a single division within the company to see how usable the sites are and to come up with a few good usability practices that will work for all the sites. The sites are all in various stages of being developed. Some are still in the planning stages. Others are nearly fully baked.

Only one of the sites took a user-centered approach to the development of their site. They found an intern, who went around and talked to people on the team. Then they took that information and turned it into the design and navigation of the site. Brilliant! For this team, I was able to simply talk with them about how they plan to manage the documents within their CMS, and discuss some of their future plans.

In another case, the team simply asked their current web administrator – who was not necessarily the web designer – to take on the building of the new site for his team of roughly 75 people. Uh, not so brilliant. He was pretty confused about how he was going to go about building out the site using the functionality provided by the CMS, and he was even more unsure of what it was that his team needed.

I talked with him about what the other sites were doing, and I sent him a short list of questions that he could ask his team to help them scope out their site. I don’t believe in blanket usability responses but I do think that the questions I sent are pretty universal.

Here’s what I provided:

  • Why have you decided that you need a CMS site?
  • What are the short-term and long-term goals for your site?
  • Who will be using your site?
  • Who will be contributing to your site?
  • What types of activities will people be doing?
  • What types of information will people be adding and taking away from your site?
  • How will you keep your information up to date?

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