Getting Started With Agile Design: The Process Guide for Beginners
As an Inbound Writer for Lean Labs, Melissa writes about high-converting websites and customer-centric marketing. She's an avid traveler, with trips to Iceland, Ukraine, and Portugal under her belt. She currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina with her dog, Morrie.
Historically, websites had one job: to look good. However, in traditional design builds, companies often forgot to focus on one very critical element: the customer.
If you need your website to engage and nurture your leads, it can't just sit there and look pretty. It needs to drive results. The sites that go beyond looks, and focus on moving the customer through the buying process facilitate those results. If your website is unable to guide your customer, you will lose them to a competitor, and it's very likely that they won't come back.
That's why many brands pivot towards more flexible design, abandoning traditional design tactics. Sites constructed using the agile design approach are specifically designed to guide, nurture, and deliver highly qualified leads and customers.
What Is Agile Design?
Agile design streamlines the design and website process without sacrificing quality. A website built with agile design tactics will focus on the strategy and message, instead of aesthetics. This approach will also help you create a site that you can optimize and adjust to your customer's preferences.
The core principles of agile design (also called Growth Driven Design) include:
- Building for the target audience
- Delivering continuous value to those customers
- Launching and learning from the preferences and behavior of customers
By the end of an agile design-build, you will have a customer-centric site that will help you attract and engage with your most sought-after customers. For the best possible website, here is our recommended process for an agile web design project.
Step #1: Creating A Plan/Strategy
Your web design strategy will set the entire tone of your website. Without it, you're likely to go off assumptions about your customer. Often, these assumptions can result in a site that doesn't perform up to your expectations. When that happens, you will waste a lot of time and budget trying to fix these problems later.
Rather than going down that road, it makes sense to invest in the customer research that will help you put together the best possible website strategy. We stay on track with the actual preferences of our audience with a series of website strategy documents that focus on 2-3 of our ideal customers.
These one-page strategy documents include:
- Buyer Personas - Buyer personas provide the most accurate and updated information about your 2-3 ideal customers.
- The Business Model Canvas - This document walks you through the types of customers and companies you're targeting, where to find them, and how to message to them effectively.
- Value Proposition Map - Inspired by The Value Proposition Design, by Alex Osterwalder, this exercise helps you position the benefits and features of your product or service, connecting the dots between what the customer wants, and how you can (specifically) give it to them.
We include all of these documents in our free website Strategy Kit. You can download them for free, and use them to inform your website strategy. An additional benefit of these strategy docs is that they're each only one page, making it easy to access them and quickly extract insights.
There are a few other considerations when planning a web design, such as:
- Whether or not you will hire an agency, or take a DIY approach
- Your website goals (use the SMART Goal model to adapt these)
- Whether or not you should utilize a platform like HubSpot to build your site, or use what we like to call a Franken System, that uses a platform like Wordpress alongside other plug-ins and extensions. (Spoiler: We recommend HubSpot.)
It may not seem like that has much to do with design, but the CMS (Content Management System) that you select makes a huge difference. (Here's an in-depth comparison we wrote about WordPress versus HubSpot, for more information.)
The strategic choices you make here will inform how long your site will take, and how much budget you will need. If you need additional guidance, we've written extensively about building buyer personas and developing a website strategy.
Step #2: Rapid Prototyping + Messaging
At this stage, you'll decide the key pages to include on your site. You will also figure out how they'll flow and connect, and the objective for each. After determining the pages you'll need to create, you can map out the structure (or sitemap) of your site using Post-It notes, or a whiteboard sketch. Then, you will outline a framework for each of those key pages.
This framework will include a draft of your website copy. By drafting out the message before design, you can plan the content sections for every page. You can also ensure the message flows right into the desired action you want the visitor to take. When you plan out the copy first, you will also provide your designer with more context, leaving less room for assumptions. It will also prevent numerous design revisions.
After you outline the messaging for every core business page, you can start with rapid prototyping. Even with an agile process, teams can get stuck at prototyping. Traditionally, you would create mockups and wireframes for pages, which took a lot of time. That's why we use a killer combination of tools - HubSpot, which we use to build all of our websites, and SprocketRocket, a platform by our invention to prototype.
With SprocketRocket, you can select the modules you want for each page. These modules are the building blocks every page framework, and consist of:
- Ways to draw attention to your message, with a header image or an introductory headline
- What will impress or gain the trust of your customers, such as testimonials or quotes
- What will help convert leads, such as a call-to-action that points to your offer
After selecting your modules, and using the drag and drop to organize the page layout, SprocketRocket connects to HubSpot and populates a draft of the website page. Each module and section from our SprocketRocket prototype carries over, so all you need to do is fill in your copy. Having all of this preparation is crucial for the next step, where we design our words.
Step #3: Create A Flexible Design
After you create your prototypes and draft your copy, this stage is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is pass the pages to your designer to complete. If you want, you can also utilize one of many of HubSpot's free design templates (although, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.) Overall, you want the design to be minimal and flexible.
After the site launches, you can go back and iterate based on performance. While it may be tempting to design every page to be 100% unique, if the design of every page is drastically different, it will be challenging to make any universal changes. You will spend a considerable amount of time testing, analyzing, and making adjustments to every page.
However, by using minimal design and modules, you can reuse elements across your site. It will be much simpler to construct new pages, make edits, and identify the aspects of the website that are performing very well, and the elements that are not.
Learning and Iterating With Agile Design
After you develop all of your flexible, lightweight pages, you can launch and move on to one of the most critical process steps in flexible design: learning. For the next few weeks, you will let traffic run through the site, and study the performance of your pages. The data will tell you everything about how the customer is responding to the look, feel, and tone of your pages.
From there, you can use those insights to tweak, refine, and optimize. By making incremental changes over a more extended period, you can be confident that you're operating off truths, rather than assumptions. In the long run, you get a stronger, more sustainable site that can grow with your company and your customer.
If you're ready to create something great, but you still need some guidance on strategy and goal-setting, check out The Game Plan. Every day, we work with brands and follow this same agile design process to build exceptional websites. While this isn't an open offer (we can't connect with everyone), if we're a match, we can provide a go-to-market strategy to fill your gaps, achieve your goals, and serve as a roadmap to growth.