This past spring, I renovated my 52-year old bathroom — right down to the studs. When the contractor and plumber came to my house to talk about the project, they didn’t give me a quote right there on the spot — nor did they even give me a “ballpark estimate.” Instead, they asked me lots of questions:

** What did I not like about the current bathroom and why?

** Did I want to change the placement of the sink, tub, light fixtures, etc.?

** Was the ceiling fan of sufficient power to process steam from the shower?

We talked about the fact that I had a serious mold issue, that I wanted to remove a full length window that faced the street, and that I needed to create space for towel bars (the existing bathroom had only one!). I also had this funky linen closet that I wanted to close up on the bathroom side and turn into a coat closet on the hall side.

While I talked, they both took notes and made measurements. The plumber recommended the type of tub /shower I should purchase and told me to go look at them; the contractor asked lots of detailed questions about vanity height, type of mirror I wanted, tiles, etc. I stood there while they both fired away at me and felt my brain begin to fizzle.

I hadn’t considered any of this. I just wanted a new bathroom!

What struck me later, however, is how much this process dovetailed with how I help companies overhaul Websites — and how small business owners can become completely overwhelmed by it.

Because Websites are graphically rich, many companies begin the Web Overhaul process by calling a designer. This isn’t bad, but the problem often isn’t poor design. It’s that the Website doesn’t support a company’s business objectives (whatever they may be).

When the plumber and contractor came to my house, they didn’t ask what color I wanted to paint the new walls or what kind of fancy faucet I’d be installing. Instead, they asked lots of “get in under the hood” types of questions — questions that would help them understand how to create a bathroom that would solve my challenges (mold, privacy, hard water, and space, to name a few). The last thing on the list was what color I wanted to paint it.

Instead, I had to work with my contractor to develop a bathroom renovation strategy. The same is true for your Website.

Instead of beginning the Web Overhaul process with design questions, focus instead on two simple questions: “What challenges are we trying to solve?” and “How should the Website support our business objectives?”For the projects I’m currently working on, these challenges include:

  • “We’re not getting any leads.”
  • “We’re not showing up in Google.”
  • “Our product offering has changed.”
  • “We need completely revamped functionality.”
  • “We now sell products online.”

Once you have your challenges mapped out, you can then create a Web Overhaul strategy that ties into — and supports — your business objectives.

I’m happy to say that due to the up-front prep work, my bathroom renovation went very smoothly and stayed on schedule and on budget. Even better, I now have this cool new closet where I can hang coats. 🙂

Do you have a home renovation project you’d like to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

  • Awesome post Dianna, full of truth! I keep meaning to write about the similarities between building an entire house and a website.

    • Yes — you should know! 🙂 But seriously, so many people start off with design and that’s rarely the issue that needs to be solved.

      • Totally. Just finished reading “Content Strategy for Mobile” (which really is “Content Strategy before design”) – it has a good discussion of this topic.

  • riceek

    Very insightful, Dianna. The parallel is spot on. What is most frustrating for me, is that clients are impatient with these questions and don’t understand the point. They just want to see the new home page. Now. I spend lots of time on the discovery and prep part, but I lose a lot of momentum on on the way. Any tips for selling this method to clients?

    • The design is the “fun” part for clients, they often don’t think (or want to think) about the work/planning/strategy part of things but in my experience you get a much better result if you’re not guessing how someone else works/lives.

      One of the first questions an architect friend asked us was “how do we live? what’s a typical day like in your house?” I loved that.

    • I’ve learned over the years to begin the process with an interview. One of the first questions I ask is, “What do you want your Website to do for you?” Because I tie the Website to the business, it becomes less of an an “online brochure” and more a strategic element of their marketing strategy.

      I also do tours of companies — I really get to know the company and the people and make sure they know why I’m doing this.

      Working with Rachel, I’ve learned to ask much better questions because we work from a creative brief. Filling out the brief for her has led me to seek out the answers she needs to help create initial design concepts. This part is really important because she’s creating concepts from scratch — the way I create content from scratch. The more we both know, the better the result. It’s been an exceptionally good relationship. 🙂

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