Setting Goals For Your Web Project

Every great design project begins with clear goals. In a recent post, we wrote about why we ask our clients, "What Does Success Look Like?" Setting concrete goals for a project makes way for successful outcomes. It also creates a path to measure how design adds value to your business.

Start by asking yourself: "Why do I need a website?" or "Why do I need a new one?" If your answers are that the current one is old or looks dated, that is a start. However, there are probably deeper reasons. Most likely, you are wanting a website that is more effective, or one that can help you grow your businesses and generate more income. Your next website should be an tool to help your business flourish. 

If you are having a difficult time assessing your goals, contact a designer and work with them to help you determine them. Designers are wired to spot opportunities that aren't revealed through traditional analytical thinking. Additionally, they work with businesses on a regular basis and some designers might even be running their own business. Therefore, they make great consultants and can often help you to envision and achieve goals for growing your company - large or small.

Our most successful projects have come from briefs that had business goals rather than aesthetic goals. Many of these goals began with questions like, "How can we …" rather than simple requests. In these cases, we have been able to successfully help our clients accomplish goals, such as getting more visitors, keeping them coming back, improving social media interactions, making the experience more personal and many others. If the client had just requested a site instead of looking to solve business goals, these would have never been accomplished. 

Here are some questions that you can ask to set goals for your next web design project.

  • Why do you want a website built?
  • Why is your current website not working?
  • If this is not built, how will it affect your business financially?
  • If successful, how will it affect your business positively?
  • If you were to hire someone to do the job of your website, what would be their job description?
  • Did you do any research to determine that this project was necessary?
  • What will determine the success of this project and when will that be evaluated?

What Does Success Look Like?

Prior to starting any new project with a client, it's typical to ask a lot of questions. Often, these inquiries help us get a good idea of what the client's business and values are like. Additionally, it helps us to determine the technologies, features and scope involved with the project. However, there is one question that ends up being most important -- "What does success look like?"

Ultimately, our goal is not to simply deliver logos, websites or web applications. We want to help our clients achieve what they desire for their business. In order to do this, we want to find out what these goals are. From start to finish, having the client's needs in mind will help us to create a process that delivers a viable solution that makes everyone happy. Additionally, there are always ways to exceed the goals. Businesses need much more than just a website. Rather, they are hoping to increase traffic, communicate to their audience efficiently, retain visitors longer and most importantly -- create conversions and increase sales. In the same way, a business doesn't just need a logo. A business should be memorable, look professional and have an identity system that communicates value. A web application should save a business time, alleviate difficulties and make routine tasks easier.

Before you begin your next project with a designer or developer, take the time to explore what your goals are. What will determine its success or failure in three months, six months or a year? What will be the value gained through additional revenue or time saved? Those that are worth hiring are not in the business of just making things, they are in the business of making things better. What does success look like for your next project? 

Why Choose Responsive Web Design?

A little over a year ago, we designed our first responsive website. Responsive web design was something that we had been following for awhile but had yet to try on our own. We had both recently read Ethan Marcotte's wonderful book and were in the midst of designing materials for AIGA Nashville's 2012 Student Design Conference, Dish. It just so happened that on this Saturday afternoon, we decided that we were going to take a crack at it and complete the project in a day. It took all night - and several bottles of sake - to complete and as the sun came up, we had our first, albeit very basic, responsive site.

We haven't turned back since. Every site that we have designed and developed since then has utilized responsive web design to deliver content appropriately across a vast range of devices. As time went on, our responsive sites improved and so did our process for creating them. No longer fixated on exact pixels sizes, we embraced the dynamic fluidity of the web more and more. With each new site, we used analytics to test our theories and were able to examine how users were interacting with the products that we had created using various devices. We were able to help our clients engage more users at a deeper level. 

Recently, Luke Wroblewski wrote a fantastic blog post, titled Data Monday: Impact of Responsive Designs. In the post, he gathered the data reported by four sources who have publicly released statistics on the outcome of their responsive websites.

Time Inc. Responsive Redesign

  • Pages per visit, across mobile, tablet and desktop are up considerably. (source)
  • Mobile is up 23% compared to what it had been. (source)
  • Homepage uniques are up 15%, and time spent is up 7.5%. (source)
  • The mobile bounce rate decreased by 26%. (source)

O’Neill Clothing Responsive Redesign

  • 65.7% conversion rate increase on iPhone/iPod (source)
  • 101.2% revenue growth on iPhone/iPod (source)
  • 407.3% conversion rate increase on Android devices (source)
  • 591.4% revenue growth on Android devices (source)
  • 20.3% conversion rate increase on non-mobile devices (source)
  • 41.1% revenue growth on non-mobile devices (source)

Skinny Ties Responsive Redesign

  • 42% revenue growth on all devices (source)
  • 13.6% conversion rate increase (source)
  • 377.6% revenue growth on iPhone (source)
  • 71.9% conversion rate increase on iPhone (source)
  • 44.6% increase in duration (source)
  • 23.3% lower bounce rate (source)

Regent College Responsive Redesign

  • 99% increase in unique visitors (source)
  • 77% increase pageviews (source)
  • 63% increase in online applications (source)

Although it is only four sources, the numbers reveal the benefits that come as a result of a responsive redesign. We have witnessed similar engagement on higher traffic sites that we have had the opportunity to work on, such as The 5 Love Languages® and The Red Bus Project. Our goal is to help our clients grow their business. This often includes increasing visitors, retaining visitors, engaging visitors, creating conversions and ultimately creating more revenue. Our experience with responsive web design up to this point has proven to be successful in achieving these goals. 

Alas, we do realize the responsive web design will not be the best solution in every case and that in some circumstances it may be unnecessary. However, we currently find it to be a great solution for many of the clients that we serve. With every client and with every project, we seek to provide the most future friendly solution possible. By creating sites that adapt to viewport size to best showcase the content, we are providing our clients with a solution that delivers a great experience on the devices that exist today as well as those that are still yet to be released.

DISH 2013 Student Design Conference

The DISH 2013 Student Design Conference kicks off this Friday, February 22, 2013 with keynote speaker, Dana Tanamachi. The annual two day conference was always one my favorite events to coordinate during my time serving on the AIGA Nashville board. This year, we once again had the opportunity to create the website for the event. You can read more about the new responsive website here. If you are a student in the Nashville area, then I highly recommend that you register for this event at  

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?

“You can always go one step further. And if you can't go one step further it means that you haven't learned from what you've done before – and you're not sharp.” - Norman Foster

Last weekend I came across this wonderful, inspiring documentary on the architect, Norman Foster. Although it was first released in 2010, I may not have ever come across the film had it not been for Netflix. Therefore, if you find yourself looking for something (aside from the Super Bowl) to watch this weekend, I can highly recommend How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mister Foster?

New Adventures In Collaboration: Apps & Services (Part 3)

In the first post of this series, I talked about the tools that we are regularly using for collaboration internally at LaCroix Design Co. and for external collaboration with our clients. The second installment delved into the services and applications that facilitate the collaborative iteration in our design process. We see our process as one that is evolving and ever improving. Therefore, this third and final post on our collaborative tools will focus on tools that we have recently implemented into our routine. Since we are always experimenting, this is far from exhaustive. Rather, it represents tools that we expect to remain in our arsenal for some time.

Unexpected phone calls are a disruptive part of the workday. Most often, we are focused on the the projects that we are creating for our clients and are not at a point that would accommodate breaking away. In order to keep an uninterrupted workflow, we schedule phone conversations with clients in advance much like we would schedule a physical meeting. This allows us to set aside whatever we are working on to give full attention to communicating with the client.

Most likely when we're collaborating with a client, there are several members of their team that are involved in the process. Therefore, we like to include everyone involved as often as possible so that decisions made are best for the final outcome of the project. Often, this involves conference calls. Having multiple people on a call can sometimes be chaotic. Also, it is difficult to follow who you are talking with unless you are very familiar with the sound of their voice.

ÜberConference has been able to solve a number of these problems for us. The service lets us schedule call with our clients and sends out a reminder prior to the call. Users can call into the conference line by phone, the iOS application or by using a Chrome browser window. Online, it has a visual interface that highlights who is speaking so that we are able to know who we should be responding to. If the users have set up a profile, it also displays a profile image which makes the experience a bit more personal.

Although these features will not replace the experience of being in the same room with our clients, they do greatly improve upon the conference call experience. By removing some the confusion and distraction, phone meetings end with better understanding. Additionally, ÜberConference allows for us to make a recording of the phone call. Once the call is complete, we receive an email documenting who was on the call, the duration, who talked the most and who talked the least.

After quite a bit of research, we have switched our system for invoicing this year. While, invoicing is often not a collaborative effort, tracking the time invested in each project is. Most of our projects are not based on an hourly rate but rather a proposal of cost and services to align with a client's budget. Tracking time on these projects allows us to assess the time spent on each completed project. These assessments help us to better predict what features and services can be accomplished within the budgets of future projects.

Harvest makes tracking time fantastically simple whether it is done through the web interface, iOS application or native OS X application. Most importantly, a Chrome extension allows for time to be tracked directly from Basecamp tasks. Thus, it fits perfectly into our existing collaboration process. Since the service is web based, both Michael and I are able to record the time associated to each completed task.

In addition to being able to easily track time, Harvest allows us to add expenses, with attached receipts, to internal and external projects. Since we work virtually with a great majority of our clients, Harvest further compliments our process by providing a link on each invoice which allows for clients to pay for their invoice online. Great efficiency in our administration tasks grants us more time to creatively solve our clients' design problems.

New Adventures In Collaboration: Apps & Services (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, I wrote about the applications and services that we are constantly using for collaboration. However, as we conceive, iterate and perfect the products that we are designing and developing, there are several services in the background that make collaborating as team much easier.

CloudApp -
We have been using CloudApp for some time now for the sharing of screenshots. The application has a setting which will automatically upload the screenshots that we snap and copy the unique url onto our clipboard. This allows for us to quickly share these screenshots through a chat or message without having to send files back and forth. This also helps to keep my Downloads folder a little less cluttered.

Recently, I have begun to use CloudApp much more extensively. The raindrop feature allows for me to easily upload a snapshot of whatever I am working on in Photoshop for instant sharing. This, along with the screenshot upload allows for Michael and I to discuss small iterations or to quickly explore a new possibility. Also, using the direct link allows us to embed an image into a Basecamp message. In addition to screenshots and Photoshop captures, the application allows us to share any other type of file by just dragging the item to the menubar icon.

CloudApp also integrates with some of the other pieces of software that we use on a regular basis. On our macs, we both use Sparrow for email. Attachments can be uploaded to CloudApp with a download link pasted into the message. I have also been using the Tweetbot applications across all of my devices, which allows me to set my image upload service to CloudApp.

Git -
Version control is obviously important to any project. We prefer Git and host all our private client projects on Bitbucket, and our public projects & tools on Github. This allows us to keep our source code up to date with each others changes. Also, since most of our web applications are Ruby-based, we created a couple Rubygems to expedite & automate the process of creating new applications. Using these ensures a consistent project layout from the beginning, regardless of who created it.

Forward -
As mentioned before, CloudApp is a wonderful tool for sharing screenshots and on most days you will regularly find us sending a number of these links back and forth. However, there are often a number of things that an image can not tell you about a digital experience.

For this reason, a lot of our front-end prototyping is done in the browser instead. While often rough, these prototypes allow for us to see how the designed aesthetics and functions are working across different features and viewports. Forward lets Michael instantly share the local version of the application that he is working on via a unique url. I am then able to use the application and provide feedback as we discuss its current state. This is a wonderful tool that provides us with much more detail about the experience than a screenshot would.

Continue onto the final part of this series.

New Adventures In Collaboration: Apps & Services (Part 1)

We work in an industry that is always changing. While the web industry has matured quite a bit, new technologies and methods still arise, warrant consideration and often adaptation. As a studio, we are always improving on what we do with refined processes to create better systems for a improved client experience and more successful products.

Perhaps the biggest change that we embraced this past year is that I relocated to Chicago. As you might have read in a recent New York Times article, Nashville is a wonderful place to live. LaCroix Design Co. got its start there as well as many great friendships. It is also where I met my lovely wife. However, after ten years we were in need of a change. Chicago offered new inspiration, a growing tech scene and the opportunity to not own a vehicle. Therefore in June of 2012, we decided to make the move.

We often work remotely with a large number of our clients and have experimented with and revised different systems to improve communication throughout the process. While Michael and I enjoy the moments where we are working together on a project, we have found that our best work is often done while working in solitary sprints. These sprints are then followed up with a collaborative assessment.

Thus, the extra distance has not thrown a wrench in the way we operate and in some ways has improved our collaboration process. Of course, we would not be able to pull this off as well without the utilization of some apps and services. Here are some of the tools that we are using for successful internal collaboration and how we are using them. We've become quite attached to using some of these apps and services so I broke them down into a few posts to be spread out.

Gmail -
Much like everyone else, Gmail powers our email server. We recommend it to all of our clients. For reading mail, we both use Sparrow for Mac on our laptops and the Gmail apps on our iOS Devices.

Basecamp -
Basecamp by 37signals is at the core of everything that we do. Chrome is open to our Basecamp dashboard whenever we are at the computer. Email is noisy and distracting. It has its purpose and we are guilty of relying on it, a bit too much, just as much as anyone else. However, for communicating with clients and with one another, we use Basecamp whenever possible.

I personally love to see my inbox at zero. Therefore, actionable items get put into todos, information needing kept into documents, important dates into the calendar and files needing save uploaded. By parsing the necessary information, I am able to delete emails while retaining their content in a much more efficient place. When working with each other and with clients through Basecamp, we are able to bypass this parsing step and get straight into the tasks at hand.

Internally, we collaborate on proposals, assign each other tasks and discuss new ways in which we might do something. In fact, by the time that you read this blog post, it has already gone back and forth a few times in Basecamp. Whenever we start to discuss a new venture, we create a new project so that we can begin to record any ideas that we may have. In fact, I rely on it so much that I use it for planning vacations with my wife. Basecamp is our most indispensable service that we pay for.

One downside to Basecamp is that it also uses email for notification purposes. In order to get around this and alleviate the step of deleting email alerts, we set Gmail to auto-archive Basecamp email alerts and use Feeds to serve up Growl notifications. Feeds' menu bar icon alerts us to anything that we may have missed.

Unfortunately, this creates a bit of trouble when we are out of the office and on our iOS devices. I've been using Hojoki to serve up push notifications. However, I'm not in love with this setup and there is plenty of room for it to be improved upon. We both use Lodge on our iPhones and find it be a fantastic app. Building push notifications into the app would be brilliant and would solve this whole dilemma. If we are casting coins into the well, then it would be great to have Lodge on our iPads as well.

One other area of friction that we have using Basecamp is the lack of private messaging. The previous iteration of Basecamp allowed for use to create private messages, todos, documents and files. This allowed for us to communicate internally from within the client project. Thus all of the information was contained in one place in case we would ever have to go back to it. The newest iteration of Basecamp offered enough incentives for us to make the switch despite the lack of private messaging. The much improved interface and speed of the new iteration has definitely been worth it. For large projects, we work around this by creating an internal and external project. Hopefully private messaging is eventually restored and we can return to a communication model that we enjoyed.

As I mentioned earlier, Basecamp is the crux of our collaboration. While there are plenty of other services on the market, this one is simple, intuitive and best of all works well for us.

Skype -
I'm hesitant to put this application on the list but we do use it everyday for quick dialogue and instant feedback. Unfortunately, a number of contacts are on it so it can be a bit distracting when focus is needed. We are not in love with the interface and it is often buggy. The positives are that we can call one another, screen share and forward calls to it to easily answer while we are at our desk. However, we would most likely trade away some of those benefits for a service that fit us better.

I think that we may have tried every chat service under the sun. Unfortunately there has not been one that truly fit our needs. Often, they fell short in mobile device compatibility or notifications. Being quite fond of the philosophy of 37signals, we used Campfire in hope that it would be our solution. The ability to create separate rooms allowed for us to reduce distraction. However, much like a lot of the service's competitors, it lacked proper iOS applications, notifications and the interface is due for a much needed update. A future iteration of this service addressing the previously mentioned shortfalls, along with Basecamp integration, could be the solution that we have been dreaming of.

Internally, we have been working on building our own application to fill this void. It is currently a project that is a bit off in the distance as we continue to address our needs so that the application can be correctly tailored to them. However, friction within the chat arena still exists for us. Until a new solution is found or developed, Skype continues to offer a satisfactory platform for collaboration.

Continue onto the second part of this series.

Recommended Reading - Insites: The Book

Insites: The Book

Over this past weekend, I finally got around to reading Insites: The Book by Keir Whitaker & Elliot Jay Stocks. This wonderfully well written book features personal interviews with leading designers that are helping the shape the web today. Designers, that we regularly find ourselves inspired by. It is a reminder of how honored we are to be part of the thoughtful, hardworking and passionate community that gets to make things for the web. 

Click here to purchase the book. (not an affiliate link)

New Year, New Site

Today we launched our first site of 2013. Unlike the majority of the online experiences that we create, this site is not for a client but for us. Although we spent a good amount of our time off for Christmas and New Year's wrapping the project up, it is one that has been ongoing for quite a while. The last time that we launched a new portfolio site was a little over two years ago. At its launch, it was an achievement that we were quite proud of. Much like the launch of this new site, it represented some of our best work to date. However, the site quickly lost its luster and eventually fell by the wayside. So much so that we took it down a few months ago without a fresh site to reside in its place.

A simple placeholder is all that has remained in its place. We've learned quite a bit over the last few years and took this opportunity to reexamine what our portfolio site should be and how it should it should operate. We sought to build everything from the ground up. Over the past year we have begun building custom content management system for our clients. Therefore, we wanted to take this time to examine what our content needs were and build around that. We wanted to create a better way to tell the story of what we do as a company and build it on a firm foundation to where the experience can be improved upon along the way. By doing this, we hoped a useful tool that will allow for others to better experience the products that we put into the world. One that will not so quickly lose its luster because it better represents some of our proudest moments. Aside from being a long overdue update, we discovered some things along the way that led us to this point, here are a few.

What we love most about what we do is the pace at which you are required to learn new things. Design is not just a career but more a philosophy on life. A philosophy that seeks to improve through every iteration as each solution is tried and evaluated. Throughout the last few years, the problems that we have the opportunity to work on with our clients have become increasingly more complicated. The concepts are more involved and solutions require much more process. Our previous site relied heavily on single images to communicated the outcome of the work that we did. At the time, it did a fairly good job of communicating it. However, design is not just about the visuals but rather how and why the solution works. Therefore, the new site is centered around projects consisting of multiple images along with copy explaining the overview, challenge and solution. Images still do a poor job of communicating interactive or tangible experiences so we plan to eventually include video to help tell a better story. Regardless, the best way to experience the work that we create is through a physical encounter, whether it be with the object itself or through the links provided. We feel that the new site begins to tell a better story.

Content updates quickly fell by the wayside with our previous site. At first it was the blog posts but then we found ourselves no longer updating the work that was showcased on the site. It was not that we were not proud of the work. We love showing off what we do. We also love to talk about why we design the way that we do. What we found was that the content management system that we were using was actually standing in the way of content creation. Too many hurdles made posting new content a chore rather than a joyful experience. While building content management systems for our clients, we have looked for opportunities to remove any hurdles that we could find in order to create more simple and intuitive interfaces. For our new content management system, we took this philosophy even further and created something that we are quite proud of. We will be posting future journal posts which go into more detail on the administrative experience. We also plan to produce more journal content on a regular basis along with a regular posting of completed projects to our portfolio.

As far as the web goes, a lot has changed. When we created the previous site two years ago, iPads weren't ubiquitous and far less people had smart phones. I now regularly find myself interacting with the web on a post-PC device. We have been proposing and building responsive websites for our clients and decided that it was time that we had one as well. Although responsive web design will not solve all of the conundrums that come with such a wide array of device sizes, we believe that in most cases, it offers the best solution available. Therefore the new LaCroix Design Co. site will respond and adapt to various viewport sizes in order to create the best experience possible across whatever device you choose to visit our site on.

Hopefully, you enjoy exploring our new site as much as we have enjoyed building it. We will be posting regular updates to this journal so that it will serve as a collection of our observations, opinions, inspirations and general ramblings as told through essays, quips, quotes, photos and videos. We hope to give you a greater insight into the fresh ideas that drive our practices. Please feel free to bookmark the page, subscribe to the feed, sign up for our newsletter and share this site with your friends. We are grateful that you took this time to visit our little place on the web.

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