Sure, “don’t put the cart before the horse” is an old phrase, but it still applies anytime we get so distracted by non-critical elements of a project (our “cart”), that we forget what it is that is driving our “cart” in the first place.

As a designer, I love the “cart”. The “cart” is all the exciting elements of a site – new technology, compelling design, engaging calls to action, responsive sliders that invoke real emotion, etc. Clients love the “cart”, too – it represents the value proposition of any new site design project. When looking at a delivered site, it is the “cart” that they always see first, and use it to justify the time and money spent to redesign their first.

It’s a bad idea to forget the “horse”, though. Without the horse, that “cart” is not going anywhere. So, if the “cart” is the exciting features, flourishes and trimmings of your site, what exactly is the “horse”? Let’s discuss this web-savvy equine and how you can make sure your “horse” is pulling your “cart” correctly.

A horse is a horse of course, of course. And, no one can talk to a horse, of course. That is of course, unless the horse is engaging website content.

Okay that was bad. But the point stands. Your horse is your content. Without compelling content, you will not get the visitors to experience the features of  your cart. So often, the focus of a new site design goes to all the exciting elements that fill the cart, while the content is left untouched. If your content is not given the same attention as the remainder of your site, you cannot expect to get the returns you expect from a redesign project.

Dedicate the time needed to properly conduct audience analysis and examine your website analytics to determine what the most frequently accessed content is and what your audience is asking for in terms of content. Then, make sure the features that fill your cart focus on and drive traffic to this content, rather than relying on the features on their own to boost your website traffic and conversions.

If your content is not important for mobile users, maybe it isn’t all that important.

Here is some armchair website philosophizing: If you have content that you intend to hide via the responsive design applied to your new design when viewed in a mobile device, maybe that content shouldn’t be there in the first place.

One feature of responsive design that clients tend to get excited about is the ability to focus the user experience. There is a real reason for this excitement: By tailoring the user experience to each respective type of device – desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone – we can ensure that our site is being as effective as possible regardless of how it is being accessed. That is the beauty of responsive design. However, there is a flip side to this: If there is content or features that are determined to simply not be important for mobile users, perhaps that content is not all that important in the first place.

Mobile users make up a greater percentage of your visitors as each month passes. So, with that in mind, your content should be compelling regardless of the platform, and the real estate of each device properly utilized to drive traffic in the directions your want users to go. Part of this is removing barriers to usability; needless features or fluff that do not add to the overall experience. Responsive design is a great way of exposing fluff because, if a feature or piece of content is extraneous enough to simply be hidden for your mobile users, perhaps that real estate could be better utilized on the desktop view of your site as well.

Interactive Equinology

New Internet buzzword for you right there! Interactive Equinology, a term I just invented, means design horse, or content, first. Similar to designing mobile first, but going a step further, Interactive Equinology means you need to focus on your site-wide content experience before any visual work is done. This can be done in a few (relatively) painless steps:

  1. Conduct an audience analysis to determine what sort of content your audience is looking for
  2. Examine your site analytics to determine what content your audience has been accessing up to this point
  3. Conduct a card sorting exercise to allow your audience to “sort” the content they would like to see into logical categories
  4. Draft wireframes that focus on the content to be presented. Ideally, utilize the rapid prototyping features inherent in responsive frameworks to create a wireframe that fits all varieties of screen sizes and devices and demonstrates how your content will be prioritized for each.
  5. Finally, have a visual design created that skins your wireframes with your brand, adding the features and flourishes you love while still keeping the content front and center.

Giddy up!

Everyone loves the cart, but it is the horse that does all the pulling. Remember this simple lesson and apply it to your site with a little Interactive Equinology and you will see and experience the successes you expect from a new site design. Nothing is more disappointing than spending countless hours rolling out a new site only to see it land with a thud. Ensure this does not happen by making sure your content matches the polish of your new design, and you will never have to find yourself pulling that heavy cart all by yourself.

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