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Design Workflow

The design of presentations, whether for commerce or communication, web or PowerPoint, has three major phases: concept, realization, and refinement. I will describe each phase in terms of the actions taken in a designer-client relationship. I will also make an effort to explain how much time is spent on each phase, which translates to cost regardless of whether you are designing for yourself or paying someone else to do it for you.

Phase 1 - Concept
     A half step before phase one, you have either an idea or a product you want to present in a fashion that makes people take notice. You know what you'll need to say but not how to say it. The key here is to come up with two interlocking frameworks. One lays out the logical and logistical flow of information. The other describes the aesthetic elements you will use to reinforce the interplay of continuity and contrast throughout your presentation. The first framework becomes your outline and architecture. The second becomes your design theme, including logos, color scheme, and accents. Note that the "look and feel" of a presentation, something many designers like to talk about, is a product of the interaction between frameworks.
      Time spent on the concept phase is often, but not always, time saved later. It may be painful to pay for a phase that doesn't directly produce your presentation, but a project of any sophistication will benefit from careful advanced planning. For budget and expedience, the designer and client should delimit the concept phase either in terms of time or pre-visualizations of the outline and design theme.

Phase 2 - Realization
     At the end of the concept phase, you have some idea of what content and design elements you will need. Ideally, you have some rough sketches or mock-ups of those elements. Now you have to give them full breathing life. Start with the graphics that will appear on every page. These include small accents or backgrounds and textures. However, principle among your graphic elements is your navigation device (in the case of web pages). Laying out the mechanism and flow of navigation first will help you to refine your content later. The realization phase is also the one for obtaining and editing images. Some people prefer to fit images into pages after the navigation structure is in place. Other people use spontaneous inspiration from their images to help them design the site's look and feel. The former method is the most efficient, whereas the latter method can produce a visually captivating presentation at the risk of completely wasted time.
     The client and the designer should remember that the realization phase can be as much a revision of the concept as it is an execution. Time can be saved if the client is very clear about which elements of the concept are malleable. Also, revision of an entire site can be time consuming. A good guideline is to consider three finished pages connected by navigation elements first. Once these pass muster, the site can be completed quickly.

Phase 3 - Refinement
     Refinement of a completed presentation is like the first few weeks in a pair of leather shoes. In the case of PowerPoint presentations, you will want to make sure the rhythm of your speech is complimented by the design of the slides. Do your jokes work? Do the graphics help the audience know when you are moving forward and when you are recalling earlier points? Don't be afraid to let the slides tell you when you're trying to say too much. Often, it is a lame slide that gives away the weakness of a point you could just as well cut from your presentation.
     In the case of websites, nothing but nothing gets you better feedback than a test audience. Let your friends or colleagues see the site and move through it. Use logs to see which pages people visit and for how long. For sites with a large budget, use focus groups and interview participants. Technical glitches are easy to fix. The real challenge is to refine the site until visitors find it both comfortable and worthwhile. Only then are you communicating effectively.

Contact me to discuss your next web project.
Nick Friedenberg
Hanover, New Hampshire

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