At Rare Earth Digital we always ensure that we don’t start any development work until there is a shared understanding between ourselves and our clients as to what the project will achieve and the resultant value to the company. We will have a clear set of deadlines and deliverables and a commitment on both sides to deliver what is necessary for a successful project.
Throughout this stage of the relationship we ensure that there are weekly or more regular progress updates, together with early access to any work in progress. This ensures that any issues are caught early, and that if there is a need to change direction in a project then this can be identified swiftly and the way forward agreed.
Creation and Delivery for a typical project will involve 6 phases:
- Data collection
- User Experience Design (UX)
- User Interface Design (UI)
- Development Build
- Go Live
There may be a number of professionals involved at this stage, from search engine optimization experts, to copywriters, professional photographers, videographers, marketing professionals etc. We can work with clients’ own suppliers in these areas, or recommend proven experts who can bring their skills to bear.
Before starting the design phase proper, we collect appropriate representative data that would go into the system.
Ideally during this phase the main assets for the site would also be provided by the client, e.g.:
- the text for each page, possibly supplied by a specialist copywriter
- the images for pages, galleries etc.
By getting the data and assets at this stage in the build we avoid the pitfall of design becoming fantasy, untethered to the reality of the literal words and pictures needed.
Examples of this might include:
|500 galleries tagged in different categories, each containing 20 photos, all of which will be landscape.||5 photos, all in the same category, a mixed bag of landscape, portrait and square.|
|5 bits of short text information per person||52 different pieces of data ranging from yes/no boxes to selections from dropdowns to Excel spreadsheets.|
|title of a page will be a couple of words long||client actually has paragraph-long titles.|
|Plan said data come automatically from a third-party source||Sometimes the data is typed in manually – requiring a whole new set of interfaces|
We help clients get to the bottom of what information their business is really using, what is vital, and what might be best retired.
This stage involves building wireframes to plot the flow of the system, identifying how data enters and exits the system and how it is manipulated along the way.
During this phase we work closely with clients to ensure that the roles of any staff who would work with the system are clearly defined so that each person will have a consistent and simple set of tools to do their job, be it data entry, preparation of analysis for marketing or finance reports, or conversion of sales leads, etc.
We use tools like moqups.com to allow clients to interact with the wireframes and get a feel for the flow of the website, app or other system being build.
At the end of the UX phase it is clear exactly how everyone involved will interact with the system, from customers to staff to suppliers etc.
The UI phase brings the design to life. The UX shows the bare bones of what is displayed where and to whom, but the UI determines what it looks like and exactly how the user interacts with the data.
It is at this point that the client’s branding, logo, etc. are incorporated, and where time is spent to really polish the look and feel of pages and the transitions between them.
We work with a number of design partners in this phase. Sometimes the client has their own graphic designer they want to work with, sometimes we recommend a trusted design partner of our own.
The end of the UI phase results in design flats (mockups in photoshop of exactly how key pages will look), and all the assets required to build the site (images, videos etc.).
During the build phase we make test versions available to clients on an ongoing basis (continual availability for websites, and nightly builds for apps). This allows clients to see progress and feel confident that the system is being built on time and on spec.
We carefully manage all source code, and document any steps required to build or maintain the system so that this can be used to support the system effectively once it has gone live.
We build sites with performance in mind. To perform well in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) terms, sites need to not just contain the right content, but also be secure and fast. Building a site in a lazy or slapdash fashion can deliver an onscreen result that might just pass muster, but will run slowly or unreliably and be penalized by search engines and users alike. We are passionate about building sites that are efficient and optimized for performance.
At the end of this stage we have a fully-functional system that matches the UX and UI spec and is available for full testing.
The testing phase is vital, particularly with more complex systems, or updates to live systems.
We write test plans that outline what needs to be tested in order to ensure that the system is functioning correctly as per spec.
We perform rigorous testing in-house, and also invite the client to perform their own user acceptance testing.
After testing is complete and the system has been accepted we can optionally provide training to client staff before the system goes live and is available to all users.
We test the go-live process in-house and ensure that there are quick and documented methods of rolling back to the old system if necessary. This reduces the risk to the client.
Typically the process will involve a number of steps:
- updating of web address information (DNS, Nameservers etc.)
- updating / importing / merging live data into databases
- deployment of code to the live server
- switching code from test payment gateways to live gateways etc.
- enabling of related server processes (backups, timing systems etc.)
- for smartphone apps there are additional steps to set up and manage the submission process to the appropriate App Stores
There may be several other steps if the new systems must integrate with other complex systems. We have a lot of experience of building, documenting and implementing successful go-live plans.