MAP Your Path to Success     

Here at Future Now, we're in a pretty synthetic frame of mind.  No, I don't mean polyesters, I mean synthesis bringing together ideas from lots of different sources that help reveal a different, coherent way of looking at things something that is more than the sum of its parts.  A gestalt.

You've probably noticed that I've casually been tossing around two particular words lately.  They aren't words you've really run across before (unless you've been reading my stuff or my buddy Bryan's ROI articles for ClickZ).  But they are words we believe will change the way folks approach the design, development, implementation and optimization of Web sites.

The two words?  Persuasive Architecture.  It's the framework for synthesizing all the things you and I have been discussing over the years.  And associated with this framework is our process for persuasive design:  the Minerva Architectural Process.

Or MAP for short.

You guys know online success isn't about sitting there twiddling your thumbs hoping the traffic that makes it to your site takes action.  You have to be an active agent in the exchange you have to persuade your visitors by interweaving the selling process with the buying process, consistently applying AIDAS as you answer the WIIFM question, all the while incorporating tenets of usability and information architecture.  These are the critical elements behind any form of sales or conversion.

 MAP is the process of making sure the design of your Web site has a solid foundation, so it persuades and converts your visitors more effectively.

 The Phases of MAP

 Uncovery.  Skillful uncovery is the first necessary step toward designing and developing effective persuasive architecture. Neglecting this phase would be the architectural equivalent of constructing a building but omitting the footers!  Uncovery is responsible for mapping objectives, developing strategy, understanding the customer's buying process, understanding and refining the sales process, researching keywords and key phrases and defining the key business metrics you will use.  If you don't get the uncovery part right, you won't be able to define or measure success. 

Wireframing.  Wireframing defines the WHAT of the creative process.  It's a structural representation of every click through possibility and path your visitors might take.  No pictures, no graphic design, just bare bones text and hyperlinks.  You can click the links and see where you go; you can get a feel for the process of the site and help generate useful feedback at a time when changes and multiple iterations are a snap.  When you wireframe, you evaluate the entire Web site and all its interactions before you enter the more costly phase of programming.  Saves you time, saves you money!

Wireframed Web pages ideally contain the answers to the three questions essential to the persuasive process:

Look familiar?

Storyboarding.  Storyboarding focus on HOW you go about accomplishing the WHAT.  It's the way you begin to flesh out your wireframe.  When you storyboard, you develop the persuasive copy that is going to grab your visitors' attention and motivate them through your site.  You begin to consider the graphic mockup, paying careful attention to scanning and skimming, the eight second Grok Rule, the priority of content and KISS.  Your first storyboards should appear in grayscale, so you can evaluate the composition and process without the emotional influence of color.  You then proceed to a color mockup and finally, an HTML mockup in which you also consider download speeds, browser compatibilities, style sheets and tabular formats that help search engine spiders crawl your site.

Prototyping.  As you iteratively storyboard your way along, you eventually get to the point where you have a finished prototype of your Web site that will be identical to the actual final product.  It will meet the needs of the various personae who visit your site.  It will offer them paths through the various scenarios that reflect their needs in the buying and selling process.  It will communicate relevance at every turn.

When both the client and the developer agree prototyping is complete, you freeze the prototype.  No other changes can be made at least not in this version.

Development.  Now, and only now, do you begin coding.  Every detail is specified in the prototype.  There's no need for guesswork.  Just keep in mind:  programming costs considerably more than planning every hour you spend planning saves you roughly three hours in coding.  The developers don't need to make choices for you ones you'll probably have to fix later on they simply get to do what they do best:  code.

Optimization.  The site works.  Just as you intended it to.  You unleash it on the cyber-public, and then the fun begins.  If you've followed the process methodically and thoroughly, if you've completed each phase in order without rushing the process or meandering through it, then you have a starting point for testing and measuring that will allow you to adjust your tactics to maximize your effectiveness.  Establish and consistently follow a disciplined strategy for monitoring your Web analytics.  It's really the only way to come full circle in the process, to determine how closely you meet your objectives and how you can improve your results on every page that doesn't meet its responsibility.

And that's MAP in a nutshell.

So, why Minerva?  The Romans called her Minerva; the Greeks called her Athena.  Born from Jupiter's (Zeus's) head and commonly known as the goddess of war, Minerva was also the goddess of arts, industry and handicraft, as well as the deity who presided over wisdom, study and intelligence. In Homer's Odyssey - where she appears as Athena, her Greek name - she disguises herself as a man called Mentor and advises Odysseus' son, Telemachus. Mentor has entered our language as the word for a wise and sympathetic guide.

An appropriate figurehead, wouldn't you say?  Stick around it's bound to be one heckuva ride!


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