Varbase is a custom Drupal 8 base distribution developed by Vardot, a leading Drupal solution provider headquartered in Amman, Jordan with regional offices in Santa Clara, USA, and Cairo, Egypt. It is a software product embodying years of experience from building Drupal-based websites for high profile customers such as Al Jazeera, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Drupal is an industry-leading website building platform, renowned for its rich feature set and the ability for users to customize and extend core functionalities to satisfy their unique requirements. Its flexibility is due to its modular design, that is, Drupal functionalities are implemented in a large number of relatively small core and contributed modules, rather than in a single enormous blob object. One key element for a successful Drupal project is to start it off in the right way: namely, select and configure the best modules to do what you want, or as close to what you want in order to minimize the customization work. This can be a daunting task to most Drupal newcomers. For developers who have done this before, the task can quickly become a repetitive chore, as the same procedure is required at the beginning of each project.
Varbase offers Drupal site builders the important benefit of time saving. As a Drupal base distribution, Varbase makes available, in a single download, Drupal core modules as well as best-of-breed contributed modules, themes, and pre-defined configurations. Instead of starting from scratch, Varbase site builders leverage pre-installed and pre-configured industry-proven tools and modules. In addition to using the best modules that others had written, Vardot also contributed its own optimized modules to the distribution, for instance, Varbase SEO and Varbase Media. From now on you can start building and customizing your website right away, instead of wasting valuable resources in 'reinventing the wheel'.
The new distribution was the direct result after many hours of interaction between Vardot developers and web editors, specifically to find out how to make the editor's job easier and more efficient. Varbase users benefit from that editorial experience as the knowledge was subsequently codified into the design of Varbase modules.
Committing to a base distribution and a website building platform is a long-term investment by user organizations. To protect their investment, users look for a base distribution that is being actively developed and supported long-term by a quality organization. Varbase as a product is fully backed by Vardot, an award-winning enterprise web solution provider. Since 2011, Vardot has been applying its Drupal expertise to build enterprise websites spanning many industries, including corporate, non-profit, news/media, and higher education vertical industries. You can view the past history and the future roadmap of Varbase on-line. In addition to this, we've created a Slack channel where you can quickly get any information regarding the distribution or get our support in a timely manner.
Features Mobile ready
If a mobile visitor browses your website, only to find web pages served up using an oversized desktop resolution, it is very likely that the visitor (and potential customer) will bounce off and never return. Varbase prevents this event from happening by prepackaging custom responsive themes built using the industry-standard Bootstrap framework. The use of the carefully selected responsive themes guarantee that visitors will experience your website in a screen resolution that best fits the actual devices. The distribution also provides site editors with the ability to preview web pages on their mobile phones. As a result, editors can examine a page using the same screen resolution before releasing it to the target mobile user base.High scalability
As your website gains readership over time, user experience of the site must not degrade because of the additional load on your Drupal platform. Specifically, the page load time must remain fast during peak hours in web traffic and also when your website experiences temporary spikes in traffic. Varbase is designed to be highly scalable in order to deliver the performance required to withstand a steady climb as well as a spike in web traffic.Easy media management
The distribution offers optimized HTML5-compliant media management via the Varbase Media module. Support is built-in to upload, via drag-and-drop, photos, images, videos, and even documents to an on-line media library. Uploaded images and videos in the library can be assembled into sliders or carousels and displayed on your website. Varbase Media is designed to enhance both the aesthetic and the SEO performance of your media resources.SEO ready
With a built-in SEO modules, search engine optimization is no longer hit-and-miss. Varbase provides a powerful SEO engine to grade the SEO readiness of your website, and to recommend on-page areas for improvement based on its vast SEO knowledge. Varbase enables the specification of metatags and markups to describe your web contents. Furthermore, to further increase the visibility of your web pages, Varbase supports the generation of XML sitemaps. If you are migrating your website to Drupal 8, Varbase can import all web pages from your legacy website, and set up page redirects from the old URLs to the new ones on the Drupal 8 platform.Social media savvy
If visitors like your web content, you want to gently encourage them to share it with their social media contacts, essentially creating a viral effect. Varbase makes the integration of social media within your website as easy as just choosing the target social networks, which automatically enables the corresponding social media plugins. In addition, Varbase enables you to syndicate selected web contents to various social media networks, thereby maximizing their exposure and reach.
Summary & Conclusion
Varbase embodies the principle and practice of Don't Repeat Yourself (or DRY). It is a shortcut to developing your Drupal 8 website using out-of-the-box, best-of-breed modules, themes, and tools. Varbase is made available to the general Drupal community as a free and open-sourced software. Varbase users can download and modify the base software without incurring any licensing cost. For organizations that require professional services, note that Vardot offers full-cycle Drupal services ranging from implementation, customization, support, training, to hosted management. Please don’t hesitate to contact Vardot if you have any questions regarding our work!
From organic to deliberate
At the Drupalcon Vienna Business Summit on monday I presented a quick overview of how the roadmap for Drupal core comes together. A short bit of context and then on to how the new 6-month release cycle creates room to evolve the core product faster.
Drupal 8.4 is done and just about to be released. Here’s the roadmap for Drupal 8.5 core the product management team put together. In short:
Of course no talk is complete without a section about how you, yes you can help make it all happen:
- Help inform the roadmap priorities: share survey data, usability testing results, client feedback
- Help validate the roadmap: are we working on the right things? Does it help fill actual gaps?
- Help build, because process does not replace people: sponsor development by providing time, money, space for getting things done.
The story of how we recovered from a mysterious performance meltdown related to file organization.
As you may already know the Commerce Guys team released the first stable Drupal 8 version of the truly flexible eCommerce suite last week. In order to celebrate this important event many parties were held all around the globe. Slovenian Drupal community definitely didn't want to miss that.
We gathered at the sprintaj.si headquarters in Izola, Slovenija. Sprintaj.si is not a classical "Drupal" business; they are a digital print shop. They are also a happy Drupal Commerce user and this was their way to show appreciation and give back to the community. Sprintaj.si was also one of the most interesting eCommerce projects I've been involved with. They support many different printed matters and their prices are always calculated on the fly based on the customer's needs. Their killer feature are custom formats and If you ever worked on an eCommerce project you can imagine that this results in some pretty hefty pricing rules.
At the party we had two sessions:
- Iztok Smolič from AgileDrop presented most important new features and changes that Commerce 2 brings and
- Kevin Kaland from WizOne solutions shared his experience with migration of a Commerce project from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8.
After the more educational part the more fun side of the event continued. Our hosts prepared a bunch of super tasty burgers and sponsored a small barrel of beer. OMG, we could easily repeat that!
We would like to congratulate the Commerce team for this important milestone. You rock!
These results and analysis were initially presented at the DrupalCon Vienna community summit on September 25, 2017.
Following numerous blog posts, official statements, community discussions, social media interactions, and Slack and IRC conversations over the last few months, there is a clear consensus that it is time for Drupal's community governance to evolve. We need to not only define what governance means to us as a community, but also clarify the roles and responsibilities of those within our community leadership and governance structures. We also need to draw clearer distinctions between the different forms of community, project, and technical governance, and make sure that everyone understands how they interact with and support each other.
Ultimately, this will need to be a collaborative process that involves all stakeholders, including Dries and the Drupal Association (especially where matters of legal and financial responsibility are concerned), but the first step is to create a framework so that the community can participate productively in the process. The question that remains to be answered is what that process will look like.Results of the Governance Summit Survey
The Drupal Association, with help from Whitney Hess, conducted a Community Governance Summit survey in an effort to gain insight into how the community would like to proceed. 568 people responded to the survey, with most questions receiving between 200-250 responses. The Community Working Group (CWG) was given access to the raw results, which it in turn shared with David Hernandez, Nikki Stevens, and Adam Bergstein, who assisted with the writing of this blog post. We all agreed to keep any personally identifiable information from respondents confidential.
While none of the authors of this blog post were responsible for developing the survey or are trained statisticians, we did our best to analyze the results, which reflected a wide range of opinions and feelings about how the Drupal project and community is governed. While we did not feel the survey results pointed to any clear and actionable next steps, they were consistent with the feedback from the community discussions that were held this spring, which was that the process, in whatever form it takes, needs to be driven by the community.
To that end, we have worked with the Drupal Association to publish the survey data and, most importantly, make this call to action for a truly community-driven process. We are also making a sanitized version of the raw data available for download in OpenDocument format for anyone else to review and perform their own analysis. All comments and other free responses have been removed.Selected Survey Highlights
62% agreed that a governance summit is needed. Only 8% said definitely “no.”
63% want the summit to be held online, so that members from all regions of our global community could participate.
59% believe the summit should be overseen or facilitated by a professional governance expert, with the majority of write-ins requesting a neutral third-party facilitator not affiliated with the Drupal project or community.
Nearly 80% wanted the Drupal Association to provide financial support for the summit, with 36% indicating they would contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the summit.
About ¾ said that clarification of leadership roles and separation of project versus community governance roles should be prioritized at the summit. All of the options listed received the support of more than half of those who provided a response to this question:
Clarification of leadership roles in the Drupal project (76%)
Separation of project vs. community governance roles (73%)
Update codes of conduct (63%)
Overall community management (63%)
More community-elected leadership positions throughout Drupal (60%)
Clarify and update Community Working Group processes and policies (56%)
Create core values statement (53%)
Percentages listed are of those who provided a response to that question, not of the total number of people who responded to the survey.What’s Next: Getting Involved
Now is the time for people to get involved and drive the next steps in the process. We feel that as an open-source project, the governance of our community should be designed and implemented by members of that community in the most transparent and fair manner possible.
To that end, we feel that the best path forward is to create a volunteer working group that is representative of our global community, and for that group to take the lead in the process of evolving Drupal community governance, rather than any existing group or individual. While the Drupal Association, Community Working Group, and others in the project’s current governance structure are committed to providing whatever support they can to ensure the success of this working group, we feel that the community itself needs to own the process as much as possible.
We, the authors of this blog post, are not the leaders of the process, but as members of the community with interest and experience in various aspects of community governance, we are willing and able to help provide a framework for the group to self-organize and begin work to help improve the governance of our community. We stand ready to participate and help as needed, understanding that while this work will not be quick or easy, it is important and necessary for the long term sustainability of our project and community.
The next step for this is for you to get involved. Here's how to get started:
Join the #governance channel on Drupal Slack.
Attend a governance meeting in the #governance channel. Once a schedule has been determined we will publicize that information and pin it to the Slack channel. Each of the authors of this post will host at least one meeting and the entire meeting transcript will be made available after the meeting.
The goals of these meetings are to connect people who are interested in governance with each other, provide a forum for people to share their thoughts, and empower the community to determine the next steps.
We are committed to this being a community-driven process and will be present to facilitate, but not to dictate.
If there is interest, we can also host meetings in other forums. (IRC, video chat, etc.)
Other ways to get involved:
Write a blog post and share your ideas.
We know that people don’t always feel safe sharing their comments and feedback and we don’t yet have a long-term solution for this. In the interim, feel free to directly contact any of the writers of this post, or any member of the Community Working Group to share your thoughts.
We are at a unique inflection point in the history of the Drupal community. We have the opportunity to (once again) provide a shining example to other open source communities demonstrating our forward thinking; not only in technical decisions, but also community ones. Please join us.
Authors (listed alphabetically by Drupal.org username)
- davidhernandez - David Hernandez
- drnikki - Nikki Stevens
- gdemet - George DeMet (CWG)
- nerdstein - Adam Bergstein
- ultimike - Michael Anello (CWG)
Although the most likely cause of the massive Equifax data breach was the firm’s own failure to patch a two-month-old bug, the inherent security of open source software has become a trending topic in tech news.
Mediacurrent’s resident expert, Open Source Security Lead Mark Shropshire, is well-informed to join the conversation. We asked him a few questions to get his take on recent events.
We released Drupal Commerce 2.0-beta1 at DrupalCon Dublin one year ago. Over the next 9 months we tagged 6 more beta releases comprising over 500 commits by 70 different contributors working for at least 10 different companies. Now, just in time for DrupalCon Vienna, we have tagged the full 2.0 release, celebrating the achievement with Drupal contributors around the world on September 20th and 21st.
Celebrating Commerce 2.0 with Circle WF in Pancevo, Serbia.
Our release candidate phase was refreshingly uneventful (as you want it to be), giving us confidence to recommend developers begin using Drupal 8 and Commerce 2.x more broadly to develop their new eCommerce sites. Our team has contributed to a dozen projects directly, including architectural consulting and development. We also continue to see more case studies demonstrating how the new version is performing well at scale, making development teams more productive.
Additionally, not only has Commerce 2.x eliminated the need for half of the top 60 contributed modules in Commerce 1.x, many of the major contributed modules still required have seen their own releases or very active development to address important use cases. For example, we released a third beta of Commerce Shipping for Drupal 8 to support stores selling physical products with multiple shipments, flat rate, calculated rates and more. We continue to work on those feature modules ourselves (e.g. Commerce License / Recurring) and in partnership with other Drupal contributors (e.g. Commerce Stock) to make Commerce 2.x ready for more and more use cases.
Drupal Commerce deserves cake!
We're believe in Dries Buytaert's vision for Drupal as empowering ambitious digital experiences. For us that means continuing to improve Drupal Commerce to better support any company aspiring to grow their online sales. While our work on the project will never be "done", at this milestone, we couldn't help but pause to celebrate with a bit of cake.
If you'd like to join us in celebrating this achievement, we're hosting a release party with our whole team and our friends from Commerce Guys by Actualys on Tuesday, September 26th, at DrupalCon Vienna a short walk away from the venue. We've timed it for dinner between the opening reception at the venue and the party later in the evening, with drinks and food on us until the tab dries up. Stop by our booth to get your ticket / directions, and come find the dozens of contributors here at DrupalCon to share your Drupal Commerce story with them in turn.
This is my wrap up of, Monday September 25, the day before #DrupalConEUR started. DrupalCon officially starts tomorrow, and even without sessions, the Amazee Team’s day was really busy!Mostfa Ben Ellefi Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:01
We started out by setting up our lounge, which doubles as a RECHARGE STATION. This means you can recharge your feet by sitting down, stow your stuff (lock it away safely), and have a chocolate on us. In addition, you can recharge your gear, as we also provide plug-in power points.
Once the lounge was set up and almost everyone arrived in Vienna, we enjoyed meeting friends and sharing looooong hugs. This was unique for me, as I haven’t ever actually seen most of the Amazee Team in person.
In the evening we were treated to the Amazee “Best of Vienna” Tour, which had us split up into three groups with three official guides, who told us the best and most thrilling stories of this amazing city, Vienna. I will let the following pictures tell you the rest of the story...
The first Amazee day in the “city of art” was amazing! With a lot of history and hugs.
We have a confession to make. Frankly, we’re becoming kind of shopaholics ;) After the release of Drupal Commerce 2.0, our passion for discussing and building cool Drupal 8 online stores keeps growing. But, considering the awesome modules for e-commerce in Drupal 8, it makes perfect sense!Read more
... that counts. Results matter. What results are important for you? What are you trying to accomplish with your website?
What matters for one organization may be irrelevant to another. What is the overarching biggest need you are trying to solve with your website? Here are a few we've seen:
- Sell more products
- Establish credibility, be a trusted authority
- Inspire interest in working for the company, recruiting
- Persuade people to donate to a cause
- Get people to sign up for a membership
- Connect with other people in a neighborhood
- Increase registrations for a class, program, session
- Streamline online payments, make it easy for existing customers to self-register and pay
- Reduce support costs, provide online chat and ticketing
- Drive more traffic to support advertising
- Provide a communications channel to a particular group
- Unify information coming from a bunch of different sources into a single dashboard
You might have two or three goals for a website, but the more you try to do with it, the harder it is to make it fully effective.
We have so many tools at our disposal to measure things today. But there's a trap -- sometimes we all get focused on measuring things that don't matter at all, simply because they are easy to measure. Does the number of Twitter followers you have matter, if nearly all of them are bots who are never going to come to your site? Does the amount of traffic you get matter if nobody ever buys from you? Does the number of contact form submissions matter if it's all spam? Perhaps... but probably not.
There are definitely a few key metrics that are broadly useful, at least to see overall trends. Pretty much every site cares about unique visitors, number of page views, and bounce rate. Beyond that, though, there is a huge amount of variation around what metrics you should care about, and that depends far more on what challenges your business or organization currently has. Are you looking for new customers? Are you trying to increase engagement with your current customers? Are you trying to reduce costs? Are you trying to create something new? Are you trying to increase satisfaction? There's going to be some way to measure your effectiveness -- and what you pay attention to is generally where you'll get results.Introducing the Freelock Vision Plan
We're applying this same concept to our own business, with this key question: How do we help our clients drive better results through their websites? And our answer is to develop automated tools that cover the basic needs across all sites, look at a single topic each month across our entire portfolio, and leave a little time to focus on what makes your site unique.
We start with a site assessment, asking about your goals for the site and your organizational challenges, and then go through your site and rate it across some key areas: Effectiveness, Security, Performance, Scalability, Maintainability, Accessibility, Ease of Change, and Expected Lifespan. As part of this assessment, we uncover parts of your site that might cause problems when doing any work on the site, as well as providing independent feedback about what might be improved to make the site better accomplish its goals.
Once we have your site fully set up with analytics and an understanding of your key metrics, our vision plan delivers 3 things each month:
- Month-over-month changes on your key metrics, with some analysis to identify what looks to be working, and what's not so much.
- Topic of the month, and how your site stacks up. Example topics include: mobile performance, website accessibility, data security, SEO/SEM best practices.
- Recommendations. Each month we look for 2 or 3 improvements to make on your site, which we feel will help the site accomplish its goals, lower potential risks, or reduce costs.
Paying attention to your site can make a huge difference in how well it works for you. And we would love to partner with you to help drive results! We're currently pricing this at $799/month.Introductory Special - $2400 value!
To kick off our new offering, we are offering 3 months of our Vision plan free, for the first 5 customers who sign up with a Site Assessment before October 15, 2017! Contact us if you would like to be one of them!
Yesterday, I shared my State of Drupal presentation at DrupalCon Vienna. In addition to sharing my slides, I wanted to provide some more detail on how Drupal is evolving, who Drupal is for, and what I believe we should focus on.Drupal is growing and changing
I started my keynote by explaining that Drupal is growing. Over the past year, we've witnessed a rise in community engagement, which has strengthened Drupal 8 adoption.
This is supported by the 2017 Drupal Business Survey; after surveying 239 executives from Drupal agencies, we can see that Drupal 8 has become the defacto release for them and that most of the Drupal businesses report to be growing.
While the transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is not complete, Drupal 8's innovation continues to accelerate. We've seen the contributed modules ecosystem mature; in the past year, the number of stable modules has more than doubled. Additionally, there are over 4,000 modules in development.
In addition to growth, both the vendor and technology landscapes around Drupal are changing. In my keynote, I noted three primary shifts in the vendor landscape. Single blogs, portfolio sites and brochure sites, which represent the low end of the market, are best served by SaaS tools. On the other side of the spectrum, a majority of enterprise vendors are moving beyond content management into larger marketing suites. Finally, the headless CMS market segment is growing rapidly, with some vendors growing at a rate of 500% year over year.
While evolving vendor and technology landscapes present many opportunities for Drupal, it can also introduce uncertainty. After listening to many people in the Drupal community, it's clear that all these market and technology trends, combined with the long development and adoption cycle of Drupal 8, has left some wondering what this all means for Drupal, and by extension also for them.Drupal is no longer for simple sites
Over the past year, I've explained why I believe Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences, in both my DrupalCon Baltimore keynote and on my blog. However, I think it would be valuable to provide more detail on what I mean by "ambitious digital experiences". It's important that we all understand who Drupal is for, because it drives our strategy, which in turn allows us to focus our efforts.
Today, I believe that Drupal is no longer for simple sites. Instead, Drupal's sweetspot is sites or digital experiences that require a certain level of customization or flexibility — something I refer to as "richness".Ambitious is much more than just enterprise
This distinction is important because I often find that the term "ambitious" becomes conflated with "enterprise". While I agree that Drupal is a great fit for the enterprise, I personally never loved that categorization. It's not just large organizations that use Drupal. Individuals, small startups, universities, museums and nonprofits can be equally ambitious in what they'd like to accomplish and Drupal can be an incredible solution for them.
An example of this could be a small business that manages 50 rental properties. While they don't have a lot of traffic (reach), they require integrations with an e-commerce system, a booking system, and a customer support tool to support their business. Their allotted budget is $50,000 or less. This company would not be considered an enterprise business; however, Drupal would be a great fit for this use case. In many ways, the "non-enterprise ambitious digital experiences" represent the majority of the Drupal ecosystem. As I made clear in my presentation, we don't want to leave those behind.Addressing the needs of smaller organizations
The Drupal ecosystem majority are organizations with sites that require medium-to-high richness, which SaaS builders cannot support. However, they also don't need to scale at the level of enterprise companies. As the Drupal community continues to consider how we can best support this majority, a lot of smaller Drupal agencies and end-users have pointed out that they would benefit from the following two things:
- Easier updates and maintenance. While each Drupal 8 site benefits from continuous innovation, it also needs to be updated more often. The new Drupal 8 release cycle has monthly patch releases and 6-month minor releases. In addition, organizations have to juggle ad-hoc updates from contributed modules. In addition, site updates has often become more complex because our dependency on third-party libraries and because not everyone can use Composer. Many smaller users and agencies would benefit tremendously from auto-updates because maintaining and updating their Drupal 8 sites can be too manual, too complex and too expensive.
The good news is that we have made progress in both improving site builder tools and simplifying updates and maintenance. Keep an eye on future blog posts about these topics. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of my keynote (starting at 22:10), or you can download a copy of my slides (56 MB).
The people have arrived from all around the world. The booths have been set up. #DrupalConEUR 2017 - It has begun!Bryan Gruneberg Wed, 09/27/2017 - 14:00
The obvious highlights of the day were the Prenote and the Keynote address.
What is the Prenote you ask? You can check it out for yourself! You may even recognise some of the people who took part!
Where are we from?
Our friends over at Pantheon ran a “from the stage” survey of the community in the room (and I guess a few people who were watching the live stream). Inky, Dania, Lees and I are from Cape Town and Mostfa is from Tunisia. I’m fairly sure that Amazee Labs people account for a large portion of the 1% from Africa.
What do we like?
It starts with the community of course. There is meeting people, sharing food, learning, sprinting on the project. And friends!
… and of course, there is beer. And people, and travel, and connections, and OIDA.
… and there are stickers and hugs… AND beer sessions, and networking beer, and community beer. And if you keep an eye out and stay vigilant you might just spot a beer.
Dries took to the stage to the expected applause from the room. He spent quite some time going through the product stats and if you weren’t at the Driesnote it's worth checking out the full presentation below.
At Amazee Labs, we use Drupal all the time. It supports most of what we produce, and it underpins 100% of what we do. In my team, we support, extend, and maintain a myriad Drupal 7 and 8 sites. Soon we will be onboarding some of the more ambitious Fully Decoupled Drupal-React sites that the sprint teams have been hard at work on this year into the maintenance and extension project phase. It is really helpful to have someone like Dries stand up and force us to take stock of where Drupal is a product and to highlight some of the things that the people using the product should be thinking about.
“The CMS Vendor Landscape is changing”
“Drupal is for Ambitious Digital Experiences”
So what is the graph telling us? It maps different potential Drupal users in two dimensions along Reach (how many people will the system touch?), and Richness (how many features will the system have?). Perhaps the most striking piece is the explicit acknowledgment that the SaaS competitive platforms are now mature and feature-rich enough to make them more appropriate for blogs, portfolio, and brochure sites.
But we can also see that Drupal isn’t only for enterprise clients. To quote Dries: “Ambitious is much more than just enterprise”. In fact, enterprise clients are only a portion of the potential Drupal market. There is plenty of space (perhaps even the majority of the market?) for feature-rich sites to be built and deployed for customers who we would not consider Enterprise. And Dries’ talk suggests that we should think about this, and start to include this in our strategies, and to help our customers to include this in their strategies.
We’ve worked with many amazing clients who had to be careful about their budget or needed a project completed rather quickly. You may be one of those clients. If you’re in the process of hiring a design firm to help improve your product or website but are concerned about investing in user research and testing because of budget or timeline constraints, you’re in good company. What follows are some practical ideas your designers can use to increase your chances of success without breaking the bank.Research to conduct during the project kickoff “People ignore design that ignores people.” - Frank Chimero, Author of The Shape of Design Conducting User and Stakeholder Interviews
A clear understanding of the problems you’re solving and who you’re solving them for is critical to the success of any design project. A site’s “users” are made up of not just the end users or target audience of the site, but also the business users: the product stakeholders, content editors, designers, and the team that will use the site over time to reach that audience. Those business users are an ideal starting point for research. The people who create and manage the content, run sales for the organization or handle customer service are often a wealth of information about the target audience they’re serving and their common needs and challenges. These same stakeholders also help clarify the true purpose and goals of the project and any potential pitfalls.
Before any collaborative workshopping, we always try to conduct individual interviews with at least a representative of each of these kinds of stakeholders (e.g., content and editorial, marketing, sales, customer service, leadership, etc.). We’ve found this process to be hugely beneficial for things like:
- Clarifying project goals
- Clarifying the audience and its various segments
- Clarifying the known problem space
- Clarifying the existing, driving assumptions about the site’s users that perhaps need more research
- Surfacing internal conflicts that need resolution
- Surfacing potential pitfalls for the project
This early information you easily get from these interviews can be invaluable as you begin crafting interview protocols, surveys, and other research methods to learn from the site’s audience. Conducting research with a site’s audience (the external user base) is often where the bulk of the cost lies, so getting as much clarity up front to help refine that work can save a lot of time and cost.Sharing Relevant Documentation
Another highly effective way to reduce research costs in your project is to make sure that your design team can leverage all of the past research your team or others have already done. Designers can learn a great deal very quickly by reviewing the results of past annual surveys or support requests. Below is a list of the kinds of things you should look for and be sure to share with your design team to save time and ensure a better end product.
- Existing internal persona documents that define your audience
- Access to site analytics
- Past surveys of your audience
- Notes, audio or video of any past user tests or interviews
- Existing user flows
- Existing documentation or reports from customer service teams on common problems or guides for those customer service reps
Collecting your team’s knowledge about your audience and summarizing it in an audience inventory worksheet can also help save your designer time when reading through the research.undefined Competitive Analysis
Conducting a competitive analysis of your competition can also be used to evaluate your audience and make a comparison of how your product or site stacks up against the competition. Designers can usually complete these within a day or two, if not within a few hours. They’ll use a set of heuristics such as design consistency, the grouping of common tasks, functionality, mobile friendliness, and placement of links or calls to action, to help evaluate your site against the competition. This evaluation will help set up a strong design strategy that distinguishes your site.Research to conduct during the design process In Process Usability Testing “To design an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior.” - Jakob Nielsen, User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group
Even when you think you understand the problems users have, there are times when your designers will need to ensure that the ideas they’re proposing resonate with your audience. Will they understand how to use a certain component? Does the marketing copy answer their questions? Does the visual design accurately reflect the core values and mission of the company? These are all questions your designers should be asking themselves throughout the design process. Conducting usability tests early and throughout the design process with actual users can help them answer these questions and validate that the design is on the right track.
Usability testing doesn’t have to be a long, expensive process. There are ways your designers can test their ideas with users rather quickly. Tree testing can be a quick way to test your site's IA hierarchy and navigation nomenclature without producing a bunch of artifacts such as wireframes or prototypes that are often needed for usability testing. Your designers can also use wireframes or paper prototypes to conduct efficient usability tests during the exploration phase. At Lullabot, we’ve used a combination of the above to help conduct usability tests in an efficient manner. Conducting usability tests throughout the process with help ensure that the design and strategy are on the right track, and also sets the site up for success.undefined Research to Conduct After Launch
Your project has launched! Hopefully, everything went smoothly, and now there’s a sigh of relief. But there's still work to be done. The ultimate form of user testing is launching a site! The best designers want to keep on learning and iterating. What follows are a few affordable ways to do this.
Conducting Surveys Placing an optional survey on the site is an inexpensive way to collect user feedback that doesn’t require a lot of time to set up. Surveying can identify if something is not working correctly on the site and can help quickly collect user feedback to address in possible future iterations. Surveying establishes a user pool for future usability testing. Keeping surveys short (5 brief questions or less) increases the number of users who are likely to complete the survey. Tools like SurveyMonkey, Ethnio, and Typeform can easily integrate into your site.
Another option is to place a link somewhere on the site where users can give feedback. An example of this might be if you're rolling out a restructured navigation. Placing a link titled “can’t find what you’re looking for?” in the navigation that links to a form can help users quickly give feedback on how the new structure is working for them and help to identify any changes that may need to be addressed in the new navigational structure.Usability Testing
Conducting usability tests on a recently launched site is another way to quickly gather user feedback on how well the site is working for the audience. Since conducting usability sites on the actual launched site requires no prototyping, it can be fairly quick to set up and conduct these tests. You can also save time with recruitment by reusing the same user pool that you had gathered during the in-process usability tests.Post Launch Meetings
Finally, another inexpensive practice we highly recommend is scheduling regular design check-ins post-launch. Set an interval of either quarterly or biannually to ensure that there's time for real data to come in from real users, but also regular enough to perhaps take action and roll out small improvements based on the data. In these regular meetings, we recommend you do at least the following:
- Review anything that’s gone well, and has been surprising or concerning when it comes to users interacting with the site.
- Review any feedback that your team may collect from actual users
- Review and discuss any changes to the goals business or the goals of the site
- Discuss the progress of the site in relation to the goals that were set. Are they on target?
Adding user research to your project process can be beneficial to everyone involved to help understand your audience’s behavior, their goals, and can help inform how to improve your site after it’s launched. Not every project will have an ample budget or timeline for an in-depth research process, but there are small ways to validate ideas to create a site that’s successful and communicates to your audience. If you’re concerned about how user research can affect the budget, I hope you’ll take some of the above into consideration when discussing user research with your designers and collaborate with them to find small ways to work user research into your process. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend reading Just Enough Research by Erika Hall and The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley.