The missing process for modern institutional websites

When it comes to building digital projects, institutional websites are one of a kind that seems to pass through time until they become completely obsolete and then get a full makeover. But even with a few articles to update the blog section, most small business and small digital agencies look at it as the typical “one shot” project.

A set of tools that is changing the game

With responsive becoming mature we need to rethink the way we manage institutional websites, ditch the project and consider any institutional website as a product that is born to last long, grow, evolve, transform become wild or thrustful. And as every web product, use a more agile approach.

At Audacy, we use a content first approach, rapid prototypes, design in browser, guidelines, atomic design like structure, scss or less stylesheets. We have a lot new toys to play with in order to achieve this goal, except one important, or should i say critical element in order to make our digital agencies dream relations with our clients : a way for us to build website not for but with the client in a respectful buisness relation that take in consideration the benefits of iterations but also the hard work that imply every single modification that a client implies.

We have been trying for some time now to be as iterative as possible with our clients even if that has most of the time imply free hours, lots of back and forward decisions, testing agile methodologies, trying to make them part of the process, testing multiple strategies in terms of project structure with prototypes, going to full design first or last, testing content in prototype or later in the process, there is not one good solution, we always needed to adapt to the clients ability to understand our goal of a truly iterative web process.

A little empathy for both sides

So going back to the start we have a new client that want to work with us, what do we do : go with agile with a daily rate and an estimated amount of days (the agency dream) in which case its always complicated for the client to engage without a number of days. Or do we go with a fixed budget (the client dream) where the agency is most of the time forecasting some plus time in case the project goes south … and any modification after the launch is an additional fee that the client always feels like the initial project as been done wrong, and ask for some price cut implying for the agency an increase of price for the next order to cover those cuts!

So it seems that we do not have a perfect solution! We are missing a process to bring these new institutional websites into an iterative era. And looking back at thoses new tools & technologies affecting our products, it feels like we could separate our activities in two parts :

The initial phase :

In order to build / redesign (for the last time hopefully) this “digital” product, it requires research : personas, user interviews, existing traffic analysis, digital impact on the buisness model, brand digital assets.

Then we need to define how the product is going to work and build it around the end user that always has to come first, whatever the client may say!(its a product not a brochure to make stakeholders enjoy seeing their face on the cover). In order to do that, we need to use a proper user centric approach, define a clear information architecture (that is thought outside of the design), build a vision regarding the Brand digital identity with mood boards, Define and build the basic principles of the project (HTML/CSS/JS guidelines, CMS structure, etc)

The iteration phase :

Everything else from building the guideline in the browser, developing templates, producing written or visual content should be a part of the iteration process, the iteration 0!

And by taking in consideration those two steps, we can define a two step buisness model :

  • All the initial phase should be defined as research and advisory, without theses steps (that we usually also have a hard time selling to our clients) its impossible to build a product that is sustainable. This is a fixed price that will allow to define what to do and how to do it (some kind of agility is also possible but not mandatory).
  • All the iteration phase should be part of a more agile process with a continuous active state, that means that not a week or month should go without product improvements, making it more effective or alive. This can either be an agile budget system or a monthly retainer , or a mix allowing the client to push improvements but also for the project team to feel free testing A/B options for content, features, funnels, …

This all comes with a project structure that is for sure not adaptable to any scale project (as an iteration request a minimum of time for it to keep its efficiency) and such price tags are not affordable for all clients, but for all projects over 25k per year, this is win/win situation, the client will have a more effective product updated constantly and the agency will have a engaging contract allowing her to build teams, dedicate time to the client, be pro-active for a better client/agency relationship and a more effective cashflow system.

PS : If you are looking for a digital agency in Europe and looking forward to put in practice this iterative approach, feel free to contact us at