Thinking differently about online experiences

‘We need a new website’, is a phrase that we often hear from clients who want to kick-start their digital selves. Although it seems a simple enough request, it begs many questions. Why do you think you need a new site? Is your current one ugly or not working properly; is it out of date; does it have poor traffic? While these are good catalysts for change, they are probably not enough in themselves to justify a new site. In practical terms, it also doesn’t make any financial sense to incur web design costs for purely aesthetic reasons. The proper question to ask, is who are we? It all sounds a bit existential, and, since the answer concerns the nature of who we are and who we are not, in a way, it is!

‘Design is not about making things pretty or modern. It is a way of thinking, of understanding people’s true needs and delivering a service or product that helps them.’ 

It’s easy to forget as a business that you are not your customer, a pitfall which can lead to a lot of assumptions. Clients sometimes get lost by focusing on beauty while forgetting usability, or they doggedly concentrate on the homepage and leave the pages with real substance as an afterthought; or worst of all, they assume that users simply can’t wait to sit down for half an hour and read through their company’s history and mission statement. The problem is a lack of empathy; yet empathy not only lies at the heart of good digital strategy, it also makes sound business sense.



Empathy is as much about understanding yourself as it is about understanding others. In digital strategy, your understanding of yourself is reflected in your business objectives. These are the clear, strategy-led, measurable and prioritised objectives and sub-objectives of the business. Your understanding of others is reflected in your research, selection and prioritisation of user tasks – what it is that visitors actually want to do when they’re on your site. 



Users don’t just arrive at your site out of the clear blue sky. They come to solve a problem. They may come via social media links, be referred from other sources, or via any variety of marketing channels. Your visitors will have varying levels of understanding about exactly what it is you do or offer, so how do you best educate them?



It’s not about what you want visitors to see, it’s about helping them find what they are looking for. Essentially, you design the site with the user’s end objective at the core and work your way outwards. Obviously, you can’t disregard the needs of your business, and this is where the Core Model comes in.


The Core Model – Thinking Differently

The Core Model is a tool for identifying the overlap between business objectives and user tasks, and ultimately for establishing which pages to focus on. It turns the old thinking of sending users to areas of your choice upside down, and focuses instead on making it easy for them to find what they need.

It covers the following:

  • • Business objectives
  • • Users tasks
  • • In-paths
  • • Core content
  • • Forward paths  


The Core Model Benefits

By focusing on the intersection between user tasks and businesses objectives, the Core Model provides your site’s users with a direct route to where they want to go, while you achieve your own business aims. By establishing conversations with users and using interrogation to improve user flows, your visitor enjoys a highly satisfactory online experience that is focused and goal-oriented.

The Core Model involves the participation of all stakeholders – client, copywriter, user interface designers (UI), user experience designers (UX) and the audience – in the creation of a site that works effectively for your visitors, your clients and your business. This all-embracing process will successfully: 

  • • Identify the most important pages (content)
  • • Identify which modules to put on a page (UX)
  • • Identify what to emphasise in design(UI)
  • • Involve clients in project strategy
  • • Provide direction to the copywriters in terms of content.  


A Collaborative Approach

In the creation and development of a website, you find a number of key players. The architect is responsible for the design, the builder is responsible for the development, the engineer is concerned with the intelligence of the site and takes care of functionality, and the project manager who provides support and in some cases, sets the direction. At Ascender , for example, we adopt the role of architect, and often that of project manager too. We usually work with external builders who provide the front-end development. Typically, we work with our clients’ in-house engineers.

The Core Model embraces all the players, regardless of where they come from. The process involves the articulation of a common goal, the commitment to a user-focused approach and purposeful collaboration that will ensure that the website meets the needs of the visitor efficiently and completely, while at the same time, achieving the identified business goals. 

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