Breaking Free from Tradition: Documenting the Journey of Using a Participatory Framework to Design a Landing Page

I am a white, straight, cis-woman who began my web development career about 8 years ago at the age of 30. My personal design and development process is heavily influenced by a traditional process which typically consists of: interviewing the client to learn more about their company’s product or service, their audience of focus, their current branding and visual identity, etc. From there, I usually have an idea about scope and timeline and can move forward with the design elements.

I always start the design with a competitive analysis for both inspiration and to discover any design standards for that industry. If I’m working on a redesign of an existing website, I will do a content audit to inform the information architecture. Then I build wireframes, and once approved by stakeholders, I design and build the site. 

For this process, there is usually a defined scope with beginning and ending dates, and when “scope creep” occurs, there is a reassessment of the project timeline, cost, etc.

Working at a nonprofit these last couple of years, my process as a web developer has changed quite drastically to conform to the organization’s project lifecycle. Since the website has already been built, my main work consists of updating/redesigning or creating new pages that live within the existing theme. There isn’t a lot of pre-research involved and I’m typically left out of the strategic conversations about content. I am the last on the production line and when copy and images are delivered to me, I work on the page layout and hit publish once it’s been approved by the stakeholders.

This process has pros and cons. One “pro” is that I don’t need to join as many meetings and everything is usually figured out before it gets to me which can make things easier. But there are occasionally times when we are doing something new or innovative and I should be consulted from the very beginning to have time to think creatively and be able to estimate the scope and timing to execute. When I’m not involved in early conversations, I’ll have to rush through a new idea and am usually not happy with the half-assed results.

This is also a very hierarchical and siloed process in which all the components of the creative (strategy, copy and design) all happen in different spaces with different people’s voices either included or left out.

While the process I started my career using gave me lots of power and responsibility, I often feel completely powerless in the process at my current job. Since my ideas are not included in the strategic conversations and because I’m at the end of the production line, if I bring up ideas for improvement at the point in the process where I’m involved, it either causes delays or can derail the whole project. Sometimes I will do that, but most of the time, for the sake of getting things done quickly (so I can move on to the next project), I just let it go and put out something that I know could have been better.

This brings me to what this post is really supposed to be about. My organization is planning to design a Racial Equity landing page which will be created using a participatory framework–a process that centers community, equity and collaboration.

This process is new to my team, which as mentioned, is very stuck in an olds school hierarchical way of thinking which often perpetuates white supremacy work culture. I’m excited to learn from my BIPOC team members who have experience leading participatory projects and I hope it will reshape the processes we use in the future. What might seem like a nightmare to the traditional marketing team, I have a ton of excitement for a group of “non-marketers” to collaborate and design a marketing product.

As a web developer, I’m particularly excited to try a new process that breaks away from traditional processes which were developed by a homogenous group of mostly white men developers and hope to inspire other designer/developers to break free and try a more equitable and inclusive approach to web development. I will be documenting this journey in multiple posts and updating periodically along the way. Stay tuned!

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