Occasionally, I stumble across the website alistapart.com and should visit it more regularly. It seems to never fail to give me good tips but the one I have to tell you about is the article "Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia (or build a Website for No Reason).
This is one of the few articles that I keep using in my job again and again. In fact, I have actually printed a copy of this article and each and every time that I visit a new client/customer/user, I begin the meeting by handing them this article before we begin any discussion.
Afterwards, the conversation is really simple. I simple ask to fill in the blanks below when asked to develop or modify a web site:
The purpose of this web site is:
To convince... BLANK... (Whom)
To do… BLANK… (what)
instead of… BLANK... (Who's the competition or what problem are you trying to solve)
because… BLANK... (Why)
For example, alistapart fills in the blanks as follows:
To convince… ALA readers
to use… strategy to define the purpose of a website
instead of… ignoring it and moving right into production
because… strategy brings focus to the project and serves as a framework for all the components that make up a website (IA, copywriting, design, development, marketing, janitorial services, etc.).
Read the article.