A simple website for my dad: Building a thoughtful & intentional presence.

Some context and a problem

My father is self-taught in his craft, like myself. This made him approach each and every project with plenty of fire in his belly. Always ready to take on the world, solving problems no matter how much it drains him. Working until the early hours of the morning, stitching drapes and sewing fabrics, day in day out.

I realized that some time ago, I had promised my father, that I would help him out to improve his presence. Granted that his business influence and networking is done mostly through word-of-mouth. He felt however, that having a presence online could distinguish his already established ‘brand’ from the competition.

Team

Dad, Myself

Role

Research, Testing, Content Strategy, User Experience, Interface Design, Front-End Development

You can visit the live site here.

Cool, new sideproject. So, what’s the problem?

So it turns out “I need a website” aren’t exactly trigger words that get me going and building something. I love building, but I also love asking. So what I did is rather than peppering my Dad with questions, is just asking him why a couple of times which resulted to a clear business goal. He wanted higher quality clientele so that he can land long-term projects rather than just short week-long reupholstery gigs.

Being intimately familiar with someone allows you to get to to the root cause quicker than you would usually do with someone with a title like “Marketing Manager” or some other C-Level executive whose bottom line sometimes seems solely to turn a profit through awareness or engagement without knowing why they want those things in the first place.

A picture of my Dad

The champ, deep in thought.

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Talking to people IRL

I was helping one my dad’s clients since he wasn’t at the garage, and me being a tad nosey, I just had to ask the guy whose sofa I was carrying some probing questions. Lets call him Jack.

Me: “So where’d you find my dad?”
Jack: “Oh my assistant found him in a phone directory.”
Me: “Did it take long to find someone?”
Jack: “Well, sort of.”
Me: “Why?”
Jack: “Well there’s plenty of upholstery shops in the phone directory, and it’s hard to tell whose credible and has done good work, and who doesn’t fit the bill by simply looking at an address and a name.”
Me: *Remaining silent* (I’ve found that sometimes being able to shut up and listen can be a skill)
Jack: “Another thing was that it was pretty hard to tell who does what. I called up other shops but some were specifcally marine only, so they couldn’t help me out.”
Me: “That must have taken some time.”
Jack: “It did. Finding names wasn’t an issue really. It was more who to trust that took some time. I mean at the end of the day it’s my furniture and I wouldn’t like for it to be ruined.”
Me: “What could have been better for you when trying to find someone? Was there something you would have done to ease the process?”
Jack: “Well I don’t know really perhaps something to show me the work that your Dad’s been doing or has done. I mean I don’t really trust reputation that much because it’s not rare that you try to work with someone who only has nice things said about them but turns out isn’t the right fit.”

Goldmine. This interview alone cemented the importance to go out and talk to people. I eventually asked some more people a similar set of questions to the ones shown above. The process itself actually confirmed some initial assumptions that I had before heading into this project.

How can I design and build a website that is findable, accessible and credible?

Now that I got a clearer picture of what needed to be done it was up to me to do go out and do it. But before that happens, I needed to set myself a set of design principles, based on the research I’ve done, that I was going to operate with.

Some research notes from this project

Yes I know it’s a personal project, can’t help but document and note down stuff though. Think the most important part of researching is not actually how you go about collecting it, but how you go about deriving meaning.

What I found

Now my Dad’s clientele was pretty varied. I couldn’t just say that I’m designing for ‘people who need/want to reupholster their furnitures, that’d be too broad of an audience group. I had to consider different types of clients too.
  • Large jobs from clients expecting quality work with a deadline
  • Small sentimental jobs where clients are more involved but less time constrained
Regardless of the person seeking upholstery service however, the painpoints were almost ubiquitous.
  • Finding experienced upholsterers who are thrutful about the quality of their workmanship
  • Finding specialized upholsterers that did a specific jobs (marine, aviation, auomotive, commercial)
  • Unsure of expectations and specifications to hand off to upholsterer, and thus might need to be helped out
  • Unsure about how pricing works especially if its a new client
So all this (and more) gave me a better picture. Finding a credible trustworthy upholsterer and then communicating what you need is more difficult and time-consuming than it needs to be.

Sketching and Ideating

Now that I had a hypothesis, I needed to generate ideas to be able to test its validity (or invalidity). Here I had to think big and wide, be generative and not confine myself to one direction. I made it a point to document what I’ve learnt from my research and keep it handy as a point of reference.

Some sketches and ideas from this project

Turns out using paper (dotgrid) encouraged my dad to pop by and give me feedback. Using pencil and paper, unconciously, removed that ‘alienation’ one creates when using software like Illustrator or Sketch for wireframing. Paper, being a more universal medium gets more people involved.

Building with continuous feedback

Even though sometimes I like the solitude whenever I’m building something, I did appreciate the different perspective my father brought to the table whenever he used to pop by my room. Even when I showed him a skeleton of the site itself, he had some valuable input. One such example is when he recommended I include the companies he’s worked with. I thought testimonials alone did the trick and didn’t want to make people scroll further, but he argued that there could be an added sense of legitimacy and professionalism to his brand. Even though it was a rudimentary design decision, it was an example of why you shouldn't build alone. I used the following technologies: Gulp, Wordpress, SCSS, Understrap (Underscores + Boostrap) and Browsersync. The Facebook post that meant making it public I hate to admit it, but I’m a perfectionist. Many creators are. This was a big step for me personally. Posting statuses on social networks isn’t something I usually do, you’d most likely find me talking in a FB Group or a Slack Chat to other designers. It was time to get out of the bubble and see what other people’s opinions were. If anything, I was still going to get back to this at some point. (Need to work on accessibility, image delivery and maybe some animation for better visual feedback.)

The Results

With a bit of help from the interwebs and a friend who worked in marketing, I did as much as I could (and knew) to make sure that the code I wrote was semantic and that the site itself was being pushed through the right channels where it can be targeted towards the people that need it the most.

5 to 12

phonecalls daily

14 to 23

new fb messages daily

Need more metrics? Don’t we all. Just let me know what you need by getting in touch via email justinmfarrugia@gmail.com.

Takeaways

There’s always something you learn (hopefully) from every project. From this one it wasn’t how to firefight Wordpress (even though I forgot to backup the site at one point and had to rebuild it again). What I learnt was even a relatively small site (5-6 pages) can teach you so much.



I learnt that shipping early was beneficial, seeking feedback continously (even when the project is barebones) is essential and most of all that research should be a continuous input rather than that thing you do at the beginning and completely forget about later on. 





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