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Building the Rationalist Association website

By John ~ Wednesday, 01 August 2012

It’s not often a client comes along and agrees to let you talk openly about the work you are doing. So when the team at the Rationalist Association gave the thumbs up last week for me to do just that, before we’ve even really got started, I felt excited and scared in equal measure.

I’ll not spend too much time explaining the motives for doing this, suffice to say that my real hope is we can attract a few people to engage with this project and offer constructive feedback as we go. I am sure there are positives and negatives in wishing to open things up as I will but I am really taken with the project and the people behind it and it feels like a good thing to do. So let’s begin with the story so far…

The team

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few weeks but really this is just about week 1 of the project proper and the beginning of exploration. The team is assembled and consists of myself and Rachel on the front-end design and build side of things and Julian at Simplicity Web lined up to develop the back-end. Of course it goes without saying that the team at RA are the key to it all and now find themselves flooded with Super Sticky Post-it Notes, index cards and requests to do, as yet, not fully explained things with them.

Project management and roadmap

We are using Agile and I’ll talk about that experience as we go along. I am very clear in my own head that we don’t start getting truly Agile too soon; there has to be the exploration first, get the objectives very clear and understand the users a bit better.

Stakeholder interviews

I’ve already talked to two of the board members and there are plans to talk to two more next week. From there is planning sessions with existing members and finding ways to talk to potential members and/or users of the new offering.


Caspar and the team have analysis of a recent survey they conducted at hand and with that and their knowledge of their existing community we will start to put together some personas in a spreadsheet.

I always have mixed feelings about personas and certainly at this early stage we will be cautious about assigning too much weight to them but as we continue the conversation with users and potential users alike we will aim to validate them and keep building them up.

Content audit

The existing New Humanist site already has a lot of content which will flow into the new project.  Reogranising it will be an interesting project in itself and that begins with a full content audit. Once I’ve done the manual work, over many cups of tea, I’ll be asking Rachel to get some data from Google Analytics so we can look for things of interest. A card sorting session is almost certain to be scheduled at some point very soon.

Ideas, priorities and objectives

We’ve done one workshop around an affinity diagram. Amongst other things, that we’ll get to in due course, it has revealed that a high priority is building a community; Having watched first hand Jono Bacon’s excellent work with the Ubuntu community I’ve ordered the second edition of The Art of Community for bedtime reading.

Importantly for me at this stage was the question, does this kind of workshop work for this team? It’s all too easy to throw the textbook at a project and never check back to see if it fits. Fortunately, the answer is a yes. I have to admit it’s one of the most satisfying parts of any project kick-off for me; I very much love the KJ technique (http://www.uie.com/articles/kj_technique/)

So what’s next?

Next week will be a combination of project planning, some more stakeholder interviews and starting some design exploration, kicked off by a visit to the Rationalist Association archives armed with camera.

I’d also like to do some diary studies to try and understand how and when our target audience consume content in the hope of finding some patterns and, more importantly, looking for some sparks that will trigger some ideas.