Wireframes? Specs? Ha.

I’ve added a lengthy comment to Stephen Hale’s recent blog post about preparations for a much-needed redesign of the FCO’s blogs.fco.gov.uk site. Unfortunately, the FCO’s platform did horrible things to the formatting, so even if it’s only to make it legible, I thought I’d echo one of the more controversial points I made in that comment.

Specifically: my point that, for a project like that, the days of spending weeks and months honing wireframe diagrams and/or lengthy functional specifications should be behind us.

A blog platform is no longer a start-from-scratch, blank-sheet-of-paper kind of project. Wipe away the surface layer, and there’s a very limited range of web page layouts these days. The functionality of a blog platform is even more standardised, with only a handful of serious candidates. Virtually all the functionality you’ll need will be ready, out of the box, within a matter of minutes.

Having done this very regularly for several years now, I strongly believe that if you have a fairly good idea of the functionality you want, and a fairly good idea of the platform you like, you should look to force the two together at the earliest possible opportunity, rather than spending ages and £££ refining your wireframes and technical spec to perfection. Why waste time and money dreaming of what you might like, when you can have it in front of you within minutes, and know?

It’s like when you buy a new car. Cars are a mature technology. They all feel a bit different, and come with slightly different features, but they all do broadly the same thing in the same way. If you want a new car, you don’t sit down and design your dream car. You don’t recruit your own team of engineers, designers and mechanics. You make a list of the few things that are important to you; then you go to the local showrooms and test-drive a few.

In writing my comment for the FCO site, I went out of my way to avoid using the word WordPress. But my blog, my rules. So here’s the slightly less diplomatic version of what I wanted to say.

  • In a world of instant zero-cost availability, it’s ludicrous to consider functionality and platform in complete isolation from each other. It just is.
  • WordPress’s status as the world’s leading blogging platform is now, I’d suggest, undisputed. So if you want to run a multi-author blogging arrangement, it should be on WordPress. If you don’t believe me, maybe you could ask the Telegraph: they tried a bespoke platform, then tried a commercial product, then finally saw sense.
  • DFID are already running a multi-blogger platform, based on WordPress, and have been doing so most successfully for the last 15 months. It can do everything that you’d expect any such site to do – and more. It’s unquestionably a better system than the FCO’s. It ticks all the boxes on the FCO’s future wireframes; and if there’s anything it can’t already do, it can almost certainly be grafted on: that’s the beauty of WordPress. And we’ve proven that with them numerous times.
  • The DFID code is open source. Some of the key plugins are already available to the world on wordpress.org; I’m happy to explain and share any lower-level stuff within the templates.

So…

  • If FCO come up with a reason why they can’t use the world-leading and lowest-cost solution, in conjunction with code already proven within government and also freely available, I sincerely look forward to hearing it. And I imagine Parliament will too.

3 thoughts on “Wireframes? Specs? Ha.”

  1. Simon, I admire your tenacity on this and you make good points.

    I hope that our refreshed look and feel will go some way to convincing you about our process. To reassure you: we won’t spend ages on it, and we won’t spend any extra £££ (just some staff time thinking about it and then implementing it).

    We’re being deliberately platform-neutral about the user interface – I’m confident that everything in our initial wireframes will be relatively straightforward to implement using our current – or other – platform. But you never know – we may well end up using WordPress.

    I like your car analogy very much. WordPress would be Ford I suppose, with lots of different models to choose from, from Transit (DFID) to Focus (Puffbox)? I ride a scooter, which possibly suggests I should be using Twitter rather than a blog. Or doesn’t the metaphor extend?

    (BTW I’m sorry about losing the formatting of your comment – we’ve had to strip it out since a Penetration test identified it as a vulnerability. But it’s just annoying at the moment – we need to sort it out.)

  2. Thanks for the response, Stephen; and I hope you take the feedback in the genuinely constructive spirit in which it’s offered.

  3. This post definitely struck a cord with me. I’m currently working on a local government e-democracy / engagement project where I’m keen to use existing platforms/tools (quite possibly WordPress). I want to see what we can achieve with minimal, or no, customisation. Timescales are short and we need to achieve something that can be used easily by other authorities.

Comments are closed.