Building Part 1 of 4 Robert Mohns

Written on: June 18th, 2013 in clients, strategy on a tablet deviceWe just took the cover off a project that has been under wraps for a while now… a complete re-design of the leading security industry conference's website,!

In the coming weeks on the iMarc blog, you'll be reading more about how the new site was planned, tested, designed, and built.


Before starting part 1 of the 4-part series on building, I’ll let our project sponsor speak for himself:

“RSA® Conference helps drive the global information security agenda and provides a 360-degree view of the security industry. We selected iMarc as our partner to redesign the RSA Conference site to drive registration, engage users year-round, and better promote our online content. Through great collaboration the team excelled and delivered an exceptional, user-centric and responsive site, optimized for mobile devices.”

—Craig Hansen, Senior Web Technology Manager

So how do you redesign the face of the conference, with dozens of content contributors, outside vendors and service providers, multiple points of technical integration, stringent uptime requirements, and a long-established brand identity that must be adapted into a responsive, mobile-friendly design? And oh, by the way, it's a security site so it will be attacked by hackers…

Craig's team of dedicated pros were instrumental to the project success. A project this big doesn't happen in a vacuum; the RSA Conference team was on-point, on-time, insightful, constructive in every way, and open to anything at all! My hat's off to RSA Conference: they are fantastic collaborators.

Okay, ready? Let's descend into the depths of the project…

Part 1: Strategy

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Before you can solve a problem, you must understand it. So, of course, the first step of any project is learning. Appropriately enough, the 2013 conference theme is Security in Knowledge.

What are the goals?

"If everything is important, then nothing is." ―Patrick Lencioni

To succeed, you must focus your energies on the core things that matter most. This entails making decisions, and saying “no” to some things. This allows you to say “yes” to the ones that matter.

We've found that a very good way to help our clients prioritize their goals is to conduct a card sort exercise. Often used to organize existing content, a closed sort methodology is well suited to organize and prioritize goals and audiences as well. 

The real value is not in the results themselves, but in the process of getting to them. All the client team members gather around a table. A stack of cards, with one goal written on each, is distributed among the team. We ask them to place each card into a priority grouping: Top, High, Medium, Low. To add a bit of discipline, only three can be Top Priority.

And then we stand back. The client team lays out each card, talks about it, and decides where to put it. Occasionally they create a new card, or remove an irrelevant card. As they talk, they create a consensus they can agree on, flush out disagreements, and resolve them. And, as they free associate ideas and chat, we learn countless facts and tidbits that would otherwise be undiscovered. The conversation informs our explorations and decisions as we move forward.

(For the curious: top goals were to improve the user experience, grow year-round engagement, and improve natural SEO. Surfacing RSA Conference's great-but-buried content was a key element for all of these. It's a cliché, but content is king!)

That's just a starting point. Many other activities followed, including…

  • Assessing current site content, usability and technical infrastructure
  • Auditing current content, origination, staffing and publication processes
  • Interviewing internal stakeholders and contributors
  • Conducting competitive benchmarking and audience analysis
  • Creating user personas
  • Conducting a user survey of attendees
  • Analyzing current web traffic
  • Identifying integration points
  • Analyzing current search engine performance




The Discovery Report

Our deliverable at the end of the discovery process is the discovery report: a document which catalogs and summarizes research in a way that is easy to understand. 

Through the rest of the project, it was used as a touchstone to look back on and vet decisions. It's also useful for quickly onboarding members of the development and production team, and new contributors on the client team.

Site maps, wireframes, and specs, oh my!


“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Having spent weeks learning, we were prepared to create the documents defining the new site.

There's a lot of iteration. We went through 16 versions of the site map, which describes content and navigation, making changes based on testing it with tools suck as TreeJack and based on our evolving plans for the site. 

Wireframes define key page layouts, content and functions. These required fewer revisions, thanks to extensive and collaborative benchmarking with the RSA Conference team. We identified many best practices and sketched out ideas in meetings before ever opening a drawing app.

Finally, with site maps, wireframes, discovery findings and plenty of conversation under our belt, we could create the Production Specification — the blueprint for the new site.


The Production Spec defines every point of integration, every page, every content tool, every user interaction. It sounds like a waterfall process, and at this stage, it is. We'll test it (more on that in Part 2, including our work at the conference itself in San Francisco), and based on that we'll make changes as we do design (coming in Part 3), and during development, the engineers adapt and change the site as needed in a very agile fashion (Part 4). 

In other words, plans change. But plans there must be.

# # #

Next: Part 2: User Experience and Usability Testing

Want to know more about iMarc's strategy process? Check out our Strategy Handbook, which documents our processes and deliverables. We've published it under the Creative Commons 2.0 (BY-SA) license, so you are welcome to borrow from it.

These are not the users you're looking for…
He can go about his business … Move along.


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