Diagrams play a very important role in planning and communicating a site’s architecture. They help you visualize a project before developing and piecing things together, leading to smarter design decisions. Unfortunately, for a client, Information Architecture and diagrams can be very intimidating, not to mention appear impractical. Because of this, many web teams end up leaving a client out of the whole process and resort to other means of learning what they want on their website. The end result? A mess of emails, Word documents, links to websites, and so on. Jumpchart, currently in private beta, hopes to put an end to all of this.
Jumpchart provides an easier way to plan and visualize content with clients. Forget wireframes and flowcharts and instead allow clients to browse through an interactive sitemap with pages and sub-pages of content. Let them illustrate their needs and add all the content you need in one simple location. Meanwhile, discuss and make changes as needed until the content planning stage is complete. I don’t necessarily see Jumpchart as a way to replace your existing Information Architecture process, but I do feel it makes a nice addition by allowing you to quickly gather and perfect content with groups of people. Invite the whole team: designers, developers, copywriters and clients; and make better decisions easier and faster.
Jumpchart’s interface feels in many ways like a content management system or website builder. You create a site, add pages and sub-pages, fill in content, and attach files to pages just like you would in a website builder. Jumpchart also produces a preview website, or as they put it, an interactive sitemap, which you can browse through and send to clients. You can even down the entire website in pure XHTML and CSS. You cannot, however, change the design of the website that Jumpchart creates – not a major loss considering the client only needs something to help visualize the end result. Users can leave comments on pages, and if permitted, edit content and reorder the site’s navigation. Additionally, each site gets its own RSS feed containing information about recent content changes, page additions, and navigation reordering by other users.
Jumpchart uses Textile Markup Language for editing content, but something tells me my clients won’t want to learn a language to fill in their own content. They’d rather use a WYSIWYG editor. That’s what the average person is familiar with and that’s what will allow them to copy and paste content without losing formatting. My preference? I’m a Textile kind of guy, so I’m happy with their decision. Besides, it gives Jumpchart more flexibility. To explain, after uploading an image, Jumpchart lets you insert that image in your content by adding
(image_name). Additionally, linking to other pages within Jumpchart can be done by inserting,
"Page Link":[page_name]. Again, maybe a little much to expect a client to write out. You can also build basic non-functional forms with Jumpchart’s custom syntax, enabling you to easily mock-up contact forms, registration forms, login forms, or whatever you may need. You just type out the form elements as they are:
[input], [checkbox], [textarea], [submit] and so on.
Just last week, Jumpchart introduced a new feature, Snippets. When you create a site snippet, you are essentially creating content that is meant to be repeatedly used throughout a site. For example, you can create a snippet for a newsletter form and include that form on any page with the syntax
[[newsletter_form]]. It saves you from typing the same thing over and over again and also makes it easier for other collaborators. It also enables you to add blocks of content to pages which can be globally changed throughout the site by editing a single snippet.
What I like most about Jumpchart is the simplicity in the product. It helps save time collecting and formatting content and gives clients something to visualize before having the real thing. However, I don’t feel Jumpchart is the best solution for large scale websites. It works well for small and medium sized sites that require a minimal amount of content planning, but if you have a site containing possibly hundreds of pages, things could get dicey. Jumpchart can improve on this by allowing me to search or filter through pages and perhaps offer a one page dashboard showing recent activity. Maybe even collapsible page navigation would help save room.