B2B Marketing Agency for Technology Companies

Slickplan Founder - Video Interview with Ian Lawson

We interviewed Ian Lawson, Founder and Product Manager of Slickplan, a super-intuitive sitemapping design tool for planning websites.

Comments 0
by Eric Sharp

We use a variety tools at ProtoFuse to plan, design, develop and market websites.

One in particular, Slickplan, is software we’ve found invaluable. We believe it’s the best website sitemapping tool on the market today. It helps us quickly and efficiently architect our client’s websites.

inteview-slickplan-ian-lawson

After being a customer for over a year, we decided to reach out to Slickplan to learn more about who they are and why they’re so awesome.

Ian Lawson, Founder and Product Manager, was gracious enough to meet with me. It’s not often I get to chat with the mastermind behind a tool I regularly use with my clients. He is just as smart and resourceful as the software he helped create. He’s proud of what his team has accomplished and excited about what’s to come.

Try Slickplan for 30 Days FREE!

If you love information architecture (IA), web-based software, and entrepreneurship, you’ll love this 26 minute interview!

1. Tell us how Slickplan got started, how long you’ve been in business, and share any major milestones of the company

Slickplan was born out of necessity. The idea began in 2009 when, while working as a project manager/creative director for a digital consultancy, I came across an open source project called Slick Map. Right then, inspiration struck me like a lightning bolt. I thought, “Wow ­ if we could create an interactive app that automates this process and collaborates with our team & clients, we could save a ton of time and money during the initial planning phase of all our web projects.” The idea of a visual sitemap generator was born!

The first version was created by myself and one developer in about three weeks near the end of 2009. I created the user experience flow and interface design while working with a developer to launch our first beta. That beta was open to the public as proof of concept and didn’t cost a thing.

The app was promoted via a few tweets and Facebook posts and ­ to our surprise caught the eye of tech bloggers, causing it to quickly go viral. Fast forward a few months. We knew we had something big when our site was repeatedly crashing on a shared hosting package and had a growing user base of nearly 40,000+ users and plenty of feedback and feature requests. Honestly, we were inundated with questions and weren’t ready for the overall positive response.

At the same time, I was actively involved in running the day­to­day operations of a growing consultancy and had to make a decision on whether this was something to pursue or send to the graveyard. In early 2011, the leap of faith was made, and we compiled all of the internal ideas and user feedback patterns we’d noticed so that we could turn this ‘thing’ into a real SaaS app.

It took about ten months and three part ­time staff members to assemble an elegant solution that would give users the experience they desired as well as some revenue to justify the cost of developing such a tool. We launched the completely overhauled version in April 2012, and the rest is history. Since day one, we have been collecting revenue and compiling a steady stream of loyal customers. As of today, our team has devoted thousands of hours to creating a new business with many great features that help people plan their web projects quickly and effectively. We are so excited about how far we’ve come, and we want others to see as well, that is why we offer a free 30 day trial of all of the features.

You may also like this:

2. What’s the design philosophy/approach when it comes to providing a product that embodies your mission and how do you stay true to it? “Making website mapping easy for web designers, information arc

Good question!

The benefit our team offers is the fact that we’ve all worked in the industry and felt the pain our target customer experiences; so we can empathize with them. Whether you’re in management, marketing, design or development staff ­ every one of us has had experience using apps that help streamline processes and solve a problem. We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some apps try to be everything to everybody in order to reach as many people as possible. Our philosophy is simple: If an idea deviates from the original purpose of “Making website mapping easy”, then it’s got to be cut.

We’ve had requests to do many features ­ big and small. We listen to everybody and try to make decisions based on patterns. We’ve learned to read between the lines, listening to the pain or problem rather than the suggestion or solution that everyone asks for. This isn’t always easy, but it helps us both stay on track and serve the largest amount of people. It’s hard to tell some people (because we love all of our users) ‘no’, but we have to stay focused and not let our need to please one or few individuals turn into feature bloat.

3. I explain to my clients before we dig into sitemapping that a sitemap is a critical deliverable of information architecture. Bad IA causes most user failures. How does Slickplan help information ar

The problem we found was that there were no good options for creating website sitemaps other than using tools that weren’t meant for this seemingly simple task. We (and many others) utilized apps designed for illustration or complex page layouts to generate visual sitemap flowcharts. This led to nice looking deliverables but complex files that took forever to iterate and made it impossible to collaborate. The worst part was that every time we started a new project it was like starting from scratch. We were wasting time and money that should have been allocated elsewhere.

Slickplan automates all of the drawing aspects of sitemap creation by delivering simple, intuitive vector­-based graphics in an easy ‘point, click, drag & drop’ interface. We keep it straightforward while still offering customization and other features that communicate page structures, strategy and details of projects ranging from the simplest website to an extremely complex application.

The best part is that it can put the power of completing this task into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do it. For freelancers and others working in small teams, this means they can do the job themselves instead of having a full­time Information Architect on staff or having to hire a consultant. Now anyone with the desire to deliver this critical part of a web project can; and bigger companies with IA/UX departments can put the time they wasted on recreating the same thing over and over again into other aspects of their projects.

4. Do you find your customers using Slickplan for things other than planning a website? Maybe for mind mapping instead?

The majority of our customers use Slickplan for its intended purpose; creating visual website sitemaps. We’re delivering a quick and easy way to generate flowcharts for website architecture, and all the companion features are geared towards that purpose (e.g. Page archetypes, sections, notes & the site crawler).

That being said we’ve seen a lot of different uses over the years. Including projects supporting television programming, professional sports team organization, and many other formats.

5. How do you guys keep improving things? It feels you guys are very open to listening to active users’ ideas. I myself have offered feedback and watched the tool expand quite a bit over the last coup

We talk…a lot. We’ve got a diverse team from around the country and world. The people that make up this great little company have a lot of passion and bring good ideas to the table which continually improves our app.

I can’t leave out the thousands of users who rely on our app. Since day one they’ve given us their feedback ­ both good and bad. Keeping an open mind and listening to the needs of the users is humbling but absolutely necessary. It takes a lot of collaboration, debates and sometimes a democratic process to flesh out what stays and what goes.

6. The “Site Crawler” is a feature I have not used much, but tell us about this powerful feature. It seems as it’s perfect for jump starting a website redesign.

The site crawler idea came about in 2013. The realization of the fact that the majority of sites developed were iterations of the old, made it logical to see that we needed a way to let our users start from their current structure instead of just from scratch. The idea clicked, and it was an overwhelming and immediate ‘YES’ from our team.

We created a solution that could either crawl publically available sites from an XML sitemap or an existing site’s URL. From there, Slickplan does the rest. It crawls each page and pulls file name, address, title tags and metadata from existing site pages. The cool part is that the site crawler can detect the hierarchy of a site so that once imported, it is instantly presented in the proper format, ready for tweaking.

That simple feature saves time for small sites and numerous hours for large, complex projects. It’s not a perfect science, but our users love it, and it’s evolved quite a bit since its original intent of compensating for sites with less than perfect existing structures and privacy settings. We’re continually working on this feature and looking to integrate with 3 rd party apps to give our customers a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not. This should help architects make even better decisions based on data for their re­designs, ultimately leading to ROI for their clients and great experiences for the end users.

7. On your website, you have a IA Learning Center, tell us more about what kind of resources you put in there?

The IA learning center was an early attempt to provide educational and resource materials to the novice who isn’t necessarily experienced with all the intricacies of information architecture. A lot of our users lack a formal background in this area. They’ve either had to take it on as a freelancer, having landed a new project that requires some planning or they may have been assigned this task for an internal project. They’re put into a situation where they need a solution­ fast! This usually leads to a google search, and if they are lucky, they end up on our site. “So great,” they think, “we have the perfect app to get this done quickly and affordably…” but the next thought is, “Where do we start?”

Our Knowledgebase is awesome, but it’s limiting to users who need to understand how information architecture relates to actual web, software, and app design, instead of how to use all of the features Slickplan offers. It is a starting place for the beginner who needs to understand the ‘why’s?’ instead of the ‘how’s?’.

Information architecture isn’t rocket science, but it can be overwhelming when you’ve been given a task you know nothing about. Once we discovered that this type of user made up a decent portion of our new trials, we knew what to do. It seemed logical to provide this information to help users find good resources that further their education as quickly as possible, so they can get to completing the tasks on their plate. We also recently published a comprehensive overview of website sitemap design. As we go forward, we’re looking to expand the information we currently have on the learning center and bring in subject matter experts.

8. What’s next for Slickplan? Any cool features you’d be comfortable sharing? What can users maybe expect in the next 12 months?

We’re always looking to provide a better experience for our users whether it be our sitemap tool or how we present blog articles. Recently we’ve released updates to our plugins for WordPress and Joomla that let you transfer site structures into navigation systems for your CMS with a few clicks. A few other recent updates have been heavily focused on the site’s security and collaboration features (e.g. live chat and real­-time group editing).

We also have some amazing new features in development. We’re not ready to discuss them quite yet, but I will say ­­ they will expand on the idea of a total website planning solution that allows users to do much more than just sitemaps… You’ll have to stay tuned for those updates. I’d suggest watching for updates via our website or social channels (see below):

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCIR2f27R8JaUEQ2SyhhU4MA
Twitter: twitter.com/slickplan
Facebook: facebook.com/slickplan

Another interview you might like

We help mid-sized B2B Technology companies generate qualified leads and improve sales efficiency.

16

Years in business

50%

Minimum growth in quality leads our clients see after an engagement

200+

Websites we've created, supported, or consulted over the last decade

 0 

The jargon we speak (we'll approach conversation like a layperson)