How to Use the FAT-P System to Streamline Your Workflow

Often, when faced with a looming project, we forget the simple things. The size and depth of the project overwhelms leading to creative block.

Once blocked, the frustration builds leading to even more block, procrastination, missed deadlines and a wealth of other problems.

If you’re in any creative field, chances are, you’ve been there.

As a former high school writing teacher, I found that just the prospect of writing was enough to leave students floundering.

This became an even bigger problem when students were faced with the timed writing of state required tests. Enter the FAT-P.

Let me explain. Before putting pen to paper, students were taught to work through the FAT-P. And while the kids liked the name, FAT-P was nothing more then an acronym for:

  • Form
  • Audience
  • Topic
  • Purpose

Before the students wrote anything, they did a little prewriting in which they wrote out the elements of the FAT-P.

This initial brainstorming helped them define the task at hand and served as a road map as they moved forward with the writing.

Students often found that once they planned their writing using the FAT-P, the actual writing was just a matter of assembling the pieces.

As a writer, I’ve used any of a number of prewriting techniques over the years.

However, as a self taught web designer, I’ve also found that the good old FAT-P is a great way to start any web design project.

Once I’ve outlined the elements of the FAT-P, the process is a matter of making my final product meet the objectives laid out in the beginning.

And while it might seem basic, the FAT-P is often overlooked.

Working through the FAT-P at the beginning can provide focus for the project and help to clarify potential client concerns.

It can also be used as a questionnaire when first talking to a potential client and form the basis of your bid or proposal.

Let’s break it down and take a look at how you can use the FAT-P to plan your next web design project.



Most web design projects start with someone saying, “We need a web site”.

Chances are, this person or group is not a designer and doesn’t know the difference between a static web page, blog or flash animation.

As the designer (and consultant), you need to help your client determine the best form for their web site.

What do they want to accomplish with the site? Will it be a dynamic site with constantly changing information or a static site selling a product? Will the site incorporate a blog or forum?

The specifics will determine the form. From there, you can determine the best platform on which to build the site.



The most important thing you can do to ensure the success of a web site is to clearly define the target audience. Who will be looking at this site? What are their hot buttons? Will they respond to flashy animation or will it turn them away?

Create a complete profile of the target audience down to the smallest detail including age and gender.

All aspects of the web site revolve around this profile including copy, accessibility and graphics.

For example, a web site selling industrial tools to machine shops will have a much different target audience then a rock band selling mp3s and concert tickets.

The machine shop crowd wants information to improve their business. They probably don’t have a lot of time for games, animation or fluff.

On the other hand, the rock band crowd is seeking entertainment. Videos, interaction and integration with social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter would be much better received by the rock band’s target audience.



How many times have you looked at a web page and not really known what the page was about?

Unfortunately, sometimes the most basic information gets lost in the design. Flash animations, distracting graphics, text intensive copy, or an overabundance of links are all design elements that can get in the way of conveying the message at hand.

When planning a web page, clearly state the message that must be conveyed. As the site comes together, use the stated message as a check to see that it isn’t getting lost in the design.

A clearly stated definition of the topic or message before starting the design can prevent time consuming revisions later in the process.



What are the objectives or the purpose of the site? Will this site sell a product? Build a community? Sell advertising? Present information about a company? Generate leads?

Like the target audience, the purpose and objectives of the site drive the design.

The purpose of the site will also determine back-end features such as user control panel and measuring/analytic tools.

For example, a company run blog will need much different accessibility and usability features then a corporate web page updated by a designer who knows HTML.

Likewise, the purpose of the site will drive the call to action. The “call to action” is the specific action you want the user to do upon visiting the site.

Every site should incorporate a call to action on some level. This could be as simple as watching a video or commenting on a blog, to more complex actions such as making a purchase or initiating the sales process.


A Design Checklist

The FAT-P can form the foundation of any web design project.

Working through the FAT-P in the early stages of the project creates a clear road map of the project at hand.

It can be completed as a questionnaire on initial client contact, become the basis of a project bid/proposal and finally, as an assessment upon completion of the site.

Jim Lodico is an independent copywriter and marketing consultant. You can learn more about his services at

Do you follow the FAT-P system or any other system to organize your workflow? What kind of system do you use (if any) to prepare yourself for a project?

  • livz

    “sometimes the most basic information gets lost in the design” <– Totally.

    This FAT-P system is very useful. Thanks for sharing :)

  • BebopDesigner

    Wow! That’s impressive… thanks for sharing

  • Oliver

    Great system. Thanks for sharing

  • Alaska Web Design

    I’ll try to remember this… hell, I’ll even bookmark this page. Never heard of Fat-P before. Sounds logical.

  • Mars

    The system based on the description is really good

  • Laura

    So obvious… and yet as you stated yourself, so overlooked.

    I’ve never heard of FAT-P (Good name =D) before but the ideas and concepts behind it, is the stuff that any good design course is about. However I think I could have saved 4 years in uni if I’d had you as a mentor! ;)

    Always nice to read different takes on the design process. Thank you.

  • RoaldA

    Hehe, FAT-P! Nice! :P

  • 蛋王

    Thanks for sharing , and I’ll try this way to organize my workflow from now on.

  • Pinkjoint Is Individuals Doing The Blogging.

    yes, this is really good, i loved reading it and its very useful..

  • Faith

    Very useful article. Thanks!

  • jRiebelle

    Beautifully said, for me the article came just in time, too bad I’ve missed it a couple of times especially with the distracting graphics part :(

  • CelticGhost

    1) I believe you meant “thAn” instead of “thEn” (line 8 on the Audience block, and then also on line 6, Purpose block).
    2) It’s “company-run” (with a dash): line 6, Purpose block.

    Nice article. Thanks!

  • sema

    Thanks for the introduction to FAT-P SYSTEM.As a designer i will find this system useful to stay on track.

  • mrbiotech

    Very elegant method! Thanks!

  • PcGids

    Never heard about FAT-P, but I’ve heard about similar techniques. Out of my experience I can say it’s definitely a great help when creating a website. Thanks for sharing this.

  • steven

    It’s realy great share!

  • john

    i never opened this since ive seen the title in my feeds. i thought this was about reconfiguring your file systems to make apache work better. (you know, some geekishly esoteric post) hahahaha! my bad!

    but, no! i actually like this stuff!! great one which i know will be useful someday…

  • web design company

    nice posting

  • the 2 designers

    Hey, thanks for sharing!! FAT-P it’s great!!!

  • VKG

    In my college we are taught to use HOME method for developing our multimedia projects . It consist of four steps :

    – Pre- analysis : introductory definitions of process and product , choice of development method , stakeholders analysis and project description.

    – Research : project plan , communication plan , research and concept development.

    – Design : Assessment and adjustment of the project plan, design of content , structure and form

    – Completion : Final adjustments of plans , production and integration of media elements , evaluation and project finish.

  • Siddharth Menon

    yes even I was looking for some g8 web designing workflows to follow.
    I like the ” call to action ” part.

  • Jim Lodico

    Thanks for all the great comments. Just as an aside, the term FAT-P was later changed to TAP-F. I guess that someone, somewhere thought that the term “FAT” might be offensive. The kids used to like it because I’d pronounce it “Phat” in sort of a hip-hop style.

    Just curious VKG, how did HOME translate to the process you outlined? I’m missing the acronym.

  • VKG

    It should be translated to Holistic and Open Method for developing all kinds of multimedia applications. It’s a method that has been used for many multimedia projects in Danish educational centers and organization.

  • MrCBL

    Good summary article, but I think it should be ordered as P-FAT vs FAT-P. The purpose should be defined first.

  • cypherbox

    Thanks for the tips. Very useful.

  • Nikki Cooke

    Hey, I’m a former high school teacher too! It’s a small world, Jim – unless there are lots of former teachers now working in the creative industry. ;-)

    As a writer running a UK copywriting and web-design business, I couldn’t operate successfully without a systematic approach.

    Just as young people need frameworks – or steps to follow – to achieve their best, this model applies to the creative business world too.

    Thanks for this: it’s a really useful framework to follow. However, I also agree with MrCBL, and would re-order it to P-FAT, as without knowing what the purpose is, it can be hard to decide on the rest.

    The purpose gives the task some meaning – literally. For me, it’s a more useful starting point than initially focusing on format. But, we’re all different, Jim. So long as people have some kind of structure, and don’t overlook any of the points you’ve mentioned, then that’s what matters.

    Thanks again.

  • Jim Lodico

    I agree with determining the purpose first. A clear purpose will often dictate the rest of the project.

    Back when I taught this as a writing process, we didn’t teach that each piece of the FAT-P needed to be completed in order. In a writing assignment, the form can sometimes play a large role as in “Write a letter” or “write an essay.”

    With web design, the form is probably more obvious as in create a web site. I suppose there could be variations such as a blog or forum. Again though, the purpose of the project determines the form.

  • Blair R

    How would this relate to agile Web development? Or is that more of a methodology than a workflow? Ta.