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

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September 10, 2009

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?

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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