DESIGNING FOR SUCCESS
Great web design doesn't just happen. It requires a planned approach to turn a client's initial idea into a successful web presence. I like to use the following six step approach:
- Information Gathering
- Testing and Publishing
Step One: Information Gathering
My first step is to gather relevant information from you, my client. Many things need to be taken into consideration when the look and feel of your site is created. This step is actually the most important one, as it involves me developing a solid understanding of your business, your business goals, and how the web can be utilized to help you achieve those goals.
To gather the information I need, involves asking a series of questions related to key aspects of your website. These include:
What is the purpose of the site? Do you want to provide information, promote a service, sell a product … ?
What do you hope to accomplish by building this website? Two of the more common goals are either to make money or share information.
Is there a specific group of people that will help you reach your goals? It is helpful to picture the “ideal” person you want to visit your web site. Consider their age, sex or interests – this will later help determine the best design style for your site.
What kind of information will the target audience be looking for on your site? Are they looking for specific information, a particular product or service, online ordering …?
Step Two: Planning
Using the information gathered during step one, it is time to put together a plan for your website. This is the point where a site map is developed.
The site map is a list of all main topic areas of the site, as well as sub-topics, if applicable. This serves as a guide as to what content will be on the site, and is essential to developing a consistent, easy to understand navigational system. The end-user of the web site (your customers) must be kept in mind when designing your site. These are, after all, the people who will be learning about your service or buying your product. A good user interface creates an easy to navigate website, and is the basis for this.
During the planning step, I will also help you decide what technologies should be implemented. Elements such as interactive forms, ecommerce, flash, etc. are discussed when planning your website.
Step Three: Design
Drawing from the information gathered up to this point, it’s time to determine the look and feel of your site.
Target audience is one of the key factors taken into consideration. A site aimed at teenagers, for example, will look much different than one meant for a financial institution. As part of the design step, it is also important to incorporate elements such as the company logo or colors to help strengthen the identity of your company on the website.
I will create one or more mockups (prototype designs) for your site. This is typically a .jpg image of what the final design will look like. Initially, I will send you an email with the mock-ups attached. As functionality is added, I take it a step further by giving you access to a secure web address where you can view the work in progress online.
In this step, communication is crucial to ensure that the final website will match your needs and taste. I will allow you to view your project throughout the design and development stages. This gives you the opportunity to express your likes and dislikes on the site design as it evolves. It is important that we work closely together, exchanging ideas, until we arrive at the final design for your website.
Step Four: Development
The developmental stage is the point where the website itself is created. At this time, I will take all of the individual graphic elements from the mockup and use them to create the actual, functional site. Elements such as interactive contact forms, flash animations or ecommerce shopping carts are implemented and made functional during this step, as well.
I start by first developing the Home page, followed by a “shell” for the additional pages. The shell serves as a template for the content pages of your site, as it contains the main navigational structure for the website. Once the shell has been created, I will take your content and distribute it throughout the site, in the appropriate areas.
During this step, I will continue to make your in-progress website available to you for viewing, so that you can suggest any additional changes or corrections you would like to have done.
Step Five: Testing and Publishing
A successful website requires a technical understanding of front-end web development. This involves writing valid XHTML/CSS code that complies to current web standards, maximizing functionality, as well as accessibility for as large an audience as possible. A good web designer is one who is well versed in current standards for website design and development. The basic technologies currently used are XHTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
In this step, I will attend to final, technical details and test your website. I will test things such as the complete functionality of forms or other scripts, and compatibility issues (viewing differences between different web browsers and operating systems), ensuring that your website is optimized to be viewed properly in the most recent browser versions and on both Apple computers and PC's.
As part of testing, I will also check to be sure that all of the code written for your website validates. Valid code means that your site meets the current web development standards – this is helpful when checking for issues such as cross-browser compatibility as mentioned above.
Once I receive final approval from my client, it is time to publish the site. I use an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program to upload the website files to your server. Once your website has been uploaded to the server, the site is put through one last run-through. This is just precautionary, to confirm that all files have been uploaded correctly, and that the site continues to be fully functional.
I also offer domain name registration and web hosting services. With this in place, you now have a web address and we can officially launch your site, as it is now viewable to the public.
Step Six: Maintenance
The development of your web site is not necessarily over, though. One way to bring repeat visitors to your site is to offer new content or products on a regular basis. I am more than happy to continue working together with you, to update the information on your website. I offer maintenance packages at rates, based on how often you anticipate making changes or additions to your website.
If you prefer to be more hands on, and update your own content, there is something called a CMS (Content Management System) that can be implemented to your website. This is something that would be decided upon during the Planning step. With a CMS, I will utilize online software to develop a dynamic, database driven site for you.
A website driven by a CMS gives you the ability to edit the content areas of the website yourself. You are given access to a back-end administrative area, where you can use an online text editor (similar to a mini version of Microsoft Word). You’ll be able to edit existing content this way, or if you are feeling more adventurous, you can even add new pages and content yourself. The possibilities are endless!
It’s really up to you to decide how much you would like to be involved in maintaining your own website. Some people prefer to have all the control so that they can make updates to their own website the minute they decide to do so. Others prefer to hand off the website entirely, as they are too busy to take on this added responsibility.
Other maintenance type items include SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SES (Search Engine Submission). This is the optimization of your website with elements such as title, description and keyword tags which help your website achieve higher rankings in the search engines. The previously mentioned code validation is something that plays a vital role in SEO, as well. This is a very important step, because even though you now have a web site, you need to make sure that people can find it!
The Bottom Line
As your web designer I will work closely with you on a very similar process to this one. Having a good working relationship with my client, including an open line of communication, is important to ensure they we are creating a successful website that will help your business grow.