The Website Design Process and Expectations

Learning Academy

The website design process is a partnership between the client and designer. As long as expectations are kept in synch the project will flow smoothly and in a timely matter.

Design is not just visual elements and how a website looks. It is also about how the website is organized and how features of the website function along with the individual interactive elements on a webpage function.

eSilverStrike Consulting overall approach to the design process ensures the appropriate design decisions are done in an order that usually requires no back tracking on previous approvals. As the decisions made in the beginning effect the design questions and decisions required down the road. This is to prevent scope creep and the project stalling. It keeps the project moving forward.

Our design process starts right at the beginning in the discover phase during the initial consulting meeting. This is were we learn about the clients project and the goals for the project. From us through discussions the client then learns the best way to implement these goals. The Brand & Website Questionnaire will also be filled out by the client to help the designer further understand the clients business, brand, and goals. In larger projects this can be a lengthy process and may require a paid discovery period.

Once it is determined that their is enough information to move forward with the project, we create a document called a Sitemap. This is included in the projects proposal and is used to show in a hierarchical chart what pages will exist on the website. This gives a general overview of the functionality of the website. The pages themselves can include sections which shows an overview of their layout and describes the type of content on the page, and any functionality. If needed, a description or the purpose of the page is also included.

This is an important part of the project as it sets the workflow, pages, and functionality of the entire website.

The one thing to remember is you do not want to rush through the discover period. Each step of the functionality of the site needs to be gone over. It is much easier to change aspects of the website at this point than once the website has started to be mocked up or further along in development.

Once the sitemap has been approved and the proposal signed we start to work on the create phase and the main design of the website with the Style Guide and Website Mockup.

The Style Guide is an arrangement of images, pieces of text, and other design elements into a format that’s representative of the final projects design’s style. This document will briefly describe and show the branding, mood (atmosphere, tone, voice, personality) and style of the website. A styled full page mockup which includes fully styled elements and widgets, may be included as well to show the overall direction planned for the rest of the website.

The Website Mockup takes the page hierarchical and description information from the Sitemap and shows a representation of how the overall page and content layout will look like for each webpage except using minimal styled elements and widgets. Colours presented are usually white, shades of gray, and black. Placeholder copy and media content is used. The goal of the mockup is to determine page layouts and content locations.

Both the Website Mockup and Style Guide document is part of the design process and needs to be approved and signed. Depending on the proposal requirements at least 1 revision is allowed by the client to request any changes.

After the approvals we then move into developing the rest of the website. Any visual design decisions at this point will be based on the information found in the Style Guide.

In order to keep to our design process with minimal distractions so the best results are produced, here are several ways that the client can help and ideas they need to consider.

Competitor Websites as Inspiration Only

Reviewing competitors websites from a design, functionality, and marketing strategy view is an important part of designing your own website. From them you can cherry pick the good ideas while discarding the bad. It also allows you to gauge the level of quality of not only the overall website build, but marketing strategy you are competing with in your business niche.

You do need to remember though that just blindly following what others have done is a mistake. What works for a competitor’s website, might not necessarily work for yours. Plus, without any data to back up your assumptions of the competitors website, there is no way of knowing for sure if the website is even truly effective. You need to take your own business operations into account along with the goals of the website and your audiences needs.

You want your website to stand out as a leader and not just blend in with the rest of your competitors by just reusing all of their visual and functional design decisions.

Decisions are Based on Project Goals

Clients shouldn’t focus on the minute details of the design. You hired a designer with years of experience who knows what works and what does not. Just like you wouldn’t tell a car mechanic how to fix engine problems, questioning the size of the logo, font-size, or white space on a page is not part of your job. It just slows down the project, increases cost, and gets you bogged down in the details you hired the designer to deal with.

The user experience of your website is most important. It is designed with your business audience in mind to meet the goals of the project. What we like is not the priority.

So, when there is a part of the design under scrutiny you should be asking yourself more generalized questions like:

  1. How will users respond?
  2. Will it meet the goals of the business for the website?

instead of worrying about cosmetic design decisions which are subjective.

Focus on Problems and not Solutions

Clients need to focus on problems, it is the designers job to figure out the solutions.

For example, if you are unsure of the colour selection for links in articles on the website are not ideal you shouldn’t just go suggest alternate colours.

Instead you need to explain why you do not like the choice of the existing colors. Maybe you feel the links are not as noticeable as they should be or it alters the mood of the site to much.

Depending on the type of problem, the designer will have a certain reason for the existing choice. It might be due to accessibility or effect the strategy and goals of the website. In any case if they believe you have a valid point, the designer can then take your problem and work out an effective solution that not only takes your problem into consideration but keeps the design of the website cohesive and the goals in sight.

Remember, design is very subjective. Everyone has a personal opinion but we first must consider what is best for the users, and their experience with the website.

Avoid Designing by Committee

The more people involved in the design the more complicated it gets. With too many decision makers the design becomes a collection of compromises and the website as a whole may become uninspiring. Ideally you need to keep the number of decisions makers to a minimum. It should be the person who is the primary contact on the project as they have a clear understanding of why certain decisions have been made.

If more than one decision maker is required, if possible it is best if the designer meets with each person separately. This keeps conflict to a minimum and leads to more honest feedback instead of the whole group just agreeing with the main authority figure.

Receiving feedback from someone outside the project who are are not your target website visitors (like friends and family) should be avoided as well. They have no context to the design process and do not understand the project goals.

Websites Evolve

The great thing about websites is the design and content is not permanent. It can be changed at any time.

If something goes live that looks not to gel with your visitors, it can be changed.

If you are not sure about the existing design of a section in a critical part of the website, and you have other design options, they can be switched out and tested over time to see which one performs the best.

In Conclusion

It comes down to trusting the agency or freelancer you hired to design and build your website. They have years of experience in the field and have worked on many projects before. They will design a website that will appeal to your audience and meet the project goals.

Following the above suggestions while listening to the recommendations of your designer will lead to efficiencies and a overall more successful project.

About the Author

Tom Homer

Building custom dynamic websites is our specialty. With over 25 years experience in software design and development I have been helping  small businesses invest in their future.

Article Author Tom