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What you need to know BEFORE you build a Website

ImageYou're probably expecting some basic information on html coding, page layout, graphic design tips... the typical basic Web design primer. You might want to dive right in and finish your Website tonight! As with many aspects of work and life, rushing in without proper planning can have disasterous consequences. Lack of planning often leads to failure.

There are many reasons for wanting a Website. Among them are:

  • To take advantage of the global marketplace that is the Internet, and sell products.
  • To show that your business venture is legitimate.
  • To make information more readily available to customers.
  • To migrate businesses processes online.

Knowing the answer to the question "Why do I want a Website?" is the first step - the first answer to a long list of questions that need to be addressed if the Website is to be a success.

When designing a Website for a client, I always ask the following questions, or variations on them. I don't always get all of the answers, and even when I do, I'm not always allowed to address them in the design. However knowing as many of the answers as possible is a big step towards the goal of a successful project. Documenting the answers in a creative brief or similar document is also helpul in keeping focus on the goals.

Questions:

  • Who will be visiting the Website and what will they gain by doing so?
  • What specific actions do you want visitors to take when visiting your Website?
  • How will visitors find your Website? If they use a search engine, what terms will they type in to find your company?
  • What is your market niche?
  • What is your position or desired position in that niche?
  • Who are your competitors? Do they have a Website, and if so, how would they answer these questions?
  • What do you want to accomplish in this business venture? Where do you see it being in 5 years? How can the Website help you achieve that?
  • What business processes will the Website be a part of, and how can it improve efficiency? Which processes do you want to move completely online, which do you want to move partially online, and which do you want to keep offline?
  • Do you currently have a branding strategy? What is it? What do you want a visitor to come away thinking about your company, products and services?
  • How will the Website be used in your overall strategy to promote your products and services?
  • What montly budget are you willing to allocate to the promotion of your Website so that it satisfactorily achieves its goals?

Armed with this information you are much more likely to stay on target, all the way to your goal of a successful Website.

Web Design Definition

What is Web design? The definition of "Web Design" can vary, depending on who you ask. Web designers working for one company may perform different tasks than Web designers working for another company. The basic answer is that Web design is the design of a Web page or Website, including the information and user interface design, but not including programming. Programming falls under the definition of Web development, or Web application programming (to name two of many).

At a smaller company, with fewer people and more overlap of job descriptions, Web design can be defined as the whole production of the Website from start to finish. To clarify this a bit, let's outline the process of creating a Website from scratch.

1. Discovery

In this step, the Web designer finds out as much about the company and its clients as possible, paying special attention to the user audience of the Website.

2. Planning

Project definition documents are created as a guide to the creation of the Website. It is important that the scope, audience and goals of the Website are clearly defined during this stage, so the resulting project definition can be used as a touchstone to keep everyone on track throughout the process.

3. Information Design

How will the information be broken down and presented to the user? If what the user will be looking for is well defined in the discovery and planning stages, this will be an easier job. The information design, or information architecture, step includes design of the navigation and is the most critical step in making the Website user-friendly.

4. Graphic Design

Graphic design may seem trivial to some, but it is also a very important factor in the usability of the Website. It isn't just about making the Website look pretty. It is also about visual balance and readable typography, both of which are critical in the creation of a user-friendly Web design.

When these steps have been completed, you have a finished Web design. Loosely speaking, putting it together is called Web production, and making it work is called Web development.

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