Understand the Website Design Process and you will get a better website

Understand Web Design Process

If you want a good or great business website, it will help you to understand the website design process.

Different web companies work in different ways, but usually the graphic design of a site needs to be completed before the coding and programming of the site is commenced.

Website design is always a process of continuous improvement. Very few designs are ever ‘perfect’ with the first version. The first version (or iteration) leads on to the next iteration, with changes – both major and minor – made to improve the design. It’s not about the design being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. The design is partly functional and partly commercial ‘art’ but it needs to work for your business. As the client, your input is needed to plan it, start it and change it – and at some stage, you’ll be asked to approve it.

When you see Version 1, it’s important to give clear feedback to the designer with what you like and don’t like about the design. You are always able to change your mind about what you want in the design, but you need to know that design work takes time – and the time of your chosen web company is what you are paying for in the design process. Time has been allocated to do the design to your initial requirements – and it will take more time if you change your mind about what you want. In the spirit of fairness, you probably realize you will need to pay extra if you change your mind as you go along – even though this realization and the extra costs involved may be unpalatable at the time.

It helps to have a very clear Brief that is agreed between you and the web company before the design work starts. For your home page, it also helps to have what is called a ‘wireframe’ prepared before the design is done. The wireframe is a mock-up line drawing layout of the home page showing the key elements in the design and how they will be laid on the home page. You then approve the wireframe and the Brief – and these are then used by the designers to prepare the design to meet your requirements.

A Brief should include your ideas of how the website should function and be designed, and also how the site will fit into your overall business strategy. The designer must always make assumptions, but the less they need to make about what you may or may not like, the better.

It is always possible that the initial design may vary a little from the Brief and the wireframe, especially if the designers can see better ways to achieve the objectives for your site. If the Brief contains instructions that may be ambiguous, then the designers may interpret the ambiguity in a way that is different to how you intended it. This may only be apparent when you see the result of the design work.

As the client, it is then your responsibility to provide feedback on the design, including what you like and don’t like about the design. The web design company will then take your feedback on board and will work through the design process to produce a further iteration of the design. They will then ask you for your feedback on the second version of the design.

When you buy the website, the web company will usually specify how many design update iterations have been allowed for in the design costs for the site. This may be included in the Terms and Conditions if not specifically mentioned in their proposal. Normally there is enough allowance made for you to work through an iterative process with several rounds of improvements – but this is not infinite. Nor does the usual design process allow for many totally different designs to be prepared and endlessly improved. If you buy a website for a fixed price, there are an estimated or fixed number of hours allocated to its preparation. The web company has made an estimate and both you and the web company need to be fair and commercially realistic with your expectations and the likely outcomes.

Of course you want a great website, but as I said above, virtually no design is perfect at the start. Some are not ‘perfect’ at the time the site is launched either, but they need to be acceptable for you and for the web company. The great thing about website design – unlike a printed brochure for example – is that the web design can always be changed. In fact, it needs to be changed. Websites continue to evolve over time, and part of the evolution is the design of the site.

Designers and programmers are people too. If you are excited by the project, they will be too. But ‘scope creep’ is the enemy of a successful project. Decide on your requirements at the planning stage and don’t add features ‘on the fly’. Instead, put them aside and treat them as a separate project stage in your roadmap of website continuous improvement.

Once the initial design is completed to your satisfaction, as part of the process, the web company will then convert the design made just for you into a fully operational website built just for you.

If you delay giving feedback on the graphic design of your new website, then the process will be delayed. Not hearing back from a client, especially one who has made several changes to the designs can leave the web company wondering where they stand.

Usually, the web company will be keen to progress the work. This may have something to do money and payment stages. Design approval is usually linked to a payment stage. Quite rightly, the web company may be very concerned about the perceived quality of their own design work. The quality of specific design work is always subjective, but if you have seen other work the company has completed for other clients, then you will have already reassured yourself about the capability of the company before engaging them.

This leads to an important rule: Don’t ever engage a web company if you are not happy with the evidence they show you of their past and current design capabilities. Review their portfolio and ideally check their references before you engage them.

The Web company will probably also be concerned about their own production scheduling. Most web companies operate with a production process where they schedule work to be done for the next few weeks or even months ahead. My previous business was often “full”, and there were times that we could not allocate production resources such as specific programmers for new jobs until many weeks ahead. This normally works well, as the detailed planning and design phases happen first and need to be finalised before programming starts.

When a project falls behind in the design stage, it impacts on the rest of the schedule. If your project is delayed, then busy agencies may re-allocate their production resources (aka people) who were planned to work on your project – and get them working on other projects instead. Rather than just pushing your deadlines out by a day or 2 or 3, the delayed work may get shifted by weeks and sometimes may even be shifted to the end of the current production schedule as other work that that is ‘on track’ may get treated as a higher priority.

Web programming is not always easy, and it does require logical thought processes that are interruption-free to produce high quality error-free coding. The web company’s project manager will typically schedule work to be done continuously on projects to start and finish them without interruptions.

Programmers really CANNOT multitask, and they are delusional if they think they can effectively and efficiently work on many different projects at the same time. The project manager will not want to interrupt programmers to switch between different jobs just to fit in with a client who has taken longer than expected over different stages of a project or who does not want to give feedback; clear comments and alteration requests; and approvals when asked.

Of course, from your perspective, you want the design to be very good – and you want to take your time to consider the design work that you have been given to review and approve. You will get the best results if you give specific feedback rather than general comments such as “I just don’t like it”.

If you need more time to think about your comments and feedback, then let the web company know WHEN you will get back to them with your comments. Don’t just leave them waiting and guessing when you may or may not get back to them. If you want to take two days or even two weeks to get back to them, then that is probably your right, but be aware that this will probably impact on the overall project timelines, and result in bigger delays than just the time you take to make your mind up.

It will also usually be helpful to let the web company or the designer know the areas of the design you are thinking about that are causing you to need more time and thought. Honest and open communication with them will put their mind at ease and you will also help the web company plan their own production schedule. A good relationship with the web company will help you get better outcomes.

All of this can help you get a Great Website. Please understand, this is what both you and the web company want.

February 10, 2015

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