"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing." – William Edwards Deming
Every website design and development project consists of a series of steps that need to be undertaken on a repeated basis. While each project and its requirements are unique, the series of tasks that need to be performed to get a business website up and running are consistent.
A clearly defined website design process involves outlining of the steps that need to be taken to complete design and development. Following a well-defined and documented web design process cuts down on the time to complete the project, improves the efficiency and ensures that none of the crucial steps are missed.
A stellar design is''t merely focused on how pretty the visual interface looks. It goes on to combine a well-thought-out strategy with the design and development process to fulfill the purpose it is being built for.
Here is the list of steps that your web design process needs to include in order for you to create winning websites.
Step 1: Define the goals.
Starting out, your project needs to have a creative brief that outlines the website's end goal. Here is a list of questions that need to be answered before commencing the web design project:
What objective does the website need to accomplish? What problem does it solve?
Who are the target users of the website?
What is the intended benefit that the users would get out of using your website?
What is the primary aim of the website – informing, selling, getting the users to sign up for a service, or something else?
Is there a competitor website that operates within the same niche you plan to launch? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
The answers to these questions should be included within the creative brief you prepare. This gives a much-needed sense of direction to your design project, without which things would most likely go awry.
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In order to answer the above questions, you need to define the target audience. Classify them into distinct audience personas. Work upon your value proposition and the benefit that your website offers to the target audience. Conduct market research and competitor analysis, and determine where your website or web application factors in as a part of a wider segment.
Step 2: Plan the strategy.
Scope creep is a very common occurrence in web development. The scope of the project keeps expanding and widening during the design and development phase, extending the estimated timelines and eventually requiring budget extensions.
Setting up realistic timelines and strategic planning is critical to the project's long-term success. There are three main things to sort out within the planning phase:
1. Programming language and technology stacks
The technical aspects of the project, such as a selection of the tech stack to build the website, must also be decided upon within this stage. The decision regarding the technology stack is based on the website goals you sketch out in the previous step.
If the website is intended to be a source of information for its users, content management systems like WordPress would likely meet your requirements. On the other hand, if you are looking to build an e-commerce website, robust web frameworks would suit your needs better.
You must conduct a detailed analysis of the programming languages and tech stacks and study the pros and cons of adopting each technology before making a choice. A comparative analysis, such as Ruby on Rails vs. PHP, would help you better understand the advantages and disadvantages of one framework over the other.
2. Sitemap and wireframes
The sitemap provides an insight into the website's information architecture. Building a sitemap prior to beginning with the actual design phase helps you plan more effective website navigation.
Wireframing is the foundation of a well-designed website. It provides a framework for the website's visual design and content elements and acts as a guide to the final look of the website. The sitemap and wireframes are like the blueprint of your website that form the building blocks of the final website.
The wireframe and the sitemap also act as a guide to the content distribution and placement within the website. The design can be focused on the most important webpages and the content silos designed for efficiency to help attain the website objectives. There are multiple prototyping tools you can pick to design your website's wireframe.
3. Content strategy planning
Content is the raison d'etre for a website. The value it provides is the reason users decide to visit the website, so the importance of a well-planned content strategy cannot be stressed enough.
Content development has to take place with an SEO strategy in place to ensure the website content reaches its target audience. A well-planned content strategy boosts a site's visibility in the search engine rankings. Optimization, using tools such as Google Analytics, is a must for content creation.
Step 3: Design and develop.
The design elements within the new website should be largely influenced by the existing brand elements. The color scheme, logo design and other interactive design elements to be incorporated in the website depend on what the brand stands for. In the case of startups, the web designer has considerably more freedom to choose, but for established brands, it is essential that the website design appears consistent with the existing branding. As Irene Au said, "good design is like a refrigerator – when it works, no one notices, but when it doesn't, it sure stinks."
The design hand-off to the development team is followed by the actual coding process. The platform, database and framework that you finalize within the planning stage all play a role in translation of the designs into actual functioning webpages.
Both front-end and back-end development need to be focused during the development phase, with due diligence given to the incorporation of the website content into the design. The front-end coding involves compiling a HTML/CSS code and deploying it to run across the server.
Step 4: Conduct testing.
Testing of the website is a critical step in the website design process and needs to take place concurrently with development. End-to-end website testing consists of a number of different tests, including functionality, usability, interface, compatibility, performance and security testing.
A thorough testing regimen ensures that the user does not experience any issues while browsing your website or web application. Functional testing ensures that all the features within the website are validated against those mentioned within the functional specifications document. Usability testing focuses on the ease of use while browsing in terms of accessibility, searchability and usefulness.
Compatibility testing ensures that the website functions uniformly across a range of devices and operating systems, including mobile devices and tablets. It is critical that your website undergoes a rigorous testing regimen and that any issues or bugs you discover are resolved prior to its launch.
Step 5: Launch and maintain.
Launching of the website involves its transfer from a local server to the live server. Web design is a tightrope between form and function, and your design and development team needs to find the sweet spot of balance between the two, prior to the launch of the website.
The launch of the website isn’t the end of the development journey. It is just another milestone that is achieved. The maintenance phase is what follows and is critical for the website to be successfully up and running.
The testing process is a continuous one, with the site being constantly updated with new content. The web developers need to fix broken links if any, add and test new features and content, and constantly update the existing website on the basis of user feedback and current trends to ensure stellar user experience.