Every website design and development project – whether you’re building a new website or undergoing a website redesign – includes crucial steps. While each project is unique, you must perform specific tasks to get a business website up and running.
Following a well-defined and documented web design process reduces the time needed to complete the project, improves efficiency and ensures you don’t miss any crucial steps.
We’ll explore an effective five-step web design process and highlight common web design mistakes to avoid.
Editor’s note: Looking for help designing your company’s website? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
5-step web design process
Stellar website design isn’t just about a pretty visual interface. It integrates a well-thought-out strategy with the design and development process to fulfill the website’s ultimate purpose.
Follow this five-step process to create your winning website.
1. Define your website’s goals.
When starting the website design process, build a creative brief outlining the website’s goals. Ask yourself and your team the following questions. Include your answers in the creative brief to give your design project clarity and direction.
- What objective or objectives should this website accomplish?
- What problems does it solve?
- Who are the website’s target users?
- What is the intended benefit users would receive from using your website?
- What is the website’s primary aim? Is it informing, selling, prompting users to sign up for a service, or something else?
- Is there a competitor website that operates in your niche? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
- Should the website integrate with your database, accounting, or other systems?
You must pinpoint your target audience to answer these questions properly. Here’s how to identify your target audience:
- Classify prospects to build distinct customer personas.
- Work on your value proposition and the benefit your website offers the target audience.
- Conduct market research and competitor analysis.
Tip: Some website design tips for small businesses include creating a detailed plan about your website’s functions, eliminating unnecessary elements, and including links to your social media accounts.
2. Plan your website design strategy.
Scope creep is a common web development issue. The project’s scope keeps expanding during the design and development phase, extending the estimated timelines and eventually requiring budget extensions.
Strategic planning with realistic timelines is critical to the project’s long-term success. You’ll need to sort out three primary elements:
- Programming language and technology stacks
- Sitemap and wireframes
- Content strategy planning
Programming language and technology stacks
In this stage, you must decide on the project’s technical aspects, such as selecting a technology stack. You’ll select the best website builder or platform for your needs based on the goals you sketched out in the previous step. Your budget will also be a factor.
Content management systems like WordPress would likely suffice if you want your website to act as an information source for users. On the other hand, if you want to build an online business like an e-commerce website, robust web frameworks would better suit your needs.
Conduct a detailed analysis of programming languages and tech stacks, and study the pros and cons of adopting each technology before choosing. Do a comparative analysis of technology choices to help you better understand the advantages and disadvantages of one framework over another.
Sitemap and wireframes
The sitemap and wireframes are the blueprint of your website.
- The sitemap provides insight into the website’s information architecture. Building a sitemap before the design phase helps you plan more effective website navigation and content development.
- Wireframing is a well-designed website’s foundation. It provides a framework for the website’s visual design and content elements and acts as a guide to the site’s final look.
The wireframe and sitemap guide your content’s distribution and placement within the website. Focus your design on the most essential pages, and design content silos for efficiency to help obtain the site’s objectives. Many prototyping tools exist for designing your website’s wireframe.
Tip: Ask your web developer about using heatmap software when designing the wireframe. Heatmap software tracks where users look on a page, allowing you to place crucial content like calls to action strategically.
Content strategy planning
Content is a website’s raison d’etre. Your content’s value is why users visit the site, so the importance of a well-planned content strategy cannot be stressed enough.
Content development must incorporate an SEO strategy to ensure the website content reaches its target audience. A well-planned content strategy boosts a site’s search engine visibility and rankings. Optimization using tools like Google Analytics is crucial for content creation.
3. Design and develop the new website.
Your existing brand elements should influence the new website’s design. Incorporate your color scheme, fonts, design and company logo so website visitors instantly recognize you. Startups can allow web designers more freedom to choose the website design.
After handing off the design to your development team, it’s time for the coding process. The platform, database and framework you determined in the planning stage all play a role in translating your design into functioning web pages.
You’ll conduct front-end and back-end development during the development phase as you incorporate website content into the design.
- Front-end coding. Front-end coding involves compiling an HTML/CSS code and deploying it to run across the server.
- Back-end coding. Back-end coding includes advanced functionality, integrations, plug-ins and other behind-the-scenes functions. For example, when building an e-commerce business, you’ll incorporate a payment gateway or payment processor.
4. Test your website.
Testing is a critical step in the website design process; it must happen concurrently with development. End-to-end website testing includes functionality, user experience (UX), interface, compatibility, performance and website security testing.
These are some of the primary testing categories:
- Functional testing. Functional testing ensures that all website features are validated against those mentioned within the functional specifications document.
- Usability testing. Usability testing focuses on ease of use while browsing in terms of accessibility, searchability and usefulness.
- Compatibility testing. Compatibility testing ensures the website functions uniformly across a range of devices and operating systems, including mobile devices.
A thorough testing regimen ensures users don’t experience problems while browsing the website or web application. Rigorous testing is crucial for discovering and fixing issues or bugs before the website launches.
5. Launch and maintain your new website.
Your website launch involves transferring it from a local server to a live server. Web design is a tightrope between form and function, and your design and development team must find the sweet spot between the two before launching the website.
Websites are dynamic, which means you must continually update them and add functionality and content.
Website design mistakes to avoid
Understanding the website design process is an excellent first step. However, before you begin, familiarize yourself with the following common website design mistakes so you can avoid them and maximize your site’s effectiveness.
- Poor communication with web developers. Websites sometimes suffer because of a communication disconnect between the business owners, marketing team and web development team. Whether you’re designing your site in-house or outsourcing your web design, schedule meetings to discuss goals, technology choices, sitemap, wireframes and content to ensure everyone is on the same page. Determine in advance how much time and money the project will take, and make any necessary changes before development starts.
- Making SEO an afterthought. You can have the greatest website in the world, but if no one can find it, it won’t help your business. Design your site with SEO in mind to boost website traffic. Conduct keyword research and understand the questions your target audience expects the website to answer. SEO is not limited to content; you should also bake it into the code in header tags, title tags, meta descriptions, ALT tags and page names. Ensure your web developer is well-versed in SEO best practices. This will save you money down the road when you realize you must retrofit your existing website for SEO.
- Being too generic. You’ve likely visited multiple websites with the same stock photos (young professionals sitting around a table, handshakes and techno-looking abstracts). While this imagery is affordable, it’s also boring and forgettable. The same goes for vague language in the copy, with overused words and phrases such as “solution,” “excellence,” “your partner,” “innovation” and “actionable analytics.” This language doesn’t tell visitors what you do, how it will benefit them, or why your way of doing it is better than your competitors. Use compelling images and copy, and consider video content to connect with visitors.
- Not closing the deal. While educating visitors and building credibility with content is great, a website should accomplish more. You should prompt visitors with a call to action (CTA) or two. A CTA may ask visitors to subscribe to a blog or newsletter, buy something, follow a social media account, or enter their email addresses as part of your lead-generation strategy. Make CTAs eye-catching and include them throughout your website. Placement options include headers, footers, sidebars and a space at the end of each content article.
- Setting and forgetting. Some companies create their website and consider the job finished. However, a website’s launch isn’t the development journey’s end – it’s just a milestone. The maintenance phase follows; diligently maintaining your website is crucial for its success. Web developers should test and fix broken links, add and test new features and content, and take customer feedback and current trends into account to make changes and ensure a stellar user experience.
- Not setting up and using analytics. Websites are easy to update, so you should commit to continuous improvement. Website analytics can show you what’s working and what needs to be tweaked. You can see where website visitors are coming from (geographically and from other sites), how long they stay, where they visit within the site, what percentage are return visitors, and plenty of other useful information. Analytics can help you reduce bounce rates, identify slow page-load speeds, and figure out your audience’s interests and needs.
Rahul Varshneya contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.