The many stages of web design can seem complicated for those of us with limited understanding of how online content is created.
However you shouldn’t worry as there is little to mystify or perplex. The six stages of web design are actually very logical and define how to create a functional and attractive website that people will want to use.
It does, however, take time and patience. There will be points in the process that will make you reconsider exactly what it is you want, and you may also be surprised to find that your initial ideas change completely too!
One tip, however – find a creative and passionate web designer, and you will discover that the end product surpasses all your expectations.
Start your web design journey
Are the six phases of web design essential? You may think that sites offering free, build-you-own-website services are the way forward for your business, but if you are serious about producing a top quality website, then, you should seriously consider hiring a professional web designer. Your website is the first port of call for customers and will need to make a lasting impression, which means investing time, energy and money to get the best result. You wouldn’t open a high street store with no shelving on which to place your stock, why would you do the same online?
Taking the time to work through these six essential phases of the web design process is one way of ensuring a final product that will offer a real return on investment for your business.
Stage 1: The Proposal
The initial step is a crucial one. Once you’ve made contact with a web design agency, you’ll need to answer basic, but essential questions so that a brief and proposal can be formulated. This will establish the need for your site as well as clarify the ideas your business has about design elements, colours and tone of voice, as well as the overall feel of the website. Ensure you’re clear on the answers to the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the website? Should it merely provide information about your business, or are you interested in a brochure-like, e-commerce website where people can buy your products?
- What are the website’s objectives? What are the success measurements – more sales, more customers added into your database, greater awareness of current trends? Without objectives, you can’t measure how successful your site is.
- Who are your target customers? Are they male or female? What age range? What sort of things will they expect to see on your site – Certain colours? Certain elements? Responsiveness?
- What is the scope and nature of the website project? Is it a small, medium or large sized website? Do you want a custom CMS or do you prefer something like WordPress or Drupal? Will you need to expand your website in the future?
The website development process will only produce the right final product if you and your business are totally clear about this basic information. You should treat a new website like any other project and that means gathering the right information at the start of the process.
Stage 2: Wireframes & Architecture
A wireframe is a page schematic, a sort of blueprint for your overall website. It can be useful early in the process to visualise how users will navigate your site and the sorts of movements they will take to get from page to page. A wireframe helps to visualise this and also provides an opportunity to start planning how content will be placed on and around your site. Some websites will have a relatively simple wireframe but others, such as an e-commerce website, can be more complex.
It is important to establish how your website will function before adding any glossy finishes, so whilst wireframes can focus on where design elements will be placed, the font style, colour and placement of any graphics being used, they are predominantly used to create a template of your site. As well as placing content, a wireframe can also inform how to use aspects such as social media icons, or where customers can sign up to an e-newsletter and so on.
Like all the other phases of the web design process, a wireframe should be used as a means of spotting any potential issues, just as much as it is about finalising the layout of your website.
Stage 3: Look & Feel
Once the architecture and layout is confirmed in the wireframe phase, your web designer can start to create rough drafts and design ideas for your site. You should have established in your brief – and clarified if necessary in the agency’s proposal – how your brand values and design style will be interpreted on your website. This includes branding, choice of colours and all other visual elements. Naturally this phase will more than likely take the longest to complete as your design agency will want to try out multiple ideas and see which works best for your needs.
This step of the website design process may involve tweaking your initial ideas, honing and redefining any initial preconceptions and compromising where necessary to achieve the overall result. IT is important to remember to listen to your design agency as their expert knowledge will define what you can and can’t do on your site. However, saying that, don’t forget that it is your website and that you will need to be happy and satisfied with any end product.
Make sure you are happy with the styling, the colours, and the overall appearance. When agreeing the contract with the web design agency, make sure you are clear on how many design iterations are included. Some may only offer a couple, whilst other agencies will work until you are 100% satisfied. Both methods have their benefits, but it is for you to decide what works best for your business.
Stage 4: Development
Once your designer has the necessary information and reviewed all initial design thoughts, then the real work can begin. The development phase involves the coding of your website. This is where the designer will take your ideas and make them work!
Yes, the hard work may be done for you as the client but it is only just beginning for your agency. There are two types of developer: Front-End and Back-End. The Front-End developer will work on everything a visitor will see, which involves coding the aesthetics and design of the site, and then ensuring they aren’t just pretty and functional too.
For Back-End developers, it is at this point your choice of platform will become important, as it defines how quickly or easily your site can be developed and launched. If you chose a pre-existing CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress and Drupal then your site will be completed quicker as both have extremely reliable back-end systems in place to make web design as intuitive as possible. However, if you have opted for a custom CMS, then your site will take longer to complete as the CMS will need to be coded and developed first, made to work and then have a site built on top of it.
It is important not to underestimate this phase, nor to rush it, as there is no bigger turnoff for a person visiting your site than for it not work.
Stage 5: Testing
There are several tests that will need to be carried out on your website before it is ready to launch.
Functionality and features need to be tested to ensure they work, and then tweaked by developers if they don’t. User acceptability testing clarifies how easy and intuitive your website is for online visitors and might flag up certain user experience (UX) issues that weren’t obvious before. It is important that these tests are carried out before you launch.
Post-launch, the final stage of testing is improvement and it is arguably the most important. By performing recurring tests and by tracking analytics and metrics, your business and your web design agency might identify better ways to do things, such as streamlining page content or moving a function box to elsewhere on the page. Web design is process of fine-tuning, and with technology always developing, there are always potential improvements that can be made.
Stage 6: Launch
This is the exciting step, the one that you’ll enjoy most of all. It is where your designers hard work meets with the goals you set out at the start of the process, comes to fruition and you can finally show the world the project you have been working on.
Remember, that no website is ever ‘perfect’ and that there will always be little tweaks to make here and there. But by delaying the launch date to try and iron out any wrinkles, you’ll be delaying the launch and the benefits that come with a new website.
Once launched, make sure to let people know your new website has gone live through social media, email newsletters and any other way you can think of to build traffic. Remember, your website is an investment and should provide a return on the time and money that has been invested in it.
Once people start visiting, make sure to try and collect feedback and thoughts, then feed these back to your design agency if you feel they are relevant, so that more tests can be carried out and modifications made.