Good web design is generally clean, pays close attention to the elements that need to be featured as well as the audience.
One of the early decisions is the color palette which often starts with existing branding but absent that is usually a palette that is both appropriate and supports the goal of the site.
Increasingly sites are using white backgrounds and grey text. Its easier on the eyes and for the designer to make subtle adjustments in color strength.
Notice that The Boston Globe Logo is black. The headlines and text are dark grey. The dark grey tones down what seem a jumble of headlines. Those elements that are necessary but extraneous to the reading experience are extra soft. These are elements we either know are there already (date, manage account, log in) or are willing to look for (search).
Tea Cup Tea is a blog with a similarly clean neutral palette. The light turquoise menu seems cozy and current. Nothing detracts from the spectacular food photography.
Note: This is one of mine and is used for demonstration.
Robin Ragle-Davis, Realtor demonstrates the use of palette to feature one of the most important goals of the site, the newsletter sign up. Its a feature which changes the relationship between the site visitor and the site itself from passive to active and prolongs the relationship.
Another day I will explore the idea of palette further – please post examples of sites you think are excellent examples of the use of subtle palette!
What happens after you accept my quote, send me your deposit and the design process gets underway?
I can’t tell you what other design firms do but for me it goes something like this.
Almost every client I meet with asks how long the process takes and this is what I usually tell them. A reasonable amount of time to get a good site up is about 6 weeks. This allows for the research, design, server set up, content gathering, testing and sending live. In practice I’ve almost never seen it happen this way as website projects almost always get bogged down at the content phase. Almost always. While it is difficult for a busy business person to plan the time to write content its important to make time. I can polish it and will make recommendations about keywords to use but I need the initial content to work with. No one knows your business as well as you do so the initial content really should come from you.
Two other extremely important considerations. First, the sooner your website is launched the sooner it will start to be indexed by search engines and help you to attract and convert clients.
Next, clients often don’t realize this but a designer/developer will schedule you into a time period. There are only a certain number of clients we can reasonably take on in a certain period so other projects may be put off to accommodate yours. If you take weeks to gather your content your project then begins to encroach on a time period set aside to work on another clients project.
I’ll want copies of your branding, your logo, examples of print materials if they exist as your website should reflect any conscious look and feel you have deliberately embarked upon. If these materials don’t exist I will offer to create some branding materials for you.
I’ll check out your competitors, how they rank in search engines, what they offer as far as content do they have a professional look and feel? At the very least we want to raise the bar in all of these areas.
If you have an existing site I’ll review it and begin to follow your site traffic What words are people using to find you? Where are they coming from? What is your traffic generally? This is important information to have before your site goes live so we can track what happens after.
Generally I will develop up to three initial designs from which you can either choose, decide to combine elements, or choose one with recommended changes. There can be up to three rounds of revisions. Often a client will like the first version so we never actually get to three. That’s fine – we’ll use the time elsewhere.
Larger projects often involve wireframe diagrams and site maps. If there is any custom application programming to be done that is probably being initiated at this stage.
Once the design has been agreed upon I will begin to build. I’ll build an html version and if this is what you decided you wanted (no content management) I’ll upload it to a development server and it will be ready for content.
If it is a WordPress site I will install the latest version of WordPress on a development server, configure the databases, install certain plugins which I consider basic including SEO plugins, a plugin for mobile, a site map generator and any others I think your particular site could benefit from. I will then convert the custom html design into what we call a WordPress template. Again now is the time for content.
As the content comes from you I will review it to see if it contains any of the keywords that we have decided are important. Writing for the web is very different than writing for print so if we use any of your text from a brochure it will be considered a starting point. I’ll rewrite to ensure keywords are there, I’ll enter it into the site.
Content includes images too so you will be either selecting stock imagery from a site I will refer you to, providing images you have previously taken or hiring a photographer to take some. If you can afford it I recommend the photographer.
Testing, Sign-off and Launch
I will ask you to test various areas of the site (including the forms). I’ll ask you to check for typos, accurate information etc. Though I test on a Mac and a Windows machine and thoroughly test on both chances are you have a different browser than I do so chances are you may spot a layout issue I haven’t.
Once we both agree the site is ready I will send it live. This involves more than moving the files from the development server to the live one. I need to make sure your Google Analytics is installed and working, that you have a robots.txt and a sitemap (for SEO). I will begin your SEO) (title tags etc) and then will train you how to update your own content and to keep your SEO going.
If you had a previous site I’ll update a file on your server which will redirect traffic to the new site if someone tries to reach the old as it takes a while for search engines to index the new links.
That isn’t really the end because a web site isn’t like print. Its evolving constantly over time (at least we hope it is) an evolving site usually ranks higher and is indexed more often.
Many business owners consider what a site looks like the primary consideration when deciding on a site redesign and they may have strong opinions, based on their own taste, what that look should be. To these business owners their business and their business marketing materials are very personal. Others may not care about what their site looks like at all and think simply having a presence on the web is enough.
There are things you should consider when planning a new or redesigned site and the answers should inform how you proceed.
- What is your goal? Are you trying to attract new clients, customers or members, convert prospective clients to actual clients?
- Who is your audience? What will they be looking for?
- What is your competition doing? You will want to raise the bar, have a nicer looking, more functional, easier to navigate site than your competition. Remember. When a prospective client is deciding on whom to go with they are looking at you and your competitors.
- How did they get there? Remember when a lot of sites had Flash intros that you had to get through before you saw actual content? Google and other search engines doesn’t see that content so you can be sure there are far fewer visitors to such a site. Its important to have pertinent text on your home or index page.
Is it a good idea to use a template?
A template is predesigned and usually all you have to do is put your text and images into it. Generally templates are free or low cost and can save a lot of money on design fees. Templates and template services range from those that will ultimately look homemade to those that look quite professional. In both cases the template has not taken into account what makes your business unique
Remember the list above and ask yourself what a new client or customer (or several) finding you via the website is worth. Create a site that makes you stand out, look professional and look better than your competition. It’s unlikely that a template site will do that for you. Templates are, however, a good way to get started in the beginning when funds simply are not available.
After the most recent facebook updates I started to think about the inevitable and expected angry status messages that always spill into the news feed. I have posted a few of them myself so, believe me; I’m not pointing fingers.
I began to think that this might not be just a resistance to change (though that is a huge part of the anger and frustration) but that the changes come pretty suddenly for the average user who doesn’t spend time following design and tech types on Twitter and thus has little to no warning.
As far as I know there has been no beta site where users can get used to changes weeks before they go live (I don’t think we’ve seen that since 2008 - please let me know if I’m wrong).
This would go a long way toward soothing ruffled users and would work the kinks out early. When the latest changes launched the new sidebar on the right side was sticky but the sponsored links underneath were not so for a few days when you scrolled you couldn’t help but cover up content and I’m glad to see they fixed it quickly.
Now it has been pointed out by thousands that facebook is a free service and if we don’t like it we are free to go somewhere else but to me it is starting to feel as though they are asking us to be the lab mice for their usability studies.
“I can build a website on my web host for free. I saw an ad for websites for $500. My (brother-in-law, sister-in-law, cousin, father, friend, daughter, son) knows html and will build me a website for nothing.”
These are the options you have if you truly have little to no budget, or you hope it is merely an interim site. If you spend money on print advertising chances are you can set aside money for a decent website which:
- Is working to advertise your business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- If done correctly your site is converting prospective clients or customers to actual clients or customers – perhaps while you are asleep.
- It can take messages, much like a receptionist and should be professional (much as you would expect an actual receptionist to be).
So what goes into making a great website (and why is it so darned expensive*)?
First a good designer will research your target audience, goals for the site, (education, convert, involve, etc).
Decisions about navigation, areas of functionality (forms, share buttons, blog) will be based on a combination of client requests and designer recommendations. The designer may look at your web statistics (if redesigning an existing site) to determine what browsers the bulk of your traffic are using – valuable information when making decisions about layout and the coding behind it.
At this point a wireframe might be built – really a means of determining where content areas will live on the page and how much prominence each will receive in the final design and then the real fun begins.
A palette that will fit your business or consider existing branding guidelines (if any) is important. I can’t tell you how often I check colourlovers.com for inspiration. I remember taking digital photos of my apple tv menu once when working on a website for an AV Custom installer so I could try to echo the look and feel for what would clearly be an electronics savvy audience. See the final result below:
And as design is also function after all the way in which the site is built and the usability of the functional areas are key to the success of the site. The way in which the site is built and the content that is added will affect how quickly and how high search engines rank the site.
At the end of the day the free site built using templates or via “site builder” software on your web host can’t compete.
*expensive means different things to different people. The average site I build for small business costs less than a full page color ad in a local magazine.
a rr.interactive post