By Bridget Drendel, Cooper Smith & Company web designer
Designing a website is not just dumping copy and images into a template. A proficient web designer knows that considerable planning is involved to create a clean, functional website. Here is a simple checklist that every designer needs to take a website from cluttered to streamlined.
1. Domain and Hosting: Setting up the web domain and hosting is a top priority, as these pieces must be in place before the site can go live. Settling on a domain name early in the web design process alleviates the stress of last-minute decisions. If you don’t already own the domain name, you’ll need to check if the name you want is available.
2. Involvement in Site Maintenance: Will you need to edit the site during design or after the site is complete? If you want to change copy, add images, etc., it is smart to create the website with a program such as WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix, which allow edits without knowledge of code.
3. Page Count: How big will the site be? Sketching out a site map and talking through the flow of the site are vital to knowing what the final product will look like. This also helps the designer and client determine the goal of the website, such as request donations, sell products, or showcase client work.
4. What the Other Guy is Doing: Do your homework and check out competitor websites to see what you are up against. What do similar sites have in common? What is working? What is not? This will help you make design decisions to enhance the functionality and usability of your site.
5. Look and Feel: Start by roughly sketching some simple scenarios. Outline the navigation, the mainframe work, the main content area and the footer. Be sure to list key graphical elements. This step is important – it helps pinpoint the central elements of the site and verifies where the site is leading the visitor. This process also determines site hierarchy— which buttons, rotators, or navigation need dominance? The most beautiful site is worthless if the user can’t use it. Keep asking yourself “Why?”
6. Making Things Pretty: You have the tough part done; now the fun starts. Design the home page, (also known as the index page), and one or two sub-pages. This is usually enough to get a feel for the site, and big design changes become easier. This step establishes navigation look and position, and anchors items that will appear on every page.
7. Test Your Site: And test it again. As the site is being built, make sure it works on various browsers and displays the way you have in mind. Testing the site once it is complete could be devastating if you find things are not working and need an overhaul.
8. It’s Alive: Once the site is designed, built, and tested, it is ready to go live. This step is always the most exciting and terrifying. Planning a web launch date is important: 2-3 days should be set aside to get things up and checked.
You’ve heard it before.
College is not the real world.
There is no syllabus predicting the course of the next six months. And clients don’t call with assignments fully written down, with past examples and a grading metric to share.
You knew that.
What may be surprising is how much you’ll miss it.
Every intern I’ve hired, every fresh graduate, struggles with the unknown that is inherent in the “real world.” No matter how much background I provide, or how detailed my outline of the project requirements, young designers are uncomfortable with the fact that they don’t know how the thing is supposed to turn out.
Fact is, seasoned designers don’t know either. We just give ourselves the permission to figure it out. We learn to pencil out a strategy and create solutions to fit. We allow ourselves to dream and develop programs that bring a vision to life.
In other words, we make it up as we go.
The best designers (and I like to think we’re pretty good) confront a problem and with a flash of inspiration see several potential solutions. We play each out in our minds, quickly landing on the most exciting and effective options. And then we get to work on research and designs to explore our concepts.
That is thrilling—and, for young designers especially—terrifying. You’re going to wonder what you spent all those years in college learning. You’ll wish you’d spent more time learning to strategize. And you’ll miss those long project deadlines.
Most of all, you’ll miss summer break.
That’s okay. So do we.