The ‘Tom Lock’ Concept

Are you ready to design a website that solves a particular problem? You’ll need it to be highly usable, and you’ll need to do some preparations first. In fact, you should start the planning process way ahead of the actual design. This is because the process of how to design a website is as involved as the actual designing of the website itself.

This guide will walk you through how to get started, from constructing the idea to marketing the finished result. When you design a website with a plan in mind, you do more than design website experiences, you start to design website solutions, get the most professional assistance from the best design strategy firm.

What’s the Sitch’?

How to Design a Website. Step one; figure out what you are doing.

Websites that solve problems can be beneficial to organizations of all types. When you are looking to design website solutions, the first step is having a full understanding of what you are going to say, why you are going to say it, how you are going to say it, and most importantly – how long you have to put it together. Without this basic understanding of ‘the situation,’ you are likely to disappoint your stakeholders in more ways than one.

Information gathering is a fundamental step when you design a website, and it begins by first identifying what content you’d like to include on your site. While this may seem like a straightforward process, it isn’t always. You’ll need to be able to clearly answer the questions of:

  • Why am I building this website?
  • How will I build this website?
  • Who am I building this website for?
  • When do I need to have it completed?

But sometimes, a single person doesn’t have all the answers, making the first step in the “how to design a website” process time-consuming and painstaking. Often an individual web designer is asked to design a website with little information about why it is being built or who it is being built for. In this situation, asking the right questions, creating personas with business decision makers and creating project briefs can help smooth out this process.

In a team environment, the information gathering portion of “why am I building this website” or “who am I building this website for” may be more organized, but it is often the how question that requires the most effort. When a large team is asked to design website solutions, collaboration is critical. The first important step, in that case, is identifying the key players and setting goals for the team. You’ll need to get everyone on the same page so that the project takes shape quickly and is completed efficiently.

Once you’ve gathered all the required information (and assembled your team if necessary), you can begin to design website building strategies by creating a timeline for the project. Remember to identify any potential constraints that the project might face. Perhaps, some of the data for the site will not be ready in time, or maybe a critical team member is on vacation when you’ll need them. Make a note of these constraints and plan for them before you begin to design a website.

Having a full understanding of the situation first can save you time, money, and frustration but it’s only the beginning. When creating a website, you’ll need to do more than plan your approach, you will also need to plan and design a website for those that will use it.

All about the people.

Websites are built for people, so it makes sense that when considering how to design a website, you’d first focus on obtaining a full understanding of the target audience. This is important when you sell (and many sites are built for sales-related purposes), but it is also highly relevant if you design website solutions.

The best way to design website experiences for the end user is with personas. Personas are representations of the people you are building for. They are the consumers, brand ambassadors, and followers.

Jakub Kliszczak from Crazy Call advises on getting to understand the end users who will be navigating your new site. The process of creating a persona builds upon the question of “why am I building this website” and “who am I building this website for.” Persona creation is especially helpful in a team environment that needs to know how to design a website for a specific audience without having access to a full project brief. Personas are especially helpful when outside designers are brought into design website experiences but due to security, do not gain access to marketing specifics. However, even if you are creating a website by yourself, personas can help you focus better on the needs of the user, enabling you to better design website solutions with higher usability and an overall improved user experience.

Personas are extremely valuable for every type of website, and not just because they make designing easier. They can also help align the needs, wants, goals, and pains of the target audience with the elements used to create the site. This is beneficial for not only the user but the business as well since a website that aligns with the user is likely to convert well.

To create personas, you’ll need to start by doing some user research. This helps give you an understanding of the user through scientific methods. From there, you can use that information to create a deeper connection with empathy maps. These visualizations can help you design website solutions from the point of view of the user based on the knowledge obtained about them. You can design a website that creates solutions to the problems they’d likely face.

empathy map

Personas and empathy maps give website designers almost predictive abilities into the habits of their users. With that superpower, they can design website solutions that are firmly rooted in the needs of the user while staying focused on the goals of the organization. Personas and empathy maps are literally the foundational step for how to design a website that serves the user.

As great of a tool as they are, personas and empathy maps are only useful when they are utilized. Everyone must be on board to design website solutions; therefore, once you’ve created them, it is important to share them with as many members of the web design team as needed. This includes designers, content creators, marketers and any other business decision makers. When everyone involved understands who the site is being created for, it will make a significant impact on the results of any website design project.

How are you going to build?

Remember those original questions that you answered when you first started planning your project – the who, what, and why’s? Well, now it’s time to focus on the how, specifically, what technology will you use to build your website project.

This question isn’t as complicated as it sounds. There are actually only a few options when it comes to basic website technology. You could design website solutions from scratch — writing code and uploading files, or you could use a content management system. How do you know which option is best for you? Well, it depends on client needs, budget, technical requirements, and developer expertise. Content management systems make it easier to quickly design website solutions because they feature a WYSIWYG interface, have plugins that expand functionality, are typically lower cost, and allow you to create and utilize themes.

However, the cons are just as compelling. Content management systems have their drawbacks including:

  • Security vulnerabilities
  • Customization limitations
  • Limited SEO (without the use of plugins)
  • Longer page loads and slower performance

There may also be licensing fees — especially if you don’t use open source platforms such as Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress. You’ll need to stay vigilant regarding security if you design a website that uses these options. If you use a proprietary CMS, however, you lower your risk of security vulnerabilities because updates and upgrades are typically managed by the company owning the software.

If you design website pages ‘from scratch’, without templates and prebuilt options, you have less to worry about. Plus, it will be easier to complete redesigns and customize. For many designers, the decision over how to build their website comes back to the original question of “why am I building this website.” If the goal is creating serialized or regularly updated content, you should opt for a content management system. If the goal is showcasing highly customized designs and there isn’t a plan for regularly updated content, designing a website from scratch is probably the better choice.

Once you’ve decided on your approach, remember to check your internal systems for compatibility. Some web designs, coding, and CMSs don’t play as nicely with certain browsers, such as an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Before you design a website, make sure that you have the most up-to-date operating system (whether Windows or Mac) and that your browsers are the most recent version.

Let’s lay the groundwork.

With everything now planned, you can begin designing website solutions by creating an architecture for the entire site. Site architecture helps organize the information on a website so that it is accessible for users. The best way to create an effective site architecture is by building sitemaps. Easy online tools such as Slickplan’s Sitemap Builder can help you, colleagues, and even the end user visualize how a site will be laid out and what you’ll need, to pull it together. When it’s time to design a website, a sitemap is an essential tool.

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