To avoid an embarrassing misunderstanding straight away, the questioned in the headline is purely rhetorical. Really, the headline should read: How should websites be created in an ideal world? To ask how websites are actually created in real, day-to-day life of a web designer, would be to invite answers all too often exceedingly gloomy, desperate, sheepish, embarrassed, or outright coarse. Unfortunately, new projects are often born unthinkingly, chaotically, first things last: people start by drawing the homepage, and then try to figure out what to put on it; programmers launch themselves into programming a database, no matter that no-one has the faintest idea what exactly will populate it and what the data interface with the website it will use; logos are drawn and colours picked, without first defining target audience and scope of the project… If someone tells you they have never worked on a website like that, well: “He who denies it is still at it.”
Ok, then, let us see if we can shed some light on how it should be done “well”. By no means do we want to create some guidelines and standards for how to go about each and every project. Let’s just try and make a master list of all main aspects and key issues related to the creation of a website (and any other interactive application) that should be, or indeed must be, taken into account. Of course, only rarely will all of these points be relevant for your project and you will have to deal in detail with each of them. But at least we will have a checklist we can tick items off: Project specifications written up – tick. Use-case scenarios done – tick. Marketing and monetization not essential here, disregard – tick. We could start drawing prototypes, but communications strategy and social media strategy are missing – stop, resolve! This has no bearing on the server side, we have an approximate data model, we can start designing API, etc.
Well-judged and informed omission of a certain step or intentional and planned change in the order of steps is of course fine and reasonable. But it must be truly conscious, informed, and planned, and not merely a consequence of an omission, ignorance, or chaotic project management.
On a project, any of the steps can be taken out as unimportant, steps can be reordered, additional steps added. Always, however, judiciously and with potential consequences in mind.
Nonetheless, the essential thing for the process of creation of a new website or online application is always the input. It is absolutely crucial to study as best as possible the client – to get to know their business, the market landscape that surrounds them, their competitors, possible benefits and risks, business and marketing models – and the target audience – its socio-demographic composition, interests, needs, and habits. This will simultaneously reveal to us the other side of the equation, and so we meet our future user and their needs. Without this input, all efforts will be tantamount to firing at random, and no matter how great the result may look, it can be an utter failure, missing the client’s goals, and not meeting the target audience’s needs. All it will come to will be a pointless, if possibly slick, bubble, doomed to perish.
To make a successful and functional website, it is paramount to get to know both our client and future users really well.
If you asked me to boil the whole topic down to its very core, to disregard all that is variable and point out only the truly essential that makes or break the website, that list would look something like this:
- Step one – as precise as possible project specifications:
- what are the client’s interests and goals
- what are the interests and needs of their target audience
- “Middle phase” – all the rest of it; delete, edit, reorder as needed
- Last step – visual (graphic) design
I firmly believe that the only possible first step is a complete and correct project specifications, and nothing else, and that of the rest, any can be chucked out potentially. Without precise specifications, clearly defined goals, and the best possible idea of typical future users, one simply cannot get started. Any work done before that is taking a pot chance, firing at random, fumbling in the dark. The time to take care of the website’s design comes at the very end.
What maketh a good web design are mostly the steps in between. The analysis and synthesis needed to process all information found during the discovery process and create project specifications, the creative design work proper, communicating the design with all involved on the client side and the supplier side, testing, verification, creating solid materials for development, etc. We will cover all these steps from A to Z in separate posts.