It's an old maxim in carpentry that you should double check your plans and measurements before actually constructing anything. And with good reason. Changing your mind after you put saw to plank is tantamount to starting over. Once you cut a board, you can't make that board longer. And often times, that's the same with Web development.
3 Easy Steps...
Building a website is a lot like building a house, in that there are a few orderly steps you follow to make sure you get it right:
- Step 1: Planning
First, we have a kickoff round of sorts to get to know your business and what it is you want, which isn't always exactly what you need.
- Step 2: Blueprints
This usually takes a couple weeks and consists of several rounds of mockups of the new site on which to exchange feedback.
- Step 3: Construction
The build phase is when we turn the design mocks into a real, functioning website.
Now you would think that is would be pretty straight forward, but more often than not, the design and development phases get all jumbled up. This is a problem.
The primary benefit of doing the design and conceptual work before the actual HTML creation is that it saves money and time. Imagine that you've created blueprints for a new house (design), and then you build the house, the foundation, etc (development). Would it make sense to then go back and say that you actually wanted a bedroom twice as big, two stories instead of one, and a chimney in the middle after the house is built? Of course not, this would have been established in the initial drafting process. Websites are created in a similar fashion: it's easy to work back and forth on the mockups, or pictures, in the design stage, changing this, adding this, making this bigger or smaller. But after the design has been finalized and actual code has been created to flesh out that visual, changing the design again can take a LONG time.
Form Follows Function
So let's make sure we get a few things straight before we all have headaches. The key is communication during the planning and blueprint stages. This is the time to really think about what you want your website to accomplish, how it should accomplish this, and what it should look like while doing these things. The temptation is always to jump right into the design, because that's usually the most fun. But design is always in the service of content, or to put it another way, form follows function.
Perhaps the best thing you can do to ensure that you end up with a website you are happy with is to provide all your content (text, images, etc) and input ahead of the development process. It's tempting to try and do these things after you see a working demo of the site, but it will save hours of work and billable time by thoroughly discussing these concerns and changes before building the HTML or looking at the site in a browser. This is what mockups are for: mocking up ideas and solutions.
You Get What You Give
It would be impossible to overstate this last point. Of the hundreds of websites we have built over the past ten years, in every single case where the client provided us all the content before we built the site, the Website came in under budget and ahead of schedule. Conversely, about 75% of our development projects run behind schedule because the client has not delivered the content. Do not underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to create new content. As a good rule of thumb, figure out how much time you think it will take you to get your site's content together, and triple it.
We realize it's not easy developing content for a site that you can't yet feel and touch, and so sometimes it's unrealistic to provide everything up front, but the amount of content you provide is directly proportional to the ultimate success of the site.
Can't We All Just Get Along
Another benefit of adhering to this process is the trust it fosters between company (us) and client (you). If we as the designers and developers are constantly changing aspects of the project that have already been approved by the client, we are going to get frustrated and begin to question how much we can trust your judgment. The client, in turn, will get frustrated and wonder why the bill is increasing so much with all the extra billable time needed for these new design changes and wonder if we are a trustworthy vendor. Obviously for a partnership of any kind to work, trust needs to be in place. And the best way to establish that trust is to doggedly stick to a few simple steps...