• Views February 21, 2017

When you imagine a website being created, whatís your first thought? Do you picture a designer furiously sketching in a room full of empty espresso cups?

A developer, shrouded in a black hoodie, pounding the keys until a site miraculously emerges? In this post, Iím going to lay out the stages of our web design process. The real answer is that it starts with arguably the most important step: understanding who needs to use the site and what their needs are.

A website canít be truly good if your visitors canít find what they need. Getting a sense of what this content should look like is crucial, and can be done in a number of ways - past experience, social listening, site analytics, research - but the most foolproof method is just to ask your target audience. Fortunately, more and more tools are enabling us to do just that, through questionnaires and even screen recording with narration from the user.

With the audience information in hand, we conduct interviews with the organizationís stakeholders to see how they envision using the site. If a current site exists, we analyze every page of it to find material that can be migrated to the new site. This is the heart of the information architecture phase - selecting what content should go on the site, and where, so that itís rewarding to read and easy to find. We start the content strategy and writing process as early as possible so that every piece of the site is truly built for the content, and not vice versa.

At Finn Partners, we know that most sites are viewed more than 50% of the time on mobile devices, so we account for a variety of screen widths from the earliest design stages. Wireframes start to bridge the gap between information architecture and design - theyíre rough mockups of what content and features will live on each page, and the order in which theyíll be shown.

Tools like InVision enable us to turn our wireframes into clickable sites called prototypes. These let us start testing our progress and identifying missing pieces well before crunch time. Visual design takes these boring gray wireframes and brings them to life with logos, colors, fonts, images, and animation. The trick is getting all of these elements to flow together to produce an experience thatís easy to use, while still feeling exciting.

One trick to getting great results is starting the development process as early as possible, so that developers can flag good and bad design ideas. Another is to build content management systems (like WordPress) into websites - this allows non-developers to add more pages, switch images, update text and so on, both before and after the site launches.

Thatís a point worth stressing: the launch of a site doesnít mean itís ďdoneĒ - left to float on the web until it grows stale and gets replaced in five years. The design process should never stop. User testing should continue at least annually to ensure people continue to get what they need.

With project managers to guide the process every step of the way, the specific needs of each web project never get lost, leading to unique, inspiring results.