7 Things to Do Before You Start Designing a Website

Website design and development can be a frustrating process for both the designer and the client because it is a creative process and there are usually several people involved on both sides providing feedback and guidance.  Everyone has a different opinion on what looks good and what will properly reflect the company’s brand image.

To avoid obstacles and communication issues throughout the website design process, it is better to spend more time on discovery and the initial planning.  Here are seven tips to help ensure the end result is a success for both the client and the designer  Internet marketing company.

ONE:  Gain an Intimate Understanding of Their Business

This seems obvious but this step is often rushed.  To truly provide value and show your client that your care about their business, you need to learn about their business model, revenue streams, financial goals, corporate culture, and future vision.

TWO:  Know the Competition

It is important as the designer to understand who your client’s competitors are.  Find out who their offline and online competition is.  There may be a difference in who they are competing with in the search engine results and who they truly consider their competitor.  You should know both sides and find out what their competition is doing right as well as where they are falling short. 

THREE:  Understand Their Design Goals

red crayon smallDuring the discovery process it is often helpful to provide the client with a questionnaire such as a “needs analysis” or “design questionnaire” so you can extract as much information as possible such as color pallet ideas, websites they like and don’t like, desired functionality, and basic conversion goals.  For example, is the purpose of the site to simply inform, or will it be meant to generate new business, or both?

FOUR:  Get a List of Website They Like

One of the best ways to get behind the “design” eye of your client is to have them provide you a list of three to five websites they like.  Make sure they provide you with details about why they like the designs and any aspects about the sites they do not like. 

FIVE:  Understand Budget Ranges

This can be a sensitive discussion early on because the client will not want to give up any negotiating power by simply answering your question, “What is your Budget?”  However, quite often the client does not have a sound understanding of how their vision for their new website will translate into design and development time…and money!  That is why the discovery process is so important.  Whether you are a freelance designer or a full scale Internet marketing company, the process should be the same.  The budget will immediately help you communicate to the client what is possible and what is not. 

SIX:  Understand Functionality and Optimization Goals

This part is very important.  Many times a designer may not be the individual actually developing the website.  This can be problematic of the designer has more of a graphic design background and a limited understanding of the development process.  Sometimes great designs don’t translate well on the web or may not be feasibly from a development perspective depending on the functionality needs of the client.  Make sure you communicate with the development team so they understand how you plan to lay things out.  All designers these days should also have at least a basic understanding of search engine optimization.  It is frustrating for a client when they spend a lot of time and money having a great website designed only to find out month later that it has to be rebuilt for SEO purposes. 

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SEVEN:  Functional Specifications

The result of the discovery process should be a very detailed FSD (functional specifications document) that both the website designer/developer and the client sign off on.  This ensures that there is a blueprint to consult when there is confusion about what is or is not “in scope”.  This is the MOST important part of the project and should not be rushed.  The FSD should include details on design, functionality, timeline, budget, and all supporting details and documentation gathered during the discovery phase.  A good FSD will include the wire frames and maybe even some initial design mocks.  Make sure the FSD is in line with the contract and that deliverables are detailed.  Because website design is a creative process, the client will think of things along the way that they did not initially communicate during discovery.  Depending on how simple or complex these requests are, you can make a judgment call whether to include the additional requests or possible provide the client with an additional quote based on estimates hours.

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