No clue how to get the website you need? Here's some help.May 10th, 2012
A step-by-step guide for SMEs who need a new website but aren't sure how to get there.
How clearly I remember the disaster that was my very first website project, back in 1997. I was the junior on a team of people who were convinced that putting up a website must be easy, but who had no actual knowledge of how one got a website from a Photoshop design to a computer screen with clickable buttons. They made many promises to the client, and because they figured it must be easy - "I mean, this html stuff can't be that hard, can it? The people who do it don't dress very well, you know" - the whole buck got passed right on down from C-suite to VP to Director until it eventually landed in my lap.
At which time I discovered that, in the entire 350-person company, there was one person who had any knowledge of how to build a website. Not only was he fully booked for the next 6 months, but the price given to the client was about 1/3 of what it was going to cost to deliver the site as conceived by people who were still getting to grips with email.
Website development has gotten a lot easier in the 15 years since then, but there is still a huge knowledge gap between people who know how to build (or project manage the build of) a website and those who don't. More importantly, knowing how to get a website built does not make you morally superior, smarter or cooler than people who don't - I know plenty of cardiovascular surgeons who can transplant a heart but have no idea how to get themselves a website.
You don't have to know how to do the coding.
You just need to know the steps involved.
Last week I was speaking to the management team of a small consulting firm. Their annual revenue is about $11 million, but they're growing fast and they know they need a new website in order to compete in their marketplace. However, without a dedicated marketing or IT department, they aren't sure how to proceed. To add to the confusion, they've received estimates for website development ranging from $15,000 to $80,000. How do they figure out what they need to do?
This is what I told them.
STEP 1: STRATEGY CONSENSUS
Before you start talking to website designers, it's important to get internal consensus among key stakeholders about the purpose and function of the website. Is the website mostly for credibility/branding purposes? What kind of information will it need to contain? Who is the target audience? Will you be selling products or services via the site? Does it need to have complex back-end functionality, like connecting to a payroll database?
You don't have to have every detail mapped out at this stage, but getting key team members in agreement about what the site is supposed to accomplish will save you a lot of headache later.
STEP 2: CORE MESSAGING
It's best to establish core messages for the site as early as possible, even if it's only in 'internal' language. This includes the 3 Ps: Proposition (what you offer to clients); Positioning (how you're unique within the marketplace); and Personality (how you do what you do differently or better).
STEP 3: LOOK AND FEEL (STYLE GUIDE)
For many companies, building a new website is also the time when they refresh the look and feel of their brand identity. Creating a style guide - a document which defines the logo, colour palette, fonts, imagery and other visual elements of the brand - will ensure that the website, and all the other marketing materials, are consistent. Creating a style guide before you embark on the website design helps prevent 'design drift' based on personal opinion ("I don't like that green colour - can we just add some purple dots in the corner?"), too.
STEP 4: SITE ARCHITECTURE
'Website architecture' sounds complex, but really isn't: It's just the term we use to describe the map of what information the site will contain, and how it will be organized. Architecture can be complex, but for most companies it will be quite simple. (I personally found this step to be the most difficult part of learning to put together websites, mostly because I like to think in sentences and paragraphs rather than boxes, but the best way to get started is simply to find a website you like and see how they've organized their information.)
STEP 4a: SCOPING DOCUMENT
A scoping document is an outline of the parameters/elements of the site, which can be used to solicit estimates from website developers. It includes things like the site architecture, functionality of the site (i.e. what you need the site to do), the number of design concepts and revisions you'd like, the timeline you want to work with, etc.
If you don't have an internal designer or marketing person, you may want to create a scoping document at the end of STEP 1 and include things like messaging and the style guide. But it's an important part of the process because it will allow you to compare apples to apples when you're assessing the estimates you get from suppliers.
STEP 5: PRIMARY CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
15 years ago, you needed to have all your content written before you started working on the site, because changing content later was often time-consuming and expensive. These days, you really just need headlines and homepage copy to start with - body copy can be written and uploaded later. (And for many people, it's easier to figure out copy once you've seen a basic idea of how the site will actually look.)
STEP 6: WEBSITE DESIGN
This is where the website developer/company you've engaged will put everything together, typically as follows:
- Website development team uses the style guide + architecture + primary content to develop 2-3 draft design concepts
- You (the client) provide feedback
- Development team provides revisions which incorporate feedback
- You provide second-round feedback
- Development team provides close-to-final design in a functional environment
- Final revisions are made to design
- You approve it
- Remainder of site is developed
If you've tried to jump to this stage without getting agreement on messaging, architecture and style guide, this step will be painful. But if you've done all the preceding steps, this stage will go surprisingly smoothly.
STEP 7: REMAINDER OF CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
Now that the site framework is up and has some basic functionality, it's easy to plug in the secondary and tertiary content - all those information pages explaining your services, your approach, etc. You can either provide copy to your website developer to upload for you, or you can get them to teach you how to use the content management system (these days, uploading website content is as easy as using Word) and you can play around with it yourself.
STEP 8: TESTING AND DOUBLE-CHECKING
At this stage, all links and social media feeds on the site are tested across a variety of browsers and operating systems, to ensure consistent, bug-free functionality.
STEP 9: GO-LIVE
The site is transferred to the host server and goes live. You can tell all your friends, colleagues and clients you have a new website!
STEP 10: KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER AND MANAGEMENT
It's always a good idea to get your website development team to hand over all your files and passwords at this stage, and to take you on a tour of your back-end systems. In an ideal world, you will continue a relationship with your website development partner for a long time to come, but on the off-chance that they suddenly move to another continent, it's best to know how to access the site if you ever need to.
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Just Stop Calling Yourself a Professional Website DesignerApril 1st, 2012
You may be getting paid to design websites.
But if you're doing any of these things, it's time to stop calling yourself a 'professional'.
Don't know who created this, but I found it here.
In many ways I'm lucky: I've worked on website projects for more than 15 years now, and I'm married to a web developer who knows a lot about all kinds of different coding languages. So while I don't design websites myself, it's pretty tough for an unscrupulous web designer to pull a fast one on me and leave me with a hideous, broken, or grossly overpriced website.
Unfortunately, I'm feeling like I'm in a tiny minority. In the past couple of weeks I've come across a number of new clients - and businesses which can't afford to be new clients, because they just spent their whole marketing budget on a disastrous website - who are in big trouble because they put their faith in someone who claimed to know what they were doing, but didn't.
Thanks to tools like WordPress, designing and building (basic) websites is easier (and cheaper) than it's ever been. That should be great news for clients, but instead it seems to have created a whole army of nincompoops who think that anyone who's able to download a WordPress template and stick the client's logo at the top is suddenly a 'professional' web designer.
It's making the rest of us look bad, and I want you to stop.
7 ways to know that you should stop calling yourself a professional website designer
In case you're not sure if you're actually a 'professional' website designer or not, I offer these 7 criteria. If you're doing any of these things, to any of your clients, just stop right now. Go find another career. In fact, I'm pretty sure you're going to have to find another career sooner or later, because your clients aren't as stupid as you think, and eventually they'll wake up to your nonsense.
1. You play fast and loose with your client's logo
If you can't manage to use your client's logo on a website without stretching it, changing the font on the tagline, or using it consistently across different website pages, you need to think about being an accountant or something, because your sense of aesthetics is insufficient for any career involving the word 'design'. Your client's logo is often the basis of their brand equity, and for small businesses it may be all they've got. Change it and at best you make them look unprofessional; at worst you've cost them real money.
2. You start using random colour schemes that have nothing to do with the client's brand identity
I've written about this before: When you start injecting new colours all over the place, you dilute the client's brand identity and set a pattern of inconsistency that can cause a whole lot of problems. Yes, it can be hard to create an engaging website if the client's logo is monochromatic - but it's up to you to identify that challenge and help the client develop an official colour palette. Adding random rainbow backgrounds is not the answer.
3. You use all kinds of different fonts...
...and then pretend not to know what the client means when they say their website "doesn't seem to look cohesive, somehow".
I got a call this week from a couple of women who were frustrated with the look of their new website but they didn't know why and their website designer wasn't returning their calls. The biggest problem? There were 4 different fonts on the homepage alone, none of which was the font actually used in their logo+tagline image. It's one thing to use a serif for the headings and a sans-serif for the body copy, just to offer a little visual interest, but more than that and the whole thing starts to look like a random collage. And you should know better.
4. You grab random stock photos and then don't bother to customize them in any way
Ah, stock photography and the internet. In many ways it's great: These days, you don't have to spend $10k on custom photography when you need shots of people on a beach or something. But stock photography almost always looks like stock photography: People can tell that that attractive, culturally diverse group of people gathered around a computer screen, with strong blue tones and a white background is something you found on iStock.
It makes the site look generic, and worse, makes people wonder if the content on the site is similarly generic. It's fine to use stock photos - just make sure you make them your own.
5. You lie to your client because you assume they're too stupid to know any better
The client is not stupid. In fact, the client may be a whole lot smarter than you are, and more than capable of creating their own website if they weren't so busy conducting symphonies or finding a cure for malaria. So don't lie to them just because you think anyone who doesn't know the difference between html and a CSS must be an idiot. If you can't bring yourself to refrain from lying simply on moral grounds, consider this: Sooner or later your client will figure out that you're not being honest with them, and they'll call someone like me instead.
6. You tell the client that something "isn't possible" when the truth is you just don't know how to do it
The bottom line is that when it comes to websites, almost anything is possible, given sufficient brainpower, time and budget. Sometimes you're on a deadline; sometimes the client just doesn't have the budget. But if you're telling the client stuff like "WordPress doesn't allow you to change the background colour" or "Flash and html don't work on the same website" or "It doesn't matter if the site doesn't work in Firefox - no one uses that any more" simply because you don't know how to solve the problem, you're lying, and you need to stop it (see #5).
7. You refuse to give your client their files or passwords even after they've paid you for the work
Among real professionals, the industry standard is that once a client has paid you in full for your website design, they own it. That means they own the files, the access to those files, the images, the passwords - everything, unless you have a prior agreement in writing. Refusing to give them these things (or not bothering to get back to them when, a year from now, they need something from you) in order to keep them beholden to you is unethical - and could set you up for legal consequences.
And that's what I have to say about that.
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