Blog | The Website Design Process

21st September 2013

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When you are developing a new website – whether it is a simple brochure website design, a much bigger content management system, or an eCommerce website – a lot of people will be involved.  So how can you ensure the process works well?

The designer, the developer (coder), the content creator, the one entering all the content into a structure, and the one paying for the site will all have different ideas on whose responsibility is what. Collaborative working is always a challenge, which is where a clear process becomes key.

Content or design first?

Having developed over 70 websites in the last 8 years, ranging from huge blue chip clients (often with ‘too many cooks’) to small firms (often with very limited resources of time and people), we understand the challenge of getting a web site live. A frequent argument concerns whether content or design should come first.

The designer believes that they cannot evoke the right feelings about the company without first seeing the content. This content could be a brand identity, a defined colour scheme, the images or the tone and length of the content. Above the Fold poses the question “How can I give visual form to a message, if I hardly know what the message says.” What if the designer creates a short and snappy page, only for the content to arrive in a wheelbarrow?

The Content Creator (often an individual with the client firm) believes that they cannot begin to carve beautiful words without first knowing the design concept into which they will be placed. It can also be unrealistic to expect a client to write reams of content before the real process of building a site begins.

Our website design process

We have a clear – and rationalised – belief in our chosen process, one that is based on years of seeing web projects drag and drag because, well, writing content is damn hard.

We believe that content should (generally) come first. And by content we don’t just mean paragraphs and paragraphs of sweet copy, we also include the photos, videos, headings and overall AIM of the website – to sell, to educate, to be classy or to be enjoyable.

This is because content is what will ultimately drive the success of the website.

Content drives searchSearch engines need content

The majority of clients rely on search engines like Bing and Google to put their website in front of their readers. And Bing and Google really don’t care whether a website is pink or blue, has snazzy header graphics or gorgeous backgrounds. No -these global web servers predominantly care about WHAT you are saying, not about the surrounding graphics or icons.

It should be said here that even prior to content creation, any good web project manager will have provided the structure of the site and explained clearly to all parties the scope of the project in size and depth. Neither designer nor content creator can do their jobs properly if they don’t know whether the website will be 15 or 150 pages, whether the navigation is simplistic or in-depth, or who the website is aimed at.

“Content is King” was first declared by Bill Gates in 1996, and whilst numerous naysayers have come and gone citing design, functionality, form and purpose – content really still is king. People don’t want empty websites with nothing to read, just as they won’t share boring videos with their friends. Search engine results, retweets and links forwarded by friends all depend on the quality of the content.

Designers need to understand the content

wikipedia pinterest designsImagine building a beautiful bookcase perfect for a bedroom only to find out that it needs to house over 1000 books. Imagine designing a lightweight sports car chassis in yellow, only to discover the vehicle is a 3 tonne tractor for use on farmland.

Websites have to initially have a purpose, a function – Wikipedia is wholly different to Pinterest. Both contain immense amounts of content but whilst one wishes to teach and be factually correct, the other wants to evoke emotion and desire. Imagine if Pinterest was designed with huge areas for textual content and the user had to scroll and scroll to see the next image.

In summary

Imagine your designer creating a neat 3-paragraph and 2-image page, only for you to arrive with 9 essential paragraphs, 2 downloadable PDFs and a video. Imagine the time and cost of the redesign. Good website design is built around content.

Adam Pritchard

Founder of this agency and Shopit, Adam has nearly 20 years of digital experience, from the days of getting 3M and Pioneer UK web-friendly, to leading project teams on development and marketing projects for the likes of Tesco, Royal College of Nursing and National Tyres. Secretary of junior football club Winton Wanderers, most of the weekend is spent coaching kids, or reading the Sunday papers with coffee and cake.