The Truth About Web Design
“Is web design hard?” a friend of mine asked me the other day and my answer to this question was “It depends who you ask”. For me, web design can be described as a challenging and yet fulfilling undertaking. You might be surprised to learn that the challenging aspect of it rarely has much to do with the technical side of things.
It is rather the human side that is most challenging because often you are required to fulfil people’s desires when half the time even those people themselves have no idea what it is that they want. Even when they have an idea, it is often never fully formed and in need of extensive improvement to realise the final concept. As a web designer you have to transform their vague comprehension of what a website entails and marry it to what they would like to achieve in reality. Web design is sculpting ideas and expectations into a tangible reality.
Meeting The Client
Let me point out that I am using the term “meet” figuratively as I rarely get to meet most of my clients in person since the entire process is often carried out remotely without face to face interaction, thanks to the marvels of modern day communications. Meeting the client is the process that entails getting to understand the client as a person or brand. On one hand, there is the category of clients that are very clear and precise about their conception of themselves or their brand.
They have a distinct understanding of what it is they embody and know precisely how that should be communicated to their target audience. On the other extreme end of the opposite side of the spectrum are clients who have no sense of who they are as a brand but most importantly have no comprehension of how a website fits into the management and promotion of that brand. Obviously there is a wide mix of types of clients who fall in-between these two extremes and the process of meeting the client is focused on identifying client needs.
Formulating a Strategy
Regardless of where a client lies in the spectrum outlined above, as a web designer, it is important to formulate a strategy for the website design. A strategy allows the web designer to have a clear execution plan with regards to the web design project. It is undesirable to have a website that is complete in construction but does not serve the needs of the client. The job of the web designer is therefore to ensure that the needs and objectives of the client are realised in the final product that is the website. Some of the most important considerations for any website project are invariably related to marketing and promotional efforts.
I might even dare to say that more than 80% of a website’s success is not usually tied to how well it is designed or how beautiful it is but rather on how well and effectively it is marketed and promoted. It is of no significance to have the most amazing website built when no one gets to see it. After all, the purpose of a website is to be viewed, thereby conveying information in one form or other. Depending on the client’s budget and how they perceive their website, they might choose to promote it organically through email lists and social media or make use of paid advertising. Search engine optimization is also a very good if not consideration when promoting a website.
Irrespective of the marketing strategy chosen to promote a website, it is essential that a content creation strategy is put in place. The marketing strategies mentioned above are ineffective unless they are used in the face of a solid content creation strategy. Content is the lifeblood of any website. It is what drives traffic to the site so that people can access content material that they find captivating. This is a major aspect of running a successful website that is essential although not well appreciated by clients. Often clients do not give as much thought to it as they should.
There are many forms of content types ranging from text and images through to audio as well as video formats. In order to keep site content fresh, a strategy in the form of recurring activities that publish material on the website is essential. Publishing a blog is often a good idea that ensures that the website has fresh content. Depending on the client’s creativity and available resources, a Youtube channel or a podcast to draw visitors to the website are also worth considering. In order to asses client needs and status with regards to content, I have created a content questionnaire that helps me asses the client’s content requirement and helps me plan their content strategy. The content questionnaire allows me to gain better insights into the client’s brand and create a solid content strategy based on their responses.
Code and Graphics
It is always a good idea to lay the ground work for a web design project by planning ahead with client assessments and the collection of content material. Once the initial phases involving the client have been done away with, the technical task of web design and development begins. Like I said at the beginning, the complexity varies depending on whom you ask. Most of my web design projects are implemented using the Joomla Content Management System, CMS or Wordpress at their core.
The design is done in the CMS so that content management is simplified and future edits of the website can be carried out without requiring any technical skills. With the CMS in place, all I do is give my clients a username and password so that they can log in to the site and edit content without being exposed to any code- unless they want to, of course. Building the website involves a mix of coding and graphics manipulation in order for everything to look on point and communicate the client’s brand message in the best light. Editing the site and adding content is a much simpler affair, which makes the client’s lives in updating the site very simple.
Testing and Review
Quality control is the final and perhaps most crucial aspect of the web design process. Having built the website according to assessed client needs, it is critical that problems that may occur when it runs are anticipated and eliminated before the site goes live. After the designer tests all aspects of the site, it is taken up for client review. During the review, the client makes a thorough assessment to see that the design meets their expectations and that all features promised for the design have been implemented successfully. It is only after the client gives the go-ahead that the website is published online. Often, there will be changes that the client will require and sometimes the web designer would have to backtrack with do-overs and lose a lot of work which the client finds unsatisfactory. The idea is to meet client expectations and deliver on promises.
A Human Encounter
When people hear the term “Web Design” most think in technical terms. They think HTML or JPEGs or PSDs; whilst these are prominent aspects that are definitive of a website, they are by far a small although important fragment of the bigger picture. For me, the truth about web design is that it is a human encounter that can be challenging at times- an interaction with clients in an effort to find the best representation of their brand embodied in bits of code, text, images and multimedia- the moment where the technical and the aesthetics meet for the higher purpose of communicating an idea or a concept to a potentially global audience.