From Then to Now
One of my first projects at Iron Design was a static small-scale website. It involved, roughly, a 20-page sitemap, and included very little dynamic functionality. The website was only designed for desktop computers — no mobile responsiveness. The process we followed simply involved creating a wireframe and refined design iterations created in Photoshop which were handed off to development. Those designs were directly translated via HTML and CSS to result in the final website. It sounds like an archaic website standard to follow today, but four short years ago, that was the standard. It’s hard to believe, I know, and a good reminder of how quickly the nature of the web is evolving.
Milestones not Rosetta Stone
Our current process is the result of years of defining, building, and adjusting both our creative flow and the relationship with our developers.
Not only have we reevaluated our process as a measure of success and failure, but also as a way to evolve with the advances in technology, and to transition the site into the client’s hands as smoothly as possible. Our web environment largely drives the way we design, and how we push our clients’ vision. I think that, with the adaptation of responsiveness, our web process will no longer be a set-in-stone rule book anymore, but more of a list of milestones we aim to reach that align with our scope, budget, and timeline.
We initiate with an in-depth discussion with our client on the what / why / when / where / and how of their website goals. Some of our preliminary questions include “Why have you decided to change your website?”, “What do you want your website to do?”, and “How involved do you plan on being post-launch?” Once we feel like we have a really good understanding of our client’s intentions, we then hit the books and do loads of research over loads of caffeinated beverages. (Some of us are coffee drinkers, and some are Mountain Dew-ers. It’s all good.)
With our research curated into an action plan, and with wireframes that demonstrate how the structure of the site can situate their desired content, our clients are presented with the next milestone in our process: content hierarchy. Often our clients are excited to jump into UI, but before we can talk colors and fonts, it’s really important to establish the content priorities. What is most commonly sought after by your site users, or what do you want to really drive home in your messaging? On the other end of the spectrum, what content is your analytics determining as outdated or unuseful? By de-cluttering and re-organizing your content, we can present users with a clear picture and give them an intuitive experience that takes them to their destination quickly.
The Fun Stuff
So we do a lot of talking in the early phases of a website project. But as the visual stuff begins, the studio quiets to the soothing hum of technology.
At this point we’re exploring everything from colors to photo styles, fonts to button styles, hover effects to plugin tools, illustrations to sound. The web is a universe of experiences and we want to make sure we create the right one for our clients and their site users.
No, not HGTV demo day, website demo day. And unlike the former, our demo day is more of an in-progress, iterative preview of the end result. We demonstrate our in-progress designs in the context of how they’ll actually be experienced: on a phone, tablet, laptop and desktop.
It’s really important to us to keep clients in this digital mode of thinking for the remainder of the project, as we’ve found that printed website UI results in an untrue, anti-climactic experience. You can’t scroll, click, hover, zoom or experience your design really filling the browser in an immersive way. Demo day is about getting a genuine reaction to the design from both the client and test users if they’re available.
The Burning Ring of Content
Following design is the daunting task of creating content. Each website’s content has to be tackled differently as our clients all have different stories to tell and different means to develop their content. Some clients choose to simply port the content from their old website into their new one, but most want to embrace the fresh start and re-write their story. Sometimes we’ll write 100% of the content in-house, and other times it’s more of a collaborative effort between the client and designer. We’ve even experienced serious launch delays because of the obstacle that writing and photography can become for our clients. It’s best to keep it real and consider your means, budget, and timing in order to decide how you want to handle content creation.
My Teacher Hat
If the website is created in a self-editable platform like WordPress, or with a custom-built admin tool, and if the budget allows, we provide our clients with the knowledge and tools to maintain their website like pros. It’s good stuff and it lets our clients feel comfortable taking over their own site once it has launched.
3, 2, 1, Launch
Launching is exciting, weird, and strangely quiet all at once. It’s a big deal but at the same time such a subtle event. On launch day, many wonder “Does anyone know? Has anyone seen it yet?”
This is actually an intentional step called ‘soft launch’. We quietly put the site out on your permanent URL for a week or two to gather feedback from anyone you chose to share it with. Once we’ve fixed any bugs or tweaks, we then ‘hard launch’ which is really just the act of promoting your website to the public.
A successful website is an evolving marketing tool and is never truly complete. In addition to the internet being an ever-changing environment, it loves time-relevant information, and senses if a website has remained untouched for a long time, (which can actually bump it down in a search listing!) So tweaking your site, adding fresh content as often as possible, or including a blog section are all good ways to keep your site relevant and alive.