How to create a good enough website
For most people, that's all you need. A website that's good enough. Not that breaks new ground, establishes a new identity, discovers new ways for people to interact online. Just a good enough website that didn't kill you to launch.
To be clear, the following advice assumes that:
- You're not trying to reinvent the idea of a web page--that the page is a means to an end
- You work with other people
So, here's what you do. First, realize that traditionally, the job of designer has been linked with the job of programmer. There were very good reasons for this. Designing a page that can't work is silly, and changing the design every time you change the way the page works can be time consuming and expensive.
As a result, web design became a sacred art, one done only by the blessed few, in caverns far away from where mortals tread. In addition, it became expensive, because design changes (which marketers love to make) got in the same queue as programming changes.
We need to start by divorcing the two practices. There's no longer a really good reason for the two to be so closely linked, especially since disciplined use of CSS and testing pays such dividends.
Start with design. Don't involve the programming team until you're 90% done with the look and feel of your pages. It's cheap to change design if it can't by supported by programming, and cheaper and faster to have design done in Photoshop before you commit to cutting it up and coding it.
I'm going to go out on a limb and beg you not to create an original design. There are more than a billion pages on the web. Surely there's one that you can start with? If your organization can't find a website that you all agree can serve as a model, you need to stop right now and find a new job.
Not a site to rip-off, but an inspiration. Fonts and colors and layout. The line spacing. The interactions. Why not? Your car isn't unique, and your house might not be either. If you've got a site that sells 42 kinds of wrapping paper, why not start by finding a successful site that sells... I don't know, shoes or yo-yo's... something that both appeals to your target audience and has been tested and tweaked and works. No, don't pick a competitor. That will get you busted. Pick a reasonably small but successful site in a totally different line of work. Say to your designer: "That's our starting point. Don't change any important design element without asking me first. Now, pull in our products, our logo and our company color scheme and let's take a look at it."
At this point, some people are aghast! Shouldn't the web be a design contest on top of everything else? I don't think so.
Now, take your finished Photoshop pages and get every single person who can possibly veto your project to say okay. THEN give it to engineering to make it work.
[Boy, am I in trouble. People hate posts like this one. They read all sorts of things into it that I don't intend. I'm certainly not against bespoke design, or designers. I certainly don't believe that all engineers are bad designers or even difficult to deal with. The point of the post is most definitely not to encourage you to commit copyright violations or even ethical ones. It merely works to recognize two things:
1. If you are unable to agree on an existing site, you are sure going to spend a lot of time and money trying to agree on a custom one.
2. The process of design and user interaction is best done separately from the process of server speed, database structure and uptime.