April 19th, 2011

Core Deliverables for Simple Web Sites

UPDATE: Because of the perennial popularity of this post, we’ve released an updated 2016 version, which you can check out here: Core Website Deliverables Part II – 2016 Edition

Today we’re going to start a series of posts that, for lack of a better title, we’ll call “Client Advocacy” posts. Our goal is to educate and demystify the Michigan web design and development process. In our opinion, a well educated client is just a better client. We’d rather have people decide to work with us because they made an educated decision, not because we dazzled them with tech-speak and snake-oil sales-talk.

Regardless of the end scope, almost any web design project starts with a few core deliverables that the rest of the site is built on. When you are out there gathering quotes and weighing the pros and cons that will determine your project’s scope, here are a few things to consider that you can’t do without.

Mock Web Site Design

Your mock design is a static image of what your site will eventually look like. It’s put together in Photoshop and it is almost always of the homepage of your site, with a sub-page variant depending on your needs. This is pretty straightforward and is the part everyone seems to understand. It’s pure design.

This is where all of the website designs in our portfolio start!  It’s also important during this process to think about how to think about the website design ROI, because design like any other investment should pay dividends.  And remember, you are (in 99% of cases) not the target customer- put the user first for a truly effective and compelling design!

HTML/CSS Template

The static-image mock design is then taken and converted into an HTML/CSS template (unless you are making a Flash site) which is how it will be rendered in the web browsers that all your visitors will use to navigate the site. At this point in the process the links appear active, roll-overs are usually working, the text is actually clickable, all that good stuff. From here the design can be plugged into any variety of CMS or eCommerce applications; whatever your heart desires

Content Management System Implementation

Virtually every modern website runs on some form of content management system (CMS). We’ll talk more about various CMSs and their pros and cons later. For now (since we’re focusing on the basics) we’ll assume that we’re going to use WordPress. Why WordPress? Because it is the best. It provides a handy balance of:

  • Advanced CMS Functionality
  • A Wide Variety of Plugins
  • An Integrated Blogging Platform
  • Cost Effective Implementation

We’ll talk more about WordPress site design some other time as well. We could really gush about it all day.

Content Integration

You are going to need to put something on your site. This part of a project can be miniscule (covering some basic “about” information and your contact details) or the bulk of the project (100+ hours of grind). You’ll want to have a clear understanding with your developer about how much work is involved, and who is doing it, when you are quote-hunting.

LauNching Your Site

Obviously, your site needs to wind up online, and it isn’t going to put itself up. This part of a project entails everything from selecting a host, to creating an account, to installing necessary software, uploading files, acquiring a domain name, repointing the site’s DNS, setting up e-mail, handling cross-browser testing, installing analytics, and on and on… Site Launch is often a “catch-all” phase of a project that is code for “Everything that didn’t fit neatly into the other development phases.” Beware of launch fees too. Developers will sometimes tack on additional fees at this point in a project and there really isn’t a good reason for it. If the rest of the development is based on hourly rates (or quotes based on hourly estimates) nothing has really changed. You’re paying someone for their time. In this case, their time is being used to launch your site.

From this starting point, the basic, informational, “brochure-ware” site, you can go almost anywhere. Are you looking for an eCommerce site? A forum site? For custom application development? You’ll want that same base for all of them. Even if you don’t have a lot of content, you’ll still need the design template, and you’ll still want WordPress available as a blog or for one of the many features that can be provided through WordPress’ extensive library of plugins.

So now that you have that basic platform in mind, what are your next most essential features? It’s time to get building.

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