Backstory: In 2010 we wrote a post on core deliverables for simple sites and since then it’s become our most popular post. A lot has happened in the intervening six years and while a lot of that post still holds true, it’s about time for an update. Read the original post here- Core Deliverables for Simple Websites.
While every project is unique, there a handful of deliverables that make up the core of every website design and development project that we do. We’ve detailed a few of them below so that you can better understand any proposal that we (or any other web developer) might put in front of you.
Wire framing is the equivalent of designing a website on a white board. While our wireframes may look more polished than that, the concept is the same. We begin our process with wireframing because it allows you to have critical conversations about the rough layout and content of your website, including – who you are, who your audience is, what your message for them is, and what goal you want them to take – before we commit our resources to refined design mocks. You don’t want to spend a lot of time making something look pretty if the foundation is rotten.
Unless you are starting from a stock theme, you are going to need to design a site before you build it. Mock design still means knocking out static images in Photoshop, but the game has gotten more complicated since 2010. Now more than ever, you need to be creating your designs with the web in mind because people are browsing on a greater variety of screen sizes and proportions than ever. This means that virtually every component of the site needs to be rendered by the browser so that it can adapt to varying displays. Embedding design elements in images (or worse embedding text – an SEO no-no) is going to get messy once you’re not viewing the site in the ‘ideal’ format. The current trend towards simplicity and flat colors isn’t just about style and aesthetics – it’s good sense when you have to convert that design to a theme that needs to both be responsive and fully integrated with a content management system.
Establish a Hosting Environment
Your website has to live somewhere. Setting up a hosting environment means making a home for your site. If your site is really simple and you need to be particularly budget conscious, a shared hosting environment might be the way to go. For any established business however, we now recommend getting a sturdy VPS package as a minimum starting point. Being on a VPS means you can have more direct control of your environment. You don’t need to share it with a bunch of other sites, you can really get into the nitty-gritty of tweaking the settings when you need to (and sometimes you need to).
Setup a Content Management System (CMS)
Just use WordPress. You could use something else, but why? It’s the most used CMS on the internet today and is trusted by publishing brands as big as the Wall Street journal and the New York Times. Your ability to leverage its strengths depends on the skill of your developer but that’s true of any platform. With a qualified developer who knows their way around the system, the sky is the limit.
Do not choose an enterprise level content management system. This is a trap. Don’t do it. More on this later.
Develop Your Theme
Now that we’ve got a place to build, it’s time to build. Theme development is when we take the mocks that we’ve designed and convert them into a live theme that will function on WordPress. In the past, this might have been called something like “html/css templating” but in a world where everything is built on a CMS (instead of a CMS being some huge perk) you are creating a theme for a CMS. Once this is done, you should have a live homepage and the ability to build and flesh out menus and subpages.
Customized Content Management
A big advancement that we’ve made since 2010 is the ability to have fully realized ‘custom content types’ and ‘custom fields’ as part of your site. This allows us to create intelligently architected content where similar pieces of content are organized into groups that the site can treat as discrete objects. The vanilla version of this is the ‘post’ and after all WordPress started as a blogging platform so that makes sense. That kernel can be drawn on to create distinct objects for everything from products or services to staff members or case studies or projects or clients and testimonials.
Once you’ve got your theme built and your content management tools set up we can start building out site content. What drives the complexity of a project under this system is rarely the amount of content. Instead it’s about the number of templates and content objects that need to be built into the system. Once build you can have one case study or staff member or product, or a thousand of the same. It takes some time for each obviously but it’s data entry more than anything.
The exception to the above rule is when your content doesn’t exist yet. Sometimes you need to create content before it can be added to the site and that opens a whole new set of deliverables like photo shoots, copy writing, video production, and graphic design, which we’ll save for some other time.
Quality control is about having good systems in place to finish a project and get it ready for launch. Cross browser testing used to be the big thing here, and that’s still very real, but now it’s more about varying devices and checking more complex functionality. Internet explorer is steadily going away and it’s getting harder and harder for the internet’s users at large to hang onto their old versions of IE as updates become mandatory. Firefox is also waning as Chrome’s market share grows and Safari just isn’t that problematic.
The Internet has become more security conscious so a lot of these deliverables now have to do with properly configuring your site’s systems and making sure those same systems aren’t breaking things in the live environment. We particularly pay more attention now to how email gets successfully delivered than ever was relevant in the past.
Similar to quality control site launch is still a very real thing and it involves a let of technical details and double checking and setup of systems after launch so I won’t go into everything here. I mostly mention this deliverable now to underscore that there is a lot that needs to happen and while none of it is highly visible or exciting, it does take time. I still have people ask my why it takes so much time if the site is ‘done’ and the short answer is simply – it’s complicated.
Post Launch Follow Up
Once your site is live, post launch follow up means two things: technical and personal. On a technical level you want to check that everything is working in the live environment and do another round of QC.
On a personal level, your developer should be leaving time to follow up with you, make sure the site is functioning and meeting your needs and provide training on how to use any aspects of the CMS that you need to understand and don’t. The project isn’t really done until that hand-off has taken place.
Don’t Forget the Project Management
As a side note, on all our proposals, we break project management out as a separate line item. We’ve found that roughly 15% of every project is project management time, so instead of trying to build it into every deliverable, we look at this separately at the end. It’s a system that’s worked well for us and these projects don’t manage themselves, so whenever you are reviewing a proposal see if you can identify where this time is included and make sure your developer can give you a straight answer if you ask.
That does it for now. This review was made me conscious of how many side deliverables that even simple projects have, so we’ll probably visit that topic soon to talk about the most common or popular deliverables that get added to a website project.
Until then, cheers!