Web Design Process Explained: A Phased Approach

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Building a website from start to finish for a client can be a daunting process, especially when you first get started. After all, clients are placing a lot of trust in you.

While individuals and companies might hire you to create a visually appealing website, we know that there’s much more that goes into it.

And with each new client you take on, you find yourself going over the same steps each time, no matter how different the projects are.

Having a standard design process in place can help make your job as a designer easier and help ensure your client’s needs are met.

In this article, you’ll learn why you should have a standardized website design process in place and the seven essential steps that every designer should take within that process.

Why is it Important to Have a Standardized Web Design Process?

What is a web design process?

A web designer process is the exact set of steps followed by the designer to complete a project.

Even though each client is unique and has different needs, you’ll find that you complete the same core tasks for each of them.

There are several reasons why it’s beneficial to follow a standardized process rather than just starting from scratch for every project.

It Saves You Time:

First of all, having a streamlined process can save you an incredible amount of time. You’ll never find yourself stuck wondering which part of the project to tackle next. You’ve already got the whole process down on paper.

The website design process is already long enough — Most designers report spending over 11 hours per website, with many spending 40 or more.

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It Builds Trust with Clients:

Having a reliable process in place also helps give your clients some peace of mind. They can rest assured that their project is getting the same level of attention and scrutiny that you provide to all of your clients.

This assurance is particularly helpful for clients you bring in through word of mouth — They’ve heard great things about your work, and your process will help ensure they get the same level of service.

Not only does having a set process in place guarantee that each client gets the same excellent service, but it can also help to give the client a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of their project.

They can have a greater understanding of everything that goes into their website design when you have a documented process you can share with them.

Keep in mind that many of the clients who hire you for your graphic design services won’t already be familiar with the work you’re doing — They just know what the outcome is. The process becomes a lot easier when they have a full understanding of how it all works.

It Ensures Nothing Falls Through the Cracks:

Finally, having a clearly outlined web design process in place helps you make sure that nothing is forgotten.

After all, can you imagine anything worse than finishing up a client project and realizing that you neglected to include an essential element of the website?

Taking a project from an idea in a client’s head to a fully functioning website is no joke — It’s going to take a lot of work on your part. Having a process in place ensures that your creative energy can go toward the work rather than the procedure.

A Simple 7-Step Web Design Process

Web Design Process Stage #1: Discovery

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The first step of the web design process is all about getting to know your client and their goals. After all, how can you start tackling their new website if you don’t know what they’re looking for?

First, you’ll work with your client to learn everything you need to know about their business. This is when you’ll ask questions such as:

  • What is their mission?
  • What do they sell?
  • Who is their target audience?

You’ll also want to determine the scope and goals of the particular project. Hone in on the exact outcomes they expect to see, and the deliverables they expect to receive.

Both you and your client must understand the full scope of the project before any design work happens.

You want to avoid a situation where a client is disappointed with the final product they receive because there was a miscommunication in that first meeting. This step is also where the contract becomes essential.

The discovery part of the project is where you can sit down with your client and talk to them through your web design process. This explanation will ensure they fully understand what they can expect from the first meeting until the time their website is up and running.

Not only is this a time to educate your client on the process, but it’s an opportunity for them to ask any preliminary questions they might have.

It’s also an excellent time for you as the designer to clarify any questions or concerns you might have about their goals.

Web Design Process Stage #2: Planning

Once you have a clear idea of what the client is looking for, you can move onto the planning stage. This stage is at the heart of the entire web design process — You’ll refer back to this part throughout the entirety of the project.

As designers, we’re inclined to want to jump right into the design phase. Remember that the planning phase is what builds the framework for the rest of the project.

First, this is the part of the process where you’ll create the sitemap.

Think of the sitemap as the website’s blueprint. It outlines the website structure and indicates the home for each page on the site. It shows how each page leads to the next.

Here’s an example of what a sitemap might look like:

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During this step, put together a list of each page that is going to be on the website. From there, you’ll structure those pages into a hierarchy, starting with the homepage and working your way down.

Planning the sitemap will help you to know what pages you need to create a design for. It will help you create the navigation for the website and indicate what content you’ll need for the site.

During the planning, you’ll also lay out what functionalities the website will need to have and how you’ll accomplish those. Are there plugins that you can add to meet the client’s needs? Do they need an e-commerce website or customer service functions?

You’ll also plan other technical aspects of the site, such as search engine optimization and any necessary security measures that should be in place.

Web Design Process Stage #3: Design

Next up, it’s time to move onto the actual design stage. This part is where you get to take the vision you have for the website and put it onto the page.

The design state of the process is vital — more than 90% of consumers report that a poor design would lead them to lose trust in a website.

It’s also not surprising that this part is the favorite for most designers!

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This step is where you create the visual design and layout of the website. The client’s color choices, logo design, website content, and branding will lead you during this stage.

This part of the process is where you consider all of the user interface design (aka UI design) elements such as icons, buttons, spacing, and flow.

As you’re working on the design portion, be sure to keep your client’s ultimate goal in mind. Is the website you’re designing going to result in the website user ending up where the client wants them to end up?

You and your client may have also agreed to other design deliverables such as graphics for social media and digital marketing — This part of the process is where you’d do those as well.

Web Design Process Stage #4: Development

The website development phase is where you take the front-end design you’ve created, and you turn it into a functional website. The development process might be done by you as the designer, another member of your team, or a separate web developer the client hires.

During the development phase, you’ll create the proper HTML or CSS code for each page you’ve designed. This part includes both front-end development and back-end development of the site.

Web Design Process Stage #5: Testing

You’ve completed the design and development of your client’s website — Now it’s time for the testing phase. During this phase, you’ll go through the entire site and make sure everything is working exactly how you planned.

First, you want to test the functionality of everything. Are there any coding errors or broken links? Is there anything that’s not working as it should?

Make sure the site works properly on desktop, tablet, and mobile, as having a mobile-responsive site is becoming increasingly important for bringing in customer sales.

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Next, you want to test the usability of the site. Someone should be able to land on the website and find their way around easily. If that’s not the case, you’ve still got a bit of work to do. User experience is vital.

Another important element to test is the site speed. People today aren’t going sit and wait for a slowly loading site. In fact, nearly half of consumers say they expect websites to load within two seconds or less.

Finally, make sure the aesthetics of the website look correct. Websites are visual creatures, and you want to make sure that everything is pleasing to the eye.

Web Design Process Stage #6: Launch

Once you’ve finished testing the website, it’s time for the grand finale — The launch phase. When you get to this step in the design process, you can get the site up and running on the client’s server.

Though you did your troubleshooting during the testing phase, make sure the client spends some time on quality assurance during the launch phase. This part is their opportunity to make their way throughout the site and ensure everything is working as they thought it would.

Remember that even during the launch phase, things can go wrong. There might be tweaks and fixes to make. You might encounter broken links or design that doesn’t quite fit the way you thought it would.

This step is also where you’ll help the client integrate their new website with any other services they’re using, such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tool.

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Also, be sure that if there are any parts of the back-end of the site that you need to train the client on how to use, that you’ve done that.

Once you’ve launched the website, you’ll hand over all of the deliverables to the client. Deliverables include anything the two of you agreed to in the contract, such as image files, etc.

After they’ve signed off on everything, the launch phase is complete.

Web Design Process Stage #7: Maintenance

The web design process doesn’t end when you launch the website and hand the project back to the client. Sites are ever-evolving entities that will require continued tweaking and maintenance.

Even if you were thorough during the testing phase to make sure everything was working correctly, there will still be bumps in the road.

Depending on the contract you have with your clients, your web design package might include this maintenance and technical support for a period of time.

Otherwise, it could be a service that you offer to your web design clients as an add-on to your web development and design package.

Regardless of whether you will personally be the one to handle maintenance on the site moving forward, make sure your client has a plan in place for dealing with any fixes and changes later on.

Not only do these extra steps help to ensure that the website is working as it’s supposed to, but it also helps to build long-term relationships with close clients. When someone asks that client for a recommendation for a web designer, you want to make sure yours is the name they give

Final Thoughts

Taking a website from start to finish is a huge undertaking, and having a reliable web design strategy in place can be invaluable.

From the discovery phase to the design, development, and eventual launch, you want to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

By following the seven-step website design process you learned in this article, you can ensure that the work you do for every client is your very best work.

Posted by Jason Bayless