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Last updated: April 11th, 2012  
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Planning: the key to a great website

During World War II, Winston Churchill said "He who fails to plan is planning to fail" and much the same can be said for great web design. A number of steps must be followed to ensure that your website looks professional and does the job it was meant to do.

Before we look at the individual steps, it's worth asking why we need to plan - a website can't need that much planning, surely. Well actually, yes it can. For this to make much sense, we need to first consider the amount of work that goes into a successful website, and for that I'm going to use the iceberg analogy.

Why is a website like an iceberg?

Websites are like icebergs in the sense that people can only really see about 10% of what's on the surface. The part above sea level is the part the visiting public can see on their computer screens - they can see the colours and shapes and whether it looks attractive or not. But the part they can't see - the heavy-duty bulk of research, planning, programming, design and maintenance, etc. - is what keeps the bit they can see afloat. And much like the poor seamen on duty the night the Titanic sank, website users will never see the bulk of what's there unless it hits them.

That of course, should never happen. Visitors needn't be concerned with why something works the way it does. All they need to know is that the website they're visiting functions effectively and allows them to achieve their goal with as little effort as possible. This couldn't be the case though without the web developer's professional knowledge and expertise.

Website Iceberg Analogy

In this day and age, it's relatively easy to throw a website together quickly, but designing and making a website isn't the same as designing and making a professional website. There's lots more behind-the-scenes work involved that many inexperienced web developers will skip, whether in ignorance or in haste. Don't be one of them! If you're prepared to put in the extra work, you'll produce better looking and better working websites that will help make the web a better place for us all to visit.

Planning the design and development of a website

The planning and design process is the most important step and can be broken down into three main stages;

  1. Plan the construct: Instead of heading straight for Notepad or Dreamweaver, grab a pencil and notebook and start jotting! Your first step should be to think about the structure of your website; What will your main pages be called? Will there be sub-pages? And with future-proofing in mind, will you need to file your resources by year, genre, or some other category? Can your structure expand easily as your content does? Always keep in the back of your mind that what begins as a smaller project will almost certainly grow into something larger, so you need to be confident that your website front-end and back-end can accommodate that growth. Tear off bits of paper to physically move your ideas around until you're happy with the organisation.
  2. Make a mock-up (wireframes): I'm not talking about a fully working website here, or any kind of working website for that matter. What I mean is just the bare bones, again sketched out roughly on paper. Plan the zones of your web design; where will the main content go? The placement of the menu? Headers and footers? What about a search bar? Think carefully about all the important elements of your design and concentrate on creating a clean, fuss-free layout.
  3. Put the plan into action: Only now should you consider creating the images/logos/graphics, coding the HTML markup and writing the content that will actually be published to the web. You'll need to keep referring back to your paper notes and sketches to make sure that everything is on-track, but before you boot up Photoshop and Dreamweaver or Notepad, take a step back, take a breather and now ready yourself for another onslaught of information preparation. There are many, many interlinking factors that should be considered when making a great website, factors that I'll elaborate on in the following pages of this website...

Where to next?...

So you've done the preparation for your website, but what now? Once the plan is down, and the website structure and drafts are plotted, you'll be wanting to make sure your website design and layout are looking spiffy, right? Well, hang on for a minute - there are other things to consider first; What about the possible technical issues you face? You might have a computer and internet setup that can handle image intensive, Flash-fancy, widescreen websites, but it's more than likely that a good proportion of your vistors won't. You have some technicalities to bear in mind before you dive into a world of design.

Head over to the "Technicalities" page to find about the hurdles in successful website design...

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