[thelist] SITE BUILDING: plan of attack OR how do you experienced people tackle a from-the-ground-up website?

Austin Govella austin at desiremedia.com
Mon Jun 24 13:25:02 CDT 2002

> my question to all you experienced people is this... how do you go about
> preparing for and making decisions about a new website? are there stages
> i should go through? is there any sort of standard/recommended procedure
> to building a site? what do you do?

This is a big, big, big question. If there are a million designers and
developers in the world, then there must be four million procedures and
processes for building sites. The complexity of your eventual process will
vary based on your or your companies investment in the site, and the site'
s complexity.

Regardless of the complexity, the process has a few basic phases that
*everyone* goes through.

1. Who are you? What are you trying to say? And who are you talking to?

Frequently, with smaller sites you go evaluate these questions
subconciously. For larger sites you might commission marketing surveys to
analyze your audience your brand, and your positioning.

For a small personal site, you probably barely even think about it. You're
you, and you'll be talking about whatever comes to you. Your audience will
be your friends and whatever other web voyeurs happen by.

With larger projects, 'what you're trying to say' can be codified with a
content inventory and/or a list of tasks and features your site or
application will need.

The who you are and who your audience is helps you figure out what tasks
and features you need. If your audience is new computer users, then you
need help and how-to content. If your website represents a physical
location, then you need driving directions.

Who you are and who your audience is also determines *how* you deliver
your content. If your audience of new computer users is my mother, then
you need BIG type and really clear instructions. If your audience of users
is experienced developers, then you can use small type and bigger words.

2. Organize. Step 1 gave you what you need to produce (what content, tasks
and features). Now you need to organize this information.

Again, with smaller sites, the organization is probably rote. Your
personal site probably has  'about', 'links', and 'contact' sections.

For larger sites, you'll need to take all of your content and try and
think of logical piles to put everything in. Car stereos go with audio
electronics, and PDAs get lumped with the computers.

Whatever content you have, organize it in groups your users will be able
to figure out. Ideally, your organization will be intuitive for the user.
At least, they should be able to figure it out.

Once you're organized, label everything with labels your users understand.
  Will your users understand that 'time menu' refers to the calendar? What
about 'dance card'? Why not just call it calendar? Of course, if it' your
personal site, and you think your visitors will appreciate the wit, call
it 'the dance card.' If you're doing a web application for a corporate
organization, it will actually decrease productivity and cost money if you
invent a witty name for the calendar.

The resulting organization and labels can make up your directories and
navigation. Of course, an entire field of information architects spend
countless hours elevating this process into an Art. Again, it depends on
your needs.

3. Production.

You know what you need to produce, and how it needs to be produced (step 1)
. You know how it'll be organized (step 2).

Now, I think it's safe to grab the napkin and start doodling layouts.
Choose some colors. Write some code.

If you're serious about developing a solid process for use on larger, more
involved websites, I'd recommend picking up a book or two or doing some
reading on the web.

A final website is a gestalt experience created from the sum of a possibly
complex and complicated set of assumptions and decisions. How closely you
analyze those assumptions and how rigorously you evaluate those decisions
is entirely up to you. The devil is always in the details, and the more
details you can run him out of, the better your final website will be.

-- Austin

below I've listed a rough outline of my general process. It seems kind of
detailed, but frequently, the planning isn't much more than a few hours
with a pen and some scrap paper.

1. what is the product? what do you want the site to do?
2. who is the audience?
3. who is the company?

* the first three questions inform your style guide, tone of writing and
art, the colors you choose, overall look and feel

4. what does the audience want?
5. what does the company want?
6. what info and tasks does the audience need and/or expect?
7. what messages dos the company want to share?

* now you have a list of content and features you need to include in the

8. how does the audience want to access the content and features?
9. how do they want to navigate the site?

* this creates your information architecture

10. produce mock-ups
11. test, validate, and then adjust

* you're making sure everything works

12. produce final and launch

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