Let’s face it, even if you are a seasoned web designer, creating websites has become more complex over time. Between responsive design, spam protection, search engine optimization, and Core Web Vitals, the web design process seems to involve more and more every day. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of everything you need to do.
For that reason, writing it out in order and creating a checklist for your to-dos is a good idea, which is exactly what we are doing in this article. Below, we are going over every part of the website design process from start to finish.
We talk about good reasons to establish a formalized process, preparatory steps, and step-by-step instructions for building a website from the concept phase to launch. The post is rounded off by post-launch tasks and important maintenance work to do once the site is online. Many steps also have links to more detailed resources.
In the end, whether you are designing a website for yourself or your clients, we want to help you get it done as quickly and stress-free as possible.
In this article:
- Why Do You Need a Process for Website Design?
- Pre-Design Preparation: Understand the Background of the Project
- An 8-Step Web Design Process – From Discovery to Launch
- 1. Know the Goal/Purpose of the Website
- 2. Estimate the Scope of the Design Project
- 3. Spend Enough Time Planning the Website
- 4. Create Website Copy for Each Page First
- 5. Design the Visual Elements of the Site
- 6. Add the Content to the Website
- 7. Test the Design Before Launching
- 8. Finally, Launch the Website
- Post-Launch Tasks: Continue Working on the Site
- What Does Your Web Design Process Look Like?
Why Do You Need a Process for Website Design?
We already touched on the main reason why you should establish a process for designing websites in the introduction. Creating a site that looks good, provides a great user experience, and performs well is getting more and more complicated.
Part of the reason for that is because the bar is getting higher. As the capabilities of websites and technology grow, so do user expectations. Case in point, due to the widespread use of smartphones, mobile loading speed has become a very important success factor for website owners.
Plus, the competition online is constantly growing. There are currently more than 1.5 billion websites online, which means people who surf the Internet have a lot of choices. You need to offer them a stellar experience to earn their visit; otherwise, they have plenty of other places to go to.
Besides users, as a web professional, you also have the needs of your clients to think about. They, too, have certain needs and expectations for their website. If your work can’t help them meet those, they will likely stop being your clients.
Finally, the web design process is more than just looks. It needs to be part of an overarching strategy and align with business goals, which requires a lot of planning. That involves planning the site content, which is central to attaining user interest and performing well in search engines.
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How Does Establishing a Process Help?
Formalizing your web design process makes sure you cover all those bases and don’t forget anything crucial. It enables you to do your best work and deliver results you are proud of. It also makes the entire thing easier to repeat. In the future, you just have to go through the same process again for your next client or website.
Plus, writing out your process acts like a blueprint that you can amend over time. If you learn something important on the way, you can just include it for next time. Alternatively, if a new requirement comes along, you can put that in as well.
In short, establishing a website design process puts doing excellent work on autopilot. It also removes the need to keep everything in your head and delegates it to a checklist instead.
Pre-Design Preparation: Understand the Background of the Project
Alright, enough with the theory; let’s jump straight into practice. Before starting with the actual design part, you first need to lay some important groundwork. That means gathering background knowledge about the project, which will inform many of your subsequent decisions.
Get to Know the Business of Your Client
Your first task is to understand who you are designing the website for. Different clients (including yourself) have different requirements, especially if they are from distinct industries. For example, the colors, fonts, and site copy of a law-firm website will not be the same as on a site for a donut shop (which is a shame, because who wouldn’t want to hire the good lawyers of Dunkin’ Defense Attorneys?).
Each has to project a different image and appeal to contrasting audiences. In addition, certain industries might have distinct conventions when it comes to design as well as legal or other requirements that you have to meet.
If you don’t take the time to understand the business you are designing for, it’s easier to get it wrong.
Familiarize Yourself With the Branding Requirements
In addition to demands deriving from the nature of their business, the client itself most likely has expectations of their own. Especially if it’s an established business, they likely have existing branding they want to perpetuate with their web presence.
After all, a website is not detached from the rest of the enterprise. Visitors familiar with it most likely expect an aesthetic they are already familiar with. As a web designer, it’s up to you to make sure that the website fits well into the rest of the brand.
Read the Client’s Style Guide for Written Content
The final preparation step has to do with the copy that will appear on the website. In the best-case scenario, that’s something the client provides. However, if creating it also falls under your purview, you need to familiarize yourself with the ground rules.
In this case, that’s the client style guide. It should lay out certain requirements for website copy like tone, formatting, and language. With those in place, it’s easier to write something that will fit in with the rest of the business.
If you or your client don’t have a style guide, now is a good time to prepare one or at least lay out some guidelines that you can take into account while working on the copy.
An 8-Step Web Design Process – From Discovery to Launch
With the preparations out of the way, we now directly jump into a step-by-step rundown of the website design process.
1. Know the Goal/Purpose of the Website
The first step in designing the site is laying out the general purpose that it’s supposed to fulfill in your client’s business. While all websites have certain things in common (deliver information for Internet users), the specifics can vary a lot.
For example, a simple brochure website, a blog, or an online shop likely don’t have the same goal. In the first example, the purpose might be simply to inform visitors of the existence of the business and provide a phone number that customers can call. The second website type has its focus much more on delivering content and possibly building an email list, while the third variety primarily wants to sell.
Of course, you can also have several goals simultaneously, and it’s not always as clear-cut as the examples above. Therefore, definitely take the time to fully understand what goals are behind the website you are about to design, even if it’s your own.
In order to do so, useful questions are:
- Why does this website exist in the first place? What is it supposed to achieve? How does it align with the larger business goals? What is its main message?
- Who is the intended audience for this website? What needs of theirs is the site trying to meet? How should visitors feel while interacting with your site?
- Who are the direct competitors? How should this website be the same as theirs? How should it be different?
Make sure to spend enough time on this step. Without clearly defining the goal of the end result, it’s possible that the project starts off in the wrong direction, which can be costly and time-consuming to correct. Doing one or several discovery meetings and putting together a project brief can help clarify the website goals and put everyone on the same page.
2. Estimate the Scope of the Design Project
The next step is establishing the project scope. This is important for several reasons:
- Time estimation – Most web design clients, once they have agreed to work with you, will want to know when you’ll be able to deliver the work they are paying you for. By establishing the scope, you can better plan ahead and give them a more reliable estimate as well as specific timelines for deliverables. This helps manage expectations and stave off conflicts.
- Cost projection – Speaking of payment, scoping out a website project beforehand also allows you to price it. You can better understand how many hours it will take you to complete and thus what it will cost (make sure to build in some buffer for when, not if, something unexpected happens). It also allows you to establish milestones at which you deliver parts of the work and receive parts of your fee.
- Scope creep prevention – It’s typical during the web design process that clients decide they want something not in the original agreement. This messes up deadlines, the work schedule, as well as the agreed budget. Defining and agreeing on the scope beforehand helps prevent that by creating clear boundaries.
A popular tool for managing scope is to use a Gantt chart.
It aligns everyone involved with the project and helps to keep up with the timeline.
3. Spend Enough Time Planning the Website
After that, it’s time to do some concrete planning. You know how they say, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Well, in web design, there is definitely some truth to that.
As already established, undertaking to design a website is a complex endeavor, and the more you can figure out beforehand, the easier it will be for you down the line. For that reason, take your time to:
- Determine key pages – Any must-have pages depend on the kind of site you are building. While some are pretty much universal (the homepage, about page, legal pages) others make more or less sense for different projects. Thinking about this beforehand helps you plan the various designs you need, as well as the site navigation.
- Determine the website structure – The structure of a website greatly influences its user experience. It determines how easy it is to navigate and find the content you are looking for. A good structure also makes the site more crawlable, giving it an SEO boost. A sitemap is a great tool to figure out the architecture beforehand and the relationship between pages.
- Create wireframes/mockups – Wireframes are an indispensable part of the website design process. They help visualize the page layout, increase usability, and build a skeleton of what your pages will look like before dealing with design considerations. They are also a good way to agree with others on a shared vision.
For more details, refer to your website planning template.
4. Create Website Copy for Each Page First
After the planning phase, it’s time to start the design process. The first step for that is to create the written content that will appear on the web pages. This is one of the most important steps in the website design process and something that a lot of people get wrong.
First of all, design follows content instead of the other way around. The copy determines much of the look of your pages. You don’t want to be in a situation where your design is finished, but you notice that the written content doesn’t fit the page or that it seriously breaks the layout you had in mind. For that reason, writing comes first.
Secondly, your pages’ copy determines the keywords they target and topics you want to compete on. Therefore, they are also part of the information architecture. It’s here that clients might also need the most guidance.
Sure, some flexibility is possible here and might even be required. There might be revisions, and content can still change. In addition, copy that’s not too central to the design, e.g., product descriptions, can also be represented by placeholders for the moment.
However, you want to have at least a rough idea about what you need to accommodate in your page layouts before you start creating them. This saves you from having to make time-consuming changes later.
5. Design the Visual Elements of the Site
With the written content in hand, the next step is to deal with the visual side of things. First stop: website branding.
Here, it’s possible that a lot of the aesthetic has already been established through existing client branding. In that case, your main responsibility is to make sure that you represent it in the website’s design as well. If no branding exists yet, it’s up to you to create it in accordance with the knowledge you gathered in the discovery phase.
After that, it’s necessary to translate the branding into the website design. In WordPress, this happens through the theme. Here, you can either create your own custom theme or choose an existing theme. Both offer different pros and cons.
Obviously, creating a theme from scratch is more work; however, it allows you to better accommodate whatever the website needs. On the other hand, when you go with an existing theme, a lot of the legwork has already been done for you. Yet, it might not be all you want or need.
Of course, you can also do a hybrid approach and try to find a theme that is 80 percent where you need it to be and then customize it to accommodate that missing 20 percent. Thanks to block themes and the WordPress Site Editor, this has become easier than ever, even if you don’t have development skills.
Finally, part of this stage is also creating or gathering the visual content that will appear on your pages. That means any images, photos, icons, graphics, videos, or other visuals that you need to integrate into the page layouts down the line.
6. Add the Content to the Website
With the design established and the theme built, the next step is to populate your website with content. In this stage of the web design process, switch out all the placeholder text and visuals that you might have been working with for the real deal.
Here, it’s important that you pay attention to the right formatting. That means using headings of the right order, correctly sizing and compressing images, and ensuring content readability.
This phase also gives you the opportunity for some last-minute polish in case something did not work out exactly as planned. This can always happen, so be ready for it.
7. Test the Design Before Launching
Thorough testing is a crucial stage of designing a website. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world to unveil your new website to the public, only to discover that something is broken or not looking right. So be sure to test rigorously.
The first step for testing is to create a staging site. This allows you to test the site and theme in the same environment where the live site will reside in the end. Doing so can show you any potential conflicts or problems that didn’t come up in your development environment.
After that, go through all the important parts of the website:
- Ensure all forms work – Web forms are crucial for conversions, whether for an email newsletter or lead generation. Give all of them a test run, make sure that they work, and check that their submissions arrive where they are supposed to.
- Test all links – A well-planned out site architecture is only worth it if users can actually take advantage of it. For that reason, ensure that the links on your site go where they are supposed to and that they are not broken. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to automatically scan for the latter.
- Look for design or UX errors – Go over the rest of the site and see that it appears and behaves the way you want it to. Definitely include the responsive version and test it on actual mobile devices.
- Use different browsers – Chances are you used one main browser to build the site. If that is the case, it’s crucial that you test the site in other browsers as well and see that its layout and design hold up.
- Check cookie notices – Messages about cookie use have become somewhat mandatory these days. So be sure to have them in place and that they are working. Depending on the location of the business, you risk fines otherwise.
This stage is also where you invite other stakeholders like your clients to get involved with the testing process. After working on the same project for a long time, it’s easy to develop blindness to existing issues. Getting fresh pairs of eyes involved can uncover problems that your mind has become oblivious to. Plus, you need client sign-off on the website before launching anyway.
Of course, implement all the feedback you receive that points to something that needs correcting.
8. Finally, Launch the Website
When you are done testing, it’s finally time to put the site out for the world to see. Here, too, it helps to have a checklist at hand to make sure everything goes smoothly.
From connecting Google Analytics and Search Console, setting up security and backups, to creating user accounts, there are a lot of things to organize in the background. After all, a website is more than just the design on the front end.
In order to help you cover all your bases, we have a detailed launch checklist that you can use to go over the entire process. You might also want to work together with your client to plan the launch. For example, it might be a good idea to plan an email campaign for the announcement, run a social campaign at launch, etc. This way, you can get more eyeballs on the site right away.
After that, it’s simply time to 3, 2, 1, launch! Get that site out there so that people can see your hard work.
Post-Launch Tasks: Continue Working on the Site
Launching a website is not a one-and-done deal. It requires constant effort to bring in traffic and make sure the site stays safe. While that’s not as much work as the initial web design process, it’s still something you should plan for.
Keep Up With Website Maintenance
It makes sense to make the task of maintaining the website a part of your web design agreement. It’s a crucial piece of ensuring the site’s quality over time.
The most important factor here is security. Nothing will tank rankings, traffic, and reputation faster than a lapse in this area. A defaced website will repel visitors, and hacks that end in spreading malware or similar problems get you blacklisted in search engines.
For that reason, check security measures like your site activity log on a regular basis. That way, you get alerted early if something is amiss and can take measures before it gets worse.
Aside from that, part of website maintenance is:
- Updating WordPress core, plugins, and themes (unless you have a managed hosting provider)
- Running and verifying backups
- Answering blog comments
- Going through and deleting spam comments
- Database maintenance
For more details, refer to the article above.
Continue Adding and Creating Content
Website growth is dependent on bringing in traffic. Content marketing and blogging are proven ways of doing so. They help your website to:
- Rank for more relevant keywords
- Build expertise and establish trust with visitors
- Show search engines that it’s active and well maintained
Therefore, continuing to add high-quality content and updating the pages is definitely something that should be part of your web design process. Whether that’s something that clients do for themselves or hire you to do is up to your agreement.
Track Site Performance Markers
The final crucial post-launch task is tracking website performance metrics. They tell you whether you are moving towards or away from what you are trying to achieve with your website.
What makes sense to follow up here depends on your goals. It can be the number of visitors, leads, conversions, sales, or else. We talked about this earlier as part of the web design discovery process, so it should already be on your agenda.
The key here is to actually have the means to track what’s important and then follow up in order to see how it’s developing. That means having performance tracking tools like web analytics in place, then making it a point to check back regularly and use the data to further improve your website. This creates a positive feedback loop that, if followed, will help you grow it.
You might also do some A/B testing for different website elements to improve them further. Of course, don’t forget to also check back on performance metrics like page loading time, as this is also crucial for website success.
What Does Your Web Design Process Look Like?
The task of creating a website in the current environment can be overwhelming due to its requirements. One of the best ways to reign in that feeling is to establish a formalized web design process.
Having a plan in place allows you to go through it one step at a time. It gives you a scaffolding that you can move along with the peace of mind that you don’t forget anything crucial and everything that needs to get done will get done.
Above, we have laid out a basic template for designing websites that you can adopt for yourself. From the design discovery phase to post-launch tasks, it’s all there. Modify it as needed to make it your own.
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