Understanding Web Design
The most successful web design projects are those in which everybody involved has a clear understanding of the scope and direction. So here's a starter to help with that and get you thinking about what you'll need to consider before commissioning your website.
This is the place to start before you even think about what you might put on a home page. Alpine Interactive would be happy to help with these deliberations - most companies will sell this as 'consultancy'; we believe it is essential for a website to be successful.
This can be as vague as 'we think we probably need a website', or 'we need it to look better than our existing one'. Take a step back and look at it from an external viewpoint - what might people want to find out about you? What can you offer them? What will the audience want? We have expertise in this area in general and can perhaps give you some ideas on this front.
This might not be as simple as you expect it. Will you need password-protected areas for confidential information? Are you duplicating work at present, putting documents and news on both an external website and an intranet?
Website design is a multidisciplinary activity that usually involves specialist from the following sectors: information systems, information technology and communication design. For a small website this can just be one person, but for larger ones it will be team of experts. However, many other can also get involved, such as: Print designers, Brand consultants, Copywriters. Alpine Interactive have worked with all of these people or we can supply our own. There might be enough resources on your side to help deliver the project. Most common mistake is to underestimate how long it can take to populate a site if you are responsible for entering the contents. The website will need updating when it's live, which introduces us on to…
Website Content Management
A Web Content Management System (Web CMS) enables a site to be updated by an administrator who has no web programming or design skills. So essentially you won't have the ongoing need to employ web designers each time you want to make a change.
Are there existing databases or websites that the site might need to interact with? Things like CRM systems, staff records, price list information, email lists, invoicing systems, picture libraries. It is important to understand where data is stored in an organization to avoid duplication. Alpine Interactive has unrivalled experience in integrating programs and data. If in doubt, ask us and we'll send a technical engineer over to give it some thought.
You need a reliable, secure hosting company with a track record of hosting sites similar to yours. Alpine Interactive can host your site if this is required, or, when the scope of the project is finalized, we can advise on the level of hosting you may need. If using a third-party, make sure the company offers excellent customer service, as it won't be them that your clients will be ringing if the site is down!
PC-based Internet Explorer is still the major player. Firefox and Google Chrome are popular browsers, whilst Safari on the MAC has a decent fan base. By simply setting up Google analytics on your website (its free) will give you a break down of just what browsers your customers are using to view your content.
It is important to have a site that is as cross-browser compatible as possible. It is also important to consider access on mobile devices or PDAs, digital TV, etc. We have a wealth of experience you can call on to make sure you get the right results.
Domain name and web address
Check that the web address you want is free! It's worth considering all the alternatives such as .com, .co.uk, .net, .biz and potential misspellings if this is likely. Alpine Interactive can register domains for you, placing temporary messages or redirects if needed.
Is there a mood, a color scheme, a mission statement that the site must achieve. This could be as simple as a manual of corporate guidelines for branded work. A simple message can be you want to show how people enjoy using the products. Design isn't just pretty pictures. It covers navigation, information layout and hierarchy, includes copywriting and the tone of your voice, and much else besides.
An important question to ask at this stage is: what is the initital impression of the website.
Try to find other websites that you like and describe the reasons. Important apsects can be typography; the photography; the overall look-and-feel. Websites can have specific features or bells and whistles that appeal to the same customers. The more you can describe what it is you want, the better the result will be in achieving your requirements.
Possible risks and issues
It is good to avoid little things that get overlooked and might cause problems later. The main thing to remember is that once an overall concept has been agreed on and work has started, it's usually more difficult to do modifications on a web page than it is, say, a press advertisement. Some things to bear in mind are:
- Future proof - Expandability: is there room to add another menu item at some point in the future?
- Accessibility: will your design cause issues with the site's accessibility? By default, Alpine Interactive designs all sites to be fully-compliant with both legislation and bestpractice.
- Integration with existing systems: is your design suitable for integration with a content management system, or other back-end functionality?
- Information presentation: A design might look great with two paragraphs of text but unusable with a thousand-word product description and a table of dimensions and technical specifications.