Building an Effective Website Part 3: Design Phase

This is the third post in our series on the process of building an effective website! We’ll be explaining the entire process in great detail so you’ll know what to expect when you work with Indelible. If you’re a web developer or a marketing professional, borrow what works for you and keep us in mind when you need some staff augmentation :-). Our process involves several phases:

Designing a website – it’s more than just making an attractive layout. All that time we spent painstakingly writing a plan that identifies how the site will accomplish its goals really begins to show fruit at this stage.

While the written plan informs the data architecture and content, the design is a visual plan that synthesizes the strategy into an effective user experience. Good design should not only look amazing, but should absolutely be tailored to your target audience. We want to be sure that the site is both intuitive and appealing for the intended users.

Creating Mockups

At Indelible we prefer to implement a design phase during which a professional graphic designer from our team first aims to understand the brand, target market, and overall goals of the site. Then, after reviewing the content, the designer will create mockups that are simply static images of key pages (or even better, all of the pages!) from the site.

Each mockup reflects consideration of the target audience and the user journey they are intended to take. They employ color psychology, relevant design trends, and even modify angles & edges based on wild details, like the age bracket of the intended user.

Reviewing Mockups

Building an effective website is an incredibly collaborative process, and as such, you as the client still have a lot of responsibilities during the design process. Your key responsibility during this phase is reviewing and approving the mockups.

When you review mockups, we’ll outline the rationale for why they will appeal to your target audience. It’s important to remember that this might not actually be you! This is one of the trickier parts of the process – trying to put yourself in the shoes of your target market in order to best evaluate design choices.

This is part of why we love the designers on our team so much. Not only are they incredible people, but they are experts at thinking from the perspective of different kinds of users!

You’ll be asked to evaluate their design decisions within the context of both how it speaks to your end users, and how it represents your brand or organization.

And you’ll be asked to do this within a specific time frame.

Time Frames

For the sake of completing the project on time and within budget, someone on your team will need to be available to provide prompt feedback on design mockups. This person should have the authority to approve the mockups or request changes as needed so that the project can stay on track.

Every project is a little different, and we like to set the expectations for response times with each client to make sure they’re realistic for the project, the client, and ourselves.

The Danger of Stalls

Web agencies may not always relay this information, but one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a project is that the mockups go out for approval and then the line goes dead. When projects stall at this point (or any point, really) nobody wins – the project falls behind schedule and it can wreak havoc on our resource management, schedule, and bank account.

It’s also probably worth noting that the longer it takes to get late approvals back the lower on the list of priorities a project gets. Too long and other projects will take its place and it will be relegated to the dreaded “when-we-have-time” zone.

Yes, you read that right: significant delays in response here (or at any point in the process) force our team to shift focus to other projects. It’s not personal. We just have to keep the lights on.

In true systems thinking fashion we have developed tools to guide our clients through this process so that everyone can win!

Guided Approvals

It’s not that clients don’t want to review and approve the designs, but sometimes the process can be overwhelming, and many times the rest of work just gets busy. We understand that, and have developed a guided checklist to help you work through the process of approving mockups (or requesting changes) to make it as painless as possible.

At Indelible all of our SOPs and checklists are living documents, so your checklist may be a little different. At the moment, our approval checklist looks something like this (with project appropriate variations):

  • Does the mockup adequately support your brand & style?
  • Are you satisfied with how the look and feel appeal to your target audience?
  • Does the layout support the intended user journey?
  • Are the calls-to-action asking users to take the appropriate actions to support your business goals for the site?
  • If there is content, is it correct?
  • If there is placeholder content and we’re not writing your copy, do you expect the intended content to fit in this design?
  • Do you have any other comments or changes?

You’ve probably noticed that there’s very little about preference, and that’s by design. It can be easy to fall into the trap of chasing preferential design changes based on the tastes of one or more stakeholders. There’s nothing wrong with making some changes for the sake of preference, but remember that what appeals to your target audience is often very different from what appeals to you and your stakeholders. That’s why we work with professional designers!

Wrapping it Up

We could talk a bit about how this process can go back and forth a bit, but it’s just a loop. Change requests come back and we start the design/approval process all over again until the designs are refined to darn near perfection.

Once everything is approved we move into building the site, which we’ll cover in the next article in this series.


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