Preparing for and Participating in the Web Design Process

Tips — from a web designer — on how to get the most out of your website redesign.

So, you’re looking to redesign your website. How do you prepare? What do you need to know? How do you make sure you get what you need?

Following, you will find tips, pointers, and things to consider — from a web designer — that will help you get your project off to the right start. Settle in.

Prepare

Know Your Users

Understanding your website’s users is extremely beneficial. Here are a few questions worth pondering:

  • Who is coming to your site?
  • Why are they coming to your site?
  • Are they looking to carry out a specific task?
  • What expectations do they have when arriving on your site?

Having an understanding of your users is essential to guide decision-making in the design process. These insights will help a designer focus on goals and outcomes, rather than just aesthetics.

For example, one of our clients at Blend is a large university. We’ve determined that prospective students are one of their most important groups of visitors. We’ve also determined that these visitors are coming to the site in search of information related to a specific major. To cater to the needs of this group of users, we placed a “Find Your Major” search feature near the top of the homepage, providing an easy path to the information that matters most to these users.

An easy first step to gaining insights on how users navigate your site is to review the website’s analytics.

An easy first step to gaining insights on how users navigate your site is to review the website’s analytics. This may help you identify some of the primary tasks a user is coming to your site to complete. Conducting focus groups, developing personas, or working with a content strategist are a few other ways to gain insight about your users.

Know Yourself

It is important to think about the capabilities of your internal team during the design process. Ideally, a website design suits the needs of your users and your organization, while also ensuring that the level of effort involved in maintaining the design is in-line with your organization’s resources.

If you’re a smaller organization with a small internal team, you may consider a design that is easier to manage. In this case, complex layouts with countless embedded blocks may not serve you well, as a design of this type takes considerable effort to maintain.

Larger organizations may prefer more flexible and complex designs and are prepared to take on the additional time and responsibility involved in managing this type of design. In this scenario, a designer is less likely to shy away from complex layouts due to the capabilities of a larger web team.

Get Familiar with Accessibility

An often neglected aspect of web development is accessibility. Web accessibility focuses on making the web usable for people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and/or visual disabilities. Most websites include visual and technical barriers that prevent these users from interacting with or accessing their site altogether. Simply put, accessible websites are designed and developed in a way that serves these users and the tools they rely on to browse the web.

Making accessibility a priority on your next web project is a no-brainer.

Making accessibility a priority on your next web project is a no-brainer. The added cost involved in creating an accessible website is minimal. In fact, accessibility often boils down to showing restraint during the design process. Working with and trusting a designer who understands the best practices regarding accessibility is key.

Your organization may be required by law to adhere to certain accessibility compliances. Before diving into your next web project, it is important to address the following questions: Are you required to, or striving to meet Section 508 Standards or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines? If so, what level of compliance are you targeting? Consider seeking legal counsel to find the answers to these questions.

A Few Notes on Branding

Managing your brand is extremely important on and off the web. Your brand communicates who you are and is a key identifier for your organization. Before jumping into your next web project, take some time to think about your brand. A designer can help you address any of these issues, but it doesn’t hurt to think about these things in advance. For example:

  • Does your branding need to be refreshed?
  • Is a new website an opportune time to give your brand a facelift?
  • Do you have brand standards that a designer can reference?
  • Will your logos remain readable on a mobile device?
  • Do you have a license to use your brand’s font on the web?

If you’re looking to refresh your brand, communicate this to a designer early in the process. If this is the case, a designer can focus on branding before moving on to designing specific web pages. Creating a “mood board” or “style tiles” consisting of fonts, colors, and basic design elements can be effective in trying to determine the overall look and feel of the website before diving deep into the design process.

Maybe you have a brand standards guide, but it doesn’t cover web design. Or maybe you don’t have a brand standards guide at all. If so, that’s okay. A good designer can work with an organization on how to apply their branding without sacrificing the best practices of web development and usability. (After all, the perception of a brand is directly related to a user’s experience.) Ideally, organizations are willing to be flexible, and work with their designer to make the right decisions for their brand and for their site’s end users.

Organize and Provide Assets

It’s important to provide a designer with the assets needed in order to do the job. Designers will need access to files such as logos, graphics, and photography in order to craft the best possible designs. Taking inventory of, and organizing your organization’s design assets ahead of time, will ensure a smooth start to a project.

This doesn’t have to be thorough or painstaking. Simply collecting a few files in a folder and sending it to your designer can get them on their way. A designer can easily reach out if there are other specific assets that are needed.

Keep Performance in Mind

Web performance refers to the amount of time in which web pages are loaded and displayed in the user’s web browser. In simple terms, web performance = speed.

Performance is important and must influence decisions made in the design process. Countless case studies have shown an increased bounce rate for sites with slow load times. Users can become frustrated, and leave with an unfavorable impression of your brand. Performance especially affects mobile users, as mobile devices are less likely to have a strong network connection.

You don’t need to know much about performance, other than that it is important. An excessive amount of large images, videos, and decorative elements can contribute to poor performance. A designer can offer insights on how to optimize your website’s performance. Be sure to ask. 

Communicate Future Plans

“Now that the site has launched, we’d like to add a search feature.”

Requests like this are common and can be more difficult than necessary to implement, especially if designers and developers were left in the dark about this future update.

If you have a future update in mind, even if it’s a rough idea that you’re unsure about, be sure to communicate this early in the process.

If you have a future update in mind, even if it’s a rough idea that you’re unsure about, be sure to communicate this early in the process. Doing so gives the designer an opportunity to think ahead about how an update will be implemented in the future, even though it isn’t within the current project’s scope. This early communication can make a significant difference in the cost of implementing the update down the road.

Participate

As a representative of your organization, you have an important role in the design process. You hold specific knowledge about your industry and organization that designers do not. A good designer will lean on your expertise during the design process, making your engagement in the process essential. Here are a few tips on how to participate during the design process.

Listen, Ask Questions, and Provide Feedback

Start by listening carefully during discussions and presentations, and even consider taking notes so you can reference them at a later date. Also be sure to read through all of the details of project documents. This level of engagement ensures that we’re all on the same page throughout the process.

Ask questions early and often. Since a good designer will be prepared to explain the thought behind their work, there is no reason to be afraid to raise questions. Don’t make assumptions. If you’re wondering how a certain area of the design will be managed in the CMS (content management system), or why a certain decision was made, now is the time to ask.

Provide timely, thoughtful, and detailed feedback. This is absolutely key, as feedback helps develop an understanding between the client and the designer. A designer lacks certain knowledge that is unique to your industry and organization, so be thoughtful when providing feedback. Being timely is also important, as it gives a designer more time to address feedback without throwing off the project timeline.

Describe the problem first. When providing feedback, focus on describing the problem first before committing to a solution. On occasion, a client will suggest a change without being fully aware of its effect on the user. For example, a client may ask to adjust the layout of a page, before thinking through how the change will affect users on a mobile device. A more effective approach may be to discuss the issues with the current layout and talk through the best possible solutions with a designer. This ensures that both parties are working toward the established goals of the site.

Include others. When gathering feedback internally, be sure to include members of your organization outside of the web or marketing department. Feedback from those who are distant from the project is valuable since these individuals will see the project from a different perspective. Also be sure to refine internal feedback into a clear set of notes before providing it to the designer.

Be honest. Lastly, when providing feedback, don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. Honest critique is a part of your role in the process.

Include Stakeholders

Participation doesn’t exclusively apply to the members of your organization who are in direct contact with a designer. It is important to involve high-level stakeholders, getting their insight and approval up front before moving too far into the project. It isn’t uncommon for a high-level stakeholder to be distant during the design phase, only to drop in at later (and inopportune) time with a list of changes to be made. This can result in added costs and a delay in the project timeline.

With that being said, it is important to strike the right balance when including stakeholders. By no means do stakeholders need to be involved in every decision. A sensible approach is to find a few points throughout the process to allow a high-level stakeholder review.

Address Issues Now

Address any design-related issues during the design phase of the project. Making changes to the design after the development phase has kicked off can be costly. Major changes to the design can even put a temporary halt on development, throwing off the project timeline. Even seemingly minor changes to the design can be more time-consuming than expected, so it is always a good idea to address concerns before moving forward.

Cutting corners during the design phase doesn’t do any good in the long run. Failing to address problems now will lead to having to address them in a more costly manner down the road, if they get addressed at all.

Trust

Much of what we discussed here boils down to trust. At Blend, our mission is to be a trusted partner. This goal is reflected in our four core beliefs of passion, progress, integrity, and advocacy. We believe all parties are experts in their distinct areas, and when we trust one another, great things happen.

If you’ve made it through this post, you are well on your way. But if you have a question, please reach out. We love to help people do great things on the internet.