Web Design and Development the Right Way

There is a lot of information about how a Web Design and Development company will handle a project once it is awarded, but I thought it would be a good idea to write a brief overview of the entire process from an organizational perspective.

1. Identify your Goals

While every organization handles this differently, it is important to identify your Marketing, Content and Technical Requirements for any new Web Design and Development project. This will most likely involve getting a number of people from your organization together in a room for several internal discovery meetings and putting together a list of needs and requirements. They might include your overall branding and messaging goals, ideas from competitors or even unrelated companies that you would like to incorporate, and the technical specifications of your infrastructure.

2. Find a Qualified Web Design and Development Firm

Again, this is handled differently depending on your current situation. Many organizations issue a Web Design and Development Request for Proposal, or if they have a short list of vendors they would like to work with, they send a request to those firms and have phones calls and meetings about their requirements. Whether or not you issue a formal, public Request for Proposal, it is a good idea to write down your requirements and goals in a clear format that any vendor can understand.

You will most likely get a slew of proposals with varying solutions and budget ranges. If you don’t have an in house ‘expert’ on all things technical, you might consider bringing in a consultant to help you make a decision. Many times, however, bringing the top 3-4 companies in for interviews will allow you to quickly discover who you have the best chemistry with and who is the most passionate about doing the work you need them to do.

3. Discovery with the Web Development Firm

Just like you did a Discovery process within your organization, it is now time to give the Web Design firm all the information they need to do their jobs. Even though your Request for Proposal was detailed, make sure you leave no stone unturned. There are a million ways to interpret some aspects and the sooner you iron out the details the smoother things will go in the Development phase of the project.

4. Design and Content Development

After both parties feel they have all the information they need to proceed with the project, the firm will start both the Graphic and Technical Design of the Web site. Many times you will work with them on developing content for the site as well, but some times the messaging and content writing is done in house.

For the Interface and Graphic Design, expect to see a series of initial ‘comps’ or concepts for the home page and perhaps a few other pages. This will help you narrow down the overall look and feel of the finished product and you will go through a series of revisions to get things perfect.

For the Technical aspect of the Web site and System, expect to see a specifications document that outlines any functional work flow or database mapping that needs to occur. If you have internal systems or third-party applications that need to tie into the new Web site, expect to see a more detailed explanation of how those systems will fit together.

There are times when you need to do some initial usability testing with these designs. Even though the Web site is not functioning or even built at this point, in order to get some feedback on the approach you are about to build, a lot of organizations will do some basic testing with simple screen shots. This can be very helpful if you are building a complex application that has many possible solutions.

You should expect to sign off on all of these items before you proceed to the next phase of the process.

5. Development of the Web site

After the Design and Content Development is complete, the Web Design and Development company has all that they need to create and build the Web site. You should expect regular updates on their progress and depending on the length and complexity of the system, there will be a series of test releases, usually named “alpha” and “beta” or something like that. These releases are not finished products but give you, the client an opportunity to see the work in progress. It’s also an invaluable tool to let you see that everything is on track and according to your original requirements.

6. Testing (Usability and Quality Assurance)

After the “beta” release of the site, it should be fully-functioning but not yet publicly available. At this time you might do some usability testing to get some final feedback, though the major changes and development work is behind you at this point. You are looking for the last few minor issues and graphic or content tweaks at this point.

7. Final Revisions

The final changes are made after testing is complete and the Web site files are readied for a public launch. Chances are the other marketing initiatives you’ve scheduled to coincide with your new Web site launch are ready to go at this point. All you need to do is say the word “go” and this long yet rewarding process will be complete.

8. Launch

With everything prepared, your Web Design and Development firm, working in conjunction with your IT or Web infrastructure team will move the correct files, databases, third party applications, and everything else that is necessary to publicly launch your Web site to the correct place and your new Web site is now publicly available. Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off.

9. Follow up

This seems pretty straightforward, but a follow up or post-game meeting with your vendor is a necessary step in this process. Figure out what went well during this process and what could be improved for next time. Chances are you won’t do a major release again for another few years, but there will most likely be minor releases and the more you can work together to share information and learn about what works well and what doesn’t the better this process will go in the future.

I hope this helps you, and best of luck with your next project.