The stages of a website design and build

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Every website we build at PoLR follows a certain ‘critical path’ to completion. A Critical Path is terminology that sets out the key milestones and points of a project that must be adhered to, in terms of time and build, in order for all other facets of the project to be able to work and be competed successfully.Now every project can differ, of course. That’s why there is more than one option after starting. However, in every case, a full consultation must be carried out in the first instance. For us to get a feel for the project and run through our tried and tested ‘website questionnaire’ which will tell us about the customers preferences and gives us technical answers to lay questions. For instance we may find that the customer “doesn’t like websites that look really different on other monitors and have separate sections within the same page”, then we know to keep it a fixed width, with no scrolling. This step will always form the ‘Start’ element.

When we’re building a website, we could also be creating the client’s branding from scratch including logo and colour scheme (which would usually form one of the first stages post-start) or they may already have this in place and we skip a step, or go in a different direction on the path. A point worth mentioning here, is that this may indeed not be a ‘critical’ element if the layout and such can be agreed prior to the branding being established, but in general, it doesn’t progress until this is done.

Next up is usually agreeing the layout of the website, which at PoLR we do by using a ‘Gray Box’ model consisting of choices of layout without aesthetics attached to get an idea of where to put pages, sales paths and calls-to-action throughout the website. 2 points here: Firstly, for larger projects the client may already have a detailed specification. We still treat this situation the same if this is this case, but there’s simply less back-and-forth between the client and PoLR to get this stage agreed and signed-off. Secondly, sometimes a client will confuse the ‘Gray Box’ model as our first stab at the design, until we remind them of the reason for sending it!

I mentioned the term ‘Sign-off’. A key point is to have clients agree in writing to each of the stages. This allows for a clear understanding throughout the project regarding what has been understood by both parties as being involved in the build and design. Miscommunication can let a project down badly, even detrimentally. So having the client ‘sign-off’ on the completion of each stage keeps everyone in the loop.

When the ‘Gray Box’ element (i.e. the site layout) has been agreed, then the design of the website commences. The agreed layout is then dressed and redressed (having had a full consultation beforehand regarding preferences and ‘do’s and don’t’s’) until the customer is completely happy with the way it looks throughout, then this stage is also signed off. We can either ‘hit the nail on the head’ first time with the design or there can be numerous back-and-forths between ourselves and the clients. The best laid plans being in place (like the consulatation) can reduce this, but clients are humans (mostly) and humans change their minds! So this stage can vary in timescale from project-to-project, however, we take this into account when providing the initial project timescale.

Now we have a fully agreed layout and design, which at this point is essentially still simply an image of a website. Time to build it now. This stage is quite time consuming and can be tricky if we have some ‘left field’ requests with the functionality, albeit with smaller websites we’re pretty efficient in terms of time. his isn’t to say they get a less professinal product in the end, the usually just have less functionality and tricky bits. More complicated websites can be really complex in the build stage, but this is all forecast from the outset.

This brings us onto the next stage, testing (arguably building and testing are the same stage). We have to test all of the websites we produce to make sure that they actually work the way they are supposed to. So we will actually try to ‘break’ the website once we think we have it working perfectly to iron out any ‘bugs’ that may arise. With larger and more complex websites, ‘bugs’ (glitches in the functionality) can and do occur, even after full testing and the website has gone live. This is because the website will be set up to change dynamically and increases the likelihood of a small glitch happening. All large projects should have a maintenance contract in place for the developers to come back in and fix these bugs after launch. Small to medium websites that have been tested fully should go on to enjoy a happy life.

When the testing has been completed and demonstrated to the customer, the stage is signed off. This seems like we’re right at the end and ready to go live now, doesn’t it? Well on the face of it we are. We have a fully built and designed website with itchy feet ready to take it’s place on the internet, but wait… it doesn’t have the content yet!

The content of the website is basically all of the text throughout the website, for each and every page. And it’s the customer who needs to provide this. Why? Because our customers know their businesses better than we do and in most cases provide full text for every part of the website. We can provide copywriting services as an extra (again we would know this, ideally, from the first stage) which means we just plug it all in and it’s good to go.

Lack of content from a customer is without compare, the main factor in the delay of a website project. Other elements can come close, but you would be surprised how often a fully ready website can sit dormant (and offline) waiting on the client to produce the content.

*ADVICE ALERT* Cusomers: even though the content isn’t due until near the end of the project, get it organised way in advance and save unnecessary delays to your project. Failing that, tell us at the start that you want us to do it.

This stage isn’t technically a critical one as it doesn’t affect the other facets of the build taking place, but it can prevent the last stage in our critical path of web design from happening – Final Signoff of Website and Launch.

This last stage consists of the final signoff of the entire website. That it is built completely to specification and that the customer is happy with it and wants it to go live for everyone to use. They sign it off and then we launch it. Simples.

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