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Almost every Web designer can attest that much of their

work is repetitive. We find ourselves completing the same


tasks, even if slightly modified, over and over for every Web
project. Following a detailed website design and development
process can speed up your work and help your client
understand your role in the project. This article tries to show
how developing a process for Web design can organize a
developers thoughts, speed up a projects timeline and
prepare a freelance business for growth.
First of all, what exactly is a process? A Web development process is a
documented outline of the steps needed to be taken from start to finish in
order to complete a typical Web design project. It divides and categorizes the
work and then breaks these high-level sections into tasks and resources that
can be used as a road map for each project.

A Typical Process Link


Here is a standard process that was put together using examples from
around the Web as well as my own experience. (Note: Please see the
resource links at the end of each phase.)
1. PLANNING LINK
The planning stage is arguably the most important, because whats decided
and mapped here sets the stage for the entire project. This is also the stage
that requires client interaction and the accompanying attention to detail.
Requirements analysis

This includes client goals, target audience, detailed feature requests


and as much relevant information as you can possibly gather. Even
if the client has carefully planned his or her website, dont be afraid
to offer useful suggestions from your experience.
Project charter

The project charter (or equivalent document) sums up the


information that has been gathered and agreed upon in the
previous point. These documents are typically concise and not
overly technical, and they serve as a reference throughout the
project.
Site map
A site map guides end users who are lost in the structure or need to
find a piece of information quickly. Rather than simply listing pages,

including links and a hierarchy of page organization is good


practice.
Contracts that define roles, copyright and financial points

This is a crucial element of the documentation and should include


payment terms, project closure clauses, termination clauses,
copyright ownership and timelines. Be careful to cover yourself with
this document, but be concise and efficient.
Gain access to servers and build folder structure

Typical information to obtain and validate includes FTP host,


username and password; control panel log-in information; database
configuration; and any languages or frameworks currently installed.
Determine required software and resources (stock

photography, fonts, etc.)


Beyond determining any third-party media needs, identify where
you may need to hire sub-contractors and any additional software
you may personally require. Add all of these to the projects budget,
charging the client where necessary.
Resource links for this phase:
Jumpchart: Client/developer collaboration tool
Dropbox: File-sharing and collaboration tool
Mindmeister: Free online mind-mapping software
Writing Bulletproof Web Design Contracts

2. DESIGN LINK

The design stage typically involves moving the information outlined in the
planning stage further into reality. The main deliverables are a documented
site structure and, more importantly, a visual representation. Upon
completion of the design phase, the website should more or less have taken
shape, but for the absence of the content and special features.
Wireframe and design elements planning

This is where the visual layout of the website begins to take shape.
Using information gathered from the client in the planning phase,
begin designing the layout using a wireframe. Pencil and paper are
surprisingly helpful during this phase, although many tools are
online to aid as well.
Mock-ups based on requirements analysis

Designing mock-ups in Photoshop allows for relatively easy


modification, it keeps the design elements organized in layers, and
it primes you for slicing and coding when the time later on.
Review and approval cycle

A cycle of reviewing, tweaking and approving the mock-ups often


takes place until (ideally) both client and contractor are satisfied
with the design. This is the easiest time to make changes, not after
the design has been coded.
Slice and code valid XHTML/CSS

Its coding time. Slice the final Photoshop mock-up, and write the
HTML and CSS code for the basic design. Interactive elements and
jQuery come later: for now, just get the visuals together on screen,
and be sure to validate all of the code before moving on.
Resource links for this phase:
Printable Sketch Templates for Wireframing
Color Scheme Designer
Type Tester, font comparison
iPlotz, online template and wireframing tool
Stripe Generator
Favicon Generator
Icon Finder
Stock Exchange, free stock photos
3 . D E V E LO P M E N T L I N K
Development involves the bulk of the programming work, as well as loading
content (whether by your team or the clients). Keep code organized and

commented, and refer constantly to the planning details as the full website
takes shape. Take a strategic approach, and avoid future hassles by
constantly testing as you go.
Build development framework.

This is when unique requirements might force you to diverge from


the process. If youre using Ruby on Rails, an ASP/PHP framework or
a content management system, now is the time to implement it and
get the basic engine up and running. Doing this early ensures that
the server can handle the installation and set-up smoothly.
Code templates for each page type.

A website usually has several pages (e.g. home, general content,


blog post, form) that can be based on templates. Creating your own
templates for this purpose is good practice.
Develop and test special features and interactivity.

Heres where the fancy elements come into play. I like to take care
of this before adding the static content because the website now
provides a relatively clean and uncluttered workspace. Some
developers like to get forms and validation up and running at this
stage as well.
Fill with content.

Time for the boring part: loading all of the content provided by the
client or writer. Although mundane, dont misstep here, because
even the simplest of pages demand tight typography and careful
attention to detail.
Test and verify links and functionality.

This is a good time for a full website review. Using your file manager
as a guide, walk through every single page youve created
everything from the home page to the submission confirmation
pageand make sure everything is in working order and that you
havent missed anything visually or functionally.
Resource links for this phase:
Wufoo, form generator
Adobe Browserlab, cross-browser analysis
Choosing the Right Web Platform

4. LAUNC H LINK
The purpose of the launch phase is to prepare the website for public viewing.
This requires final polishing of design elements, deep testing of interactivity
and features and, most of all, a consideration of the user experience. An
important early step in this phase is to move the website, if need be, to its
permanent Web server. Testing in the production environment is important
because different servers can have different features and unexpected
behavior (e.g. different database host addresses).
Polishing

Particularly if youre not scrambling to meet the deadline, polishing


a basically completed design can make a big difference. Here, you
can identify parts of the website that could be improved in small
ways. After all, you want to be as proud of this website as the client
is.
Transfer to live server

This could mean transferring to a live Web server (although


hopefully youve been testing in the production environment),
unhiding the website or removing the Under construction page.
Your last-minute review of the live website happens now. Be sure
the client knows about this stage, and be sensitive to timing if the
website is already popular.
Testing
Run the website through the final diagnostics using the available
tools: code validators, broken-link checkers, website health checks,

spell-checker and the like. You want to find any mistakes yourself
rather than hearing complaints from the client or an end-user.
Final cross-browser check (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari,

Opera, iPhone, BlackBerry)


Dont forget to check the website in multiple browsers one last time.
Just because code is valid, doesnt mean it will sparkle with a crisp
layout in IE 6.
Resource links for this phase:
W3C Validation (HTML, CSS)
Adobe Browserlab, cross-browser analysis
5 . P O S T- L AU N C H L I N K
Business re-enters the picture at this point as you take care of all the little
tasks related to closing the project. Packaging source files, providing
instructions for use and any required training occurs at this time. Always
leave the client as succinctly informed as possible, and try to predict any
questions they may have. Dont leave the project with a closed door;
communicate that youre available for future maintenance and are
committed to ongoing support. If maintenance charges havent already been
shared, establish them now.
Hand off to client

Be sure the client is satisfied with the product and that all
contractual obligations have been met (refer to the project charter).
A closed project should leave both you and the client satisfied, with
no burned bridges.
Provide documentation and source files

Provide documentation for the website, such as a soft-copy site map


and details on the framework and languages used. This will prevent
any surprises for the client later on, and it will also be useful should
they ever work with another Web developer.
Project close, final documentation

Get the client to sign off on the last checks, provide your contact
information for support, and officially close the project. Maintain a
relationship with the client, though; checking in a month down the
road to make sure everything is going smoothly is often
appreciated.
As stated, this is merely a sample process. Your version will be modified
according to your client base and style of designing. Processes can also differ

based on the nature of the product; for example, e-commerce websites, Web
applications and digital marketing all have unique requirements.

Documenting The Process Link


Create and retain two versions of your Web design process:
One for you or your team to use as a guide as you work on the back end, and
one to share with clients. The differences between the two should be
intrinsically clear: yours would be much more detailed and contain technical
resources to help with development; the clients would be a concise, nontechnical map of the process from start to finish.
Common tools for documenting the business process are a simple Microsoft
Word document, Microsoft Visio and mind-mapping software such as
Freemind. If youre ambitious, you could even develop your own internal
Web-based tool.

Using The Process Link

By now, you should understand what a process looks like, including the
details of each phase, and have some idea of how to construct your
particular Web design process. This is a great first step, but its still only a
first step! Dont miss this next bit: knowing how a process can enhance your
overall business and how to use it when approaching and interacting with
clients.
R E F I N I N G T H E P R O C E SS L I N K
The process will be different for each designer, and for each project. Develop
a process for yourself, and identify whatever is useful to you or your team.

Only then will the process be truly useful. After all, freelancers can serve
drastically different target markets.
Bulleted lists are well and good, but the process can be much more useful
and elaborate than that. Many of the resources, tools and links posted on
Web design blogs and Twitter feeds fit into different parts of the process. An
incredibly useful way to refine the process is to add resource links to each
phase, and to develop your own resources, such as branded document
templates.

Some commonly used documents of freelancers:


Client questionnaire,
Invoice,
Project charter,
Documentation for hand-off to client,
User accounts,
Database table charts,
Site map.
FILES AND ARCHIVE LINK
Documentation and storage are important to grasp. As mundane as these
tasks can be, they certainly help when tax season rolls around or when a
small freelance venture begins to expand. You can never be too disciplined
when it comes to efficiency in work and time. You could establish a standard
document format and folder structure for all of your clients, or maintain a list
or archive of previous clients and project files. You could employ anything
from simple lists to all-out small-business accounting practices.

A P R O C E SS P U T S T H E C L I E N T AT E A S E L I N K
Many clients view Web development as a black box, even after youve tried
to educate them on its methods. To them, they provide their requirements,
suggestions and content, and then some time later a website appears or
begins to take shape. Theyre often completely unaware of major aspects of
the process, such as the separation of design and development. Having an
organized and concise process on hand can help organize a clients thoughts
and put their mind at ease, not to mention help them understand where their
money is going.
Outlining my basic process as a freelancer is by far the most common first
step I take with potential or new clients. A quick, high-level This is how
it works discussion provides a framework for the entire
project. Once you have this discussion, the client will better understands
what specifically is needed from them, what you will be delivering at certain
points in the timeline and what type of work youll be engaging in as you go
along. Most of all, the discussion can nip any miscommunication or confusion
in the bud.
Designers are often too deep into Web design to realize that most people
have no idea what they do or understand their terminology or know the steps
involved in creating a finished product. Starting fresh with a understandably
clueless client can be daunting.

I T S A B U S I N E SS L I N K
Its a business, and the steps outlined here are basically the path to smallbusiness management. As you grow in clients or staff or contractors, youll

find yourself with an ever-growing to-do list and a headache from all of the
things to keep track of. Give yourself a break, and invest some time in
finding tools to help you get the job done efficiently. An expanded process
document is a great first step on this path.
TIPS LINK
Ask a non-technical friend to review your process. If it makes sense

to them, it will make sense to your client.


Use the processes of other designers as a starting point to build or

refine your own. See the related resources links.


Build document templates and Web apps into your process. This will

save time and make you more professional.


RISKS LINK
One process cannot be applied to every project. Although your process will
be useful when you first engage a client in the planning discussion, be sure
to review it before the discussion takes place to ensure it fits the project.

Further Resources Link

Here are some links to resources that showcase sample Web design
processes, as well as tools and templates to build integrate in your own
process.
6 Phases of the Website Design/Development Process

A great example of a Web design process broken into six steps.


Comparison of Web Design Workflow Processes

A detailed comparison of different types of processes.


Sample Web Design Process, With Advice

Step-by-step breakdown of a Web design process, with goals and


best practices.
50 Essential Web Apps for Freelancers

A great collection of Web applications to build into your process.


3 Links to Websites Offering Free Document Templates

A great place to gather document templates for freelance business


use.
Wiki of Web Design Resource Links and Code Snippets