The web design process in 7 simple steps

The following structured web design process will enable the delivery of a successful website fast and efficiently.

7 Steps to Build a Website

Well-designed websites offer much more than just aesthetics. They attract visitors and help people understand the product, company, and branding through visuals, text, and interactions. Every element of your site should for a specific purpose and goal.

But how do get the elements of your website to work seamlessly together to achieve the goal? Through a holistic web design process that takes both form and function into account.

1) Goal Setting

What is the website’s end goal? The designer, usually in close collaboration with the client or other stakeholders, helps identify the goal. Questions to explore and answer  include:

  • Who is the site’s audience?
  • What do they expect to find or do there?
  • Is this website’s primary aim to inform, to sell, or to entertain?
  • What does this site offer that competitor sites don’t?

This is the most important part of any web design process. Answering these questions can help start the process off in the right direction.

Key Takeaway: Know your audience. Know your competition. Know your purpose.

2) Set the Scope

One of the most common and difficult problems plaguing web design projects is the never-ending scope. The client sets out with one scope in mind, but this gradually expands, evolves, or changes altogether during the design process — and the next thing you know, your web design budget has exploded!

This isn’t necessarily a problem for designers, as it can often lead to more work. But if the increased expectations aren’t matched by an increase in budget or timeline, the project can become unrealistic.

Setting a realistic timeline for the project, including any major landmarks, can help to set boundaries and achievable deadlines. This provides a reference for both designers and clients and helps keep everyone focused on the task and goals at hand.

Key Takeaway: Setting a scope involves setting a realistic timeline for the project, including any major landmarks. This will help to set boundaries, achievable deadlines, and stay on budget. 

3) Sitemap it Out

The sitemap provides the foundation for any well-designed website. It helps give designers a clear idea of the website’s information architecture and explains the relationships between the various pages and content elements.

Building a site without a sitemap is like building a house without a blueprint. And that rarely turns out well.

The next step is to build the wireframe. Wireframes provide a framework for storing the site’s visual design and content elements, and can help identify potential challenges and gaps with the sitemap.

Although a wireframe doesn’t contain any final design elements, it does act as a guide for how the site will ultimately look. Some designers use slick tools like Balsamiq or Webflow to create their wireframes. I personally like to go back to basics and use the trusty ole paper and pencil.

Key Takeaway: Creating a sitemap and a wireframe helps the designer and the client set a clear vision for the underlying structure of the website.

4) Content creation

The most important and probably time-consuming part of the design process is writing the content. This may take time, but its significance cannot be underestimated.

Content serves two essential purposes:

Purpose 1. Content drives action

First, content engages readers and drives them to take the actions necessary to fulfill a site’s goals. This is affected by both the content itself (the writing), and how it’s presented (the typography and structural elements).

Dull, lifeless, and overlong prose rarely keeps visitors’ attention for long. Short, snappy, and intriguing content grabs them and gets them to click through to other pages. Even if your pages need a lot of content — and often, they do — properly “chunking” that content by breaking it up into short paragraphs supplemented by visuals can help it keep a light, engaging feel.

Purpose 2: SEO

Content also boosts a site’s visibility for search engines. The practice of creation and improving content to rank well in search is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

Getting your keywords and key-phrases right is essential for the success of any website. I always use Google Keyword Planner. This tool shows the search volume for potential target keywords and phrases, so you can hone in on what actual human beings are searching on the web. While search engines are becoming more and more clever, so should your content strategies. Google Trends is also handy for identifying terms people actually use when they search.

Successful website are designed around SEO. Keywords you want to rank for need to be placed in the title tag — the closer to the beginning, the better. Keywords should also appear in the H1 tag, meta description, and body content.

Content that’s well-written, informative, and keyword-rich is more easily picked up by search engines, all of which helps to make the site easier to find.

Typically, your client will produce the bulk of the content, but it’s vital that you supply them with guidance on what keywords and phrases they should include in the text.

Key Takeaway: Content is King! Informative content helps build consumer confidence that could lead to the sale or the phone call. Content is also extremely important for search engine rankings.

5) Visual elements

Finally, it’s time to create the visual style for the site. This part of the design process will often be shaped by existing branding elements, color choices, and logos, as stipulated by the client. But it’s also the stage of the web design process where a good web designer can really shine.

Images are taking on a more significant role in web design now than ever before. Not only do high-quality images give a website a professional look and feel, but they also communicate a message, are mobile-friendly, and help build trust.

Visual content is known to increase clicks, engagement, and revenue. But more than that, people want to see images on a website. Not only do images make a page feel less cumbersome and easier to digest, but they also enhance the message in the text, and can even convey vital messages without people even needing to read.

I recommend using a professional photographer to get the images right. Just keep in mind that massive, beautiful images can seriously slow down a site. However, if a photographer is not in the budget, stock photos are a good second best.

The visual design is a way to communicate and appeal to the site’s users. Get it right, and it can determine the site’s success. Get it wrong, and you’re just another web address.

Key Takeaway: Good visuals and photography can help define the message that you want your core audience to receive. Bad visuals and photography can achieve the opposite.

6) Testing

Once the site has all its visuals and content, you’re ready for testing.

Thoroughly test each page to make sure all links are working and that the website loads properly on all devices and browsers. Errors may be the result of small coding mistakes, and while it is often a pain to find and fix them, it’s better to do it now than present a broken site to the public.

Have one last look at the page meta titles and descriptions too. Even the order of the words in the meta title can affect the performance of the page on a search engine.

Key Takeaway: Thoroughly test each page to make sure all links are working and that the website loads properly on all devices and browsers.

7) Launch

Don’t expect this to go perfectly. There may be still some elements that need fixing. Web design is a fluid and ongoing process that requires constant maintenance.

Web design — and really, design in general — is all about finding the right balance between form and function. You need to use the right fonts, colours, and design motifs. But the way people navigate and experience your site is just as important.

Skilled designers should be well versed in this concept and able to create a site that walks the delicate tightrope between the two.

A key thing to remember about the launch stage is that it’s nowhere near the end of the job. The beauty of the web is that it’s never finished. Once the site goes live, you can continually run user testing on new content and features, monitor analytics, and refine your messaging.

Key Takeaway: The launch is exciting, but its not the end. Once the site goes live, continue to run user testing on new content and features, monitor analytics, and refine your message.