Our Approach to Web Design
Whether this is your first time approaching a major web project or you’ve been through it all before, you’ve likely given some thought to the results you need from the investment of your time and money. Maybe it’s an engaging expression of your brand, higher conversion rates, better mobile experience, accessibility compliance, or ease of management. Whatever your goals, you’re probably not looking for a website you can just launch and leave alone.
Organizations that depend on the web as the hub of their marketing and engagement efforts are looking for a platform on which they can build and grow. You need a great website on launch day, but every day after that you need tools and the know-how to use them to keep pursuing your strategic goals.
This makes finding the right digital partner challenging. A lot of us are good at making amazing websites. Few of us are good at building effective platforms and empowering you to use them.
So we’ve made this our mission. We don’t just design websites — we shape strategy, processes and platforms that put the power in your hands. But we’ve learned that empowerment doesn’t happen if we just learn about you, do all the work and hand it over to you at the end. Everyone learns best by doing. You’re empowered when we walk side by side, collaborating closely and learning from each other as we go.
To achieve this we take a different approach we call Foundation First. We start with a foundation that includes:
- Your strategic goals
- Insights about your audiences
- A functioning content management system (CMS) and design system created for your brand
In most web projects, the tools that actually let you work in the website itself and see what it’s going to look like in real life are not part of the foundation. They don’t get finished until near the end. Our approach rejects that outdated process and allows us to work together in the CMS while we’re planning and building out the site.
The key to the Foundation First approach is recognizing that you can create a design system (described below) for the site in parallel with audience research. One doesn’t really depend on the other. Then you can develop the site strategy and architecture using the design system in a working CMS. In essence, first you design the system, then you design the site.
By building the foundation first, we can:
- involve you in the user research so you can make decisions before and after launch with your audience’s experience always in view. Your understanding of user research will also arm you to navigate politically tricky situations if others in your organization disagree with the website strategy. You’ll know exactly why we’re making the decisions we are, and how to defend them based on data.
- create a strategy and architecture that we can test and evolve easily during the initial project. This is not “one and done” design — if an idea doesn’t work well, we can revise.
- spend significant time working together with the tools you’ll use to manage your web presence going forward. You’ll still have all the support you need for your project — we’re not asking you to do all the work. But you’ll reach launch day with the confidence that your team knows the system and how to make it fly.
What’s a design system?
All websites, regardless of size, are made up of common elements. Some pieces are small (think buttons or headers) and some pieces are big (image galleries or news feeds). In a design system, these pieces are called patterns. A good design system combines tested standards with custom pieces engineered to fit together. The design system also shows guidelines and examples of how the patterns can be used. Using your design system, you’ll have the ingredients to construct a rich and engaging website.
A design system is superior to a template-based website in many ways:
- You have flexibility to create any page layout you need with minimal or no coding (although you should be careful to whom you give this power).
- Web managers across your organization can rely on guidelines and examples that explain the what, how and why behind your user interface design patterns – encouraging brand continuity across your sites.
- It’s much more sustainable and flexible for future needs. You can update, replace or extend patterns and the improvements cascade through all your pages.
- Design system elements can easily be translated to other mediums including print publications, email marketing templates, digital media content and more.
Here’s how the process plays out for many of our projects:
The discovery process builds our understanding of the organization, current website, and vision for the future that will shape the project. It also serves to align strategic goals and digital strategy. If you plan to rebrand in conjunction with a website project, or you need to choose a new content management system, we’ll want to incorporate Brand Strategy and CMS Selection prior to the Foundation phase.
Learn more about the Discovery Phase.
Establishing the foundation for your project includes conducting audience research, creating the look and feel, and articulating the strategy. This is also the phase when we begin building the infrastructure and creating the building blocks of the design system.
Learn more about the Foundation Phase.
Architecture & Buildout
Once the foundation is complete, we’re ready to plan and build the website together. This phase includes establishing site architecture, planning content strategy and SEO, building pages within the design system, and adding new elements to the system as the project unfolds. Learn more about the Architecture & Buildout Phase.
Final Prep, Test & Launch
As we are nearing the completion of the project, we begin final testing and preparations for launch. We have an extensive QA and Launch Checklist that we’ve built over more than 20 years of launching websites. Today’s list has close to 100 items in categories like DNS/Domain, Standards and Validation, SEO and Metrics, Legal, Functional and Content Testing, Security/Risk, and Performance — as well as steps for the big day and the ones that follow.
Learn more about Final Prep & Launch.
Evaluate & Grow
While many would consider Launch to be the final phase of the project, we believe in evaluating and improving site performance based on actual user behavior. Our team continues to work with you for at least 90 days past launch, and we often continue working with many of our clients much longer for ongoing maintenance, evaluation, and updates.
Learn more about the Evaluate & Grow Phase.
Get in Touch
If you’d like to learn more about our approach or how it could work for your project, get in touch. We’d love to talk with you.