WHO AM I TRYING TO REACH?
One of the most interesting things about the World Wide Web is its diversity of information. This same diversity applies to the people who use the Internet. Before you touch a keyboard you must first determine who you are trying to reach. You should have a “typical” viewer in mind when you set out. Whether you are designing for customers or for the curious stranger, try and look at your site design from the viewpoint of your visitors. If you are designing for an international audience, take time to accommodate their needs in your design (given the nature of the Internet, you should expect that not all visitors will be from your own country.) This may simply mean choosing universally recognized icons for your menu, but you should also be aware that the material you are posting could potentially be offensive to people of other cultures, even if your own culture does not deem it offensive. Keep in mind, what your employees or friends think is great design and striking content, may not be what is best for your target audience.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY SITE?
This should be your first consideration, but more often than not it is the mere afterthought of novice web designers. The cliche says it best: content is king, and as such, content is what can make or break your website. If you are building a business website, the answer to the question of “purpose” may seem rather obvious, but don’t rush to the keyboard just yet! While developing a website (for business, education, or recreation) you should decide what level of interaction you want to have with your visitors. Are you simply presenting information, are you offering a service or product, or are you trying to build rapport with potential clients or repeat visitors?
Regardless of your motives, if you want repeat visitors, there needs to be an incentive. That incentive should be somehow connected to the reason people visit your website. If you seek to educate, keep your content fresh, and more importantly credible. This will instill trust in your visitors, making them want to return to your site. Offer current and useful information, making your site a reliable resource. If your motivation is business related, try and look at the site as a customer would. What is important to you and your employees may have absolutely no relevance to a potential customer. Once your site is up and running, try implementing a viewer feedback system to ensure that you are still meeting the needs of your visitors, and not straying from your “purpose.”
WHAT ARE MY RESOURCES?
It is not enough to just decide you are going to put up a website. It will be a major undertaking if you want to do it correctly. You must decide what resources you have at your disposal. Do you have the right software for the job? Will you need training? The more you decide to offer your visitors (including interactivity) directly correlates to the amount of time you should expect to spend building and maintaining the site. Many large companies have an entire department tasked with the upkeep of their corporate sites. Have you taken into consideration how much time will need to be devoted to development, graphic creation, HTML testing, updating the content, responding to various user interactions, troubleshooting problems (there will be some!), and keeping ahead of the latest technology and web developments?
WHAT THEME WILL I USE?
Your theme choice will, in part, determine how your pages will evolve and what degree of detail will be necessary when developing them. Some examples could be the fortress theme you see employed in my site, a garage (like that in use by the web site garage), an art gallery, a factory, bakery, jukebox, or just about anything you can imagine.
If you are developing a business website, your theme might focus on the type of product or service you offer. The elements of your site that will directly tie into the theme are largely up to the designer, but an example might be a website that features cameras and photography equipment. The background of the site could look like a strip of film. The icons for navigating the site may consist of tiny cameras, with the logo being a smaller version of the company logo found on brochures or catalogs.
What is important at this stage of planning is that you focus on your theme and ensure that it is not lost during the design process. Whether realistic or symbolic, your icons, buttons, graphics, and content should remain clear in meaning, consistent in use, and help reinforce the theme you’ve selected. By adhering to this approach, you will save yourself many hours of revision later on. Your website must convey a message; both written and unwritten. Good thematic choice, and execution, is your best bet in meeting that challenge.