This article has been contributed by John Siebert.
Web designers see themselves as artists and their creations as nothing less than works of art. But if you ask any designer to describe her average day, she will rattle off a list of mundane tasks that have little or nothing to do with art or creativity.
So how does a creative soul survive the long and arduous road to the final destination – a fabulously designed website? By making the small, not-so-interesting tasks a little more interesting; by involving others in the little things to make work fun for all, by using awesome tools that reduce time wasted on the ‘grunt work’ and allow you more time to focus on designing the final masterpiece.
Let us look at simple ways of making life fun at every step of the web design process.
Step 1. Internal Research
‘Know thyself’ is probably the most important commandment in a web designer’s guidebook. Before embarking on a project as complex as designing the website for a brand, designers need to look inward and understand all the various things that make a brand tick.
a. What is the brand’s personality? – is it authoritative, is it young, is it catty or is it a rebel without a pause? Understand the brand’s voice and you’ll have unearthed a large element that will dictate your design.
Source: Peasap, Flickr
b. What are the website’s goals? – What is this bunch of people out to achieve? Is this a news broadcast site, is it a fashion retail portal or is it an eco-activism site? Understand what the website is meant to do. Without this any design will be totally rudderless.
This can be done in many ways. Chat up the people that make the brand – the brand owners and the employees – and understand what they think their brand stands for. Also try and understand what they would like their brand to be. Sometimes there is a real disconnect between what actually is and what is desired.
FUN TIP: Walk into the brand’s office and spend fifteen minutes quietly observing the goings on from a corner. You will get a better feel for the pulse of the brand, its energy and its core personality by pure observation than by browsing through brand guideline documents.
Step 2. External research
Look at the various external factors that will affect the website and how users interact with it.
a. Market dynamics – What is the industry in which the brand operates? Is it a growing one? Is it technical? Is it leisure oriented? What are its future prospects and past track record?
b. Competition – Who poses a threat to the brand? What are the competitors doing right? What are they messing up? How do they attract visitors to their sites?
c. Audience – Whom is the brand targeting? Young, old, male, female, upwardly mobile, housewives, professionals? What drives them? What are their online habits? What do they spend most time doing?
Source: David, Flickr
The internet will tell you a lot about the market and competition. Try out competitors’ websites and products to understand first-hand what makes them tick. Reach out to users and get a feel of what they think about the brand, what their needs are, what they like about competition and so on.
FUN TIP: Create a simple short survey on SurveyMonkey and send it out to users. Ask them about their likes, dislikes, opinions on competitors, even their favorite color if you want to. This exercise has two benefits.
a. You will unearth a wealth of information that you can plow back into the design process
b. Those colorful charts and graphs look just so cool!
Step 3. Set Clear Goals
Once the fact finding stage is complete, we move on to setting expectations. This includes larger goals like ‘What is this website going to be about’ to more specific goals like ‘We shall use Magento to build this site’.
a. What do we want to achieve? – Spell out the direction the website will take. Is the idea to wow your visitors with your design chops – this would be true for a marketing agency’s website. Is the objective to enable users to access large chunks of information in an easy and non-intrusive environment – that could be what a news and views website would aim for.
b. Sections – Decide the site structure. What sections it will have, what sub sections, how will the navigation be.
c. Level of interaction – Is it a site that the users will skim through or will they interact with multiple site elements like on a gaming website or an e-commerce site. The user interface will depend a lot on what kind of interactions users will have with the site.
d. Pricing considerations – If you have a client-consultant relationship with the company, explicitly spell out the costs that you estimate the project will incur. If it is an in-house project, the management needs to be appraised of the expenses involved and the budgets that need to be allocated.
e. Timelines – Set a clear timeline for the overall project completion and shorter goals for individual segments of the project. Draw up plans on how the design project will be carried out to adhere to the set timelines.
FUN TIP: Create digital goalposts for your design project based on the timelines specified on a site like FutureMe. So, if you were supposed to complete the testing of your site 6 months later, you will get a ‘blast from the past’ email in your inbox congratulating you on completing the testing of your site.
Another fun idea is to create Pinterest boards with your goals for each stage of the design process. You will love going back to the boards a year down the line and comparing the final website with what you originally imagined it would be.
Step 4. Brainstorm on ideas, create wireframe layouts, get signoffs
This is the step where your creative gene finally starts getting some exercise. Think aloud, debate, discuss and agree upon the treatment the website is going to get. What color schemes would you use, what layouts would work best for conversions.
Source: Steve Jurvetson, Flickr
Create multiple mockups and wireframes for the site, so you can pick the best one to zero in on. Get formal approvals on the final design wireframe option selected and get going.
FUN TIP: Use collaboration tools like BaseCamp that will help you work with multiple team members at the same time. Sub-projects can be tracked and monitored effectively. Approvals and other client communications stay on record for future reference.
Step 5. Design & Develop
FUN TIP: Designing is the best kind of fun a web designer can have! I don’t need to tell you how to have a good time in this step.
Step 6. Test
Even NASA tests its shuttles before shooting them off into outer space. Do what the experts do – test how good your design is before you unleash it onto the world. Check for inconsistencies in design, problems in the UX, conversion ratios as well as feedback on site aesthetics before you go live.
FUN TIP: Play around with fun testing tools like Heat maps and Confetti Maps available on Visual Website Optimizer or CrazyEgg that will give you cool representations of how your users interact with your site and which are the areas that work and which are stone cold.
Step 7. Launch
Apply the insights gained in testing into the site design and architecture and polish off the final details. When you are personally satisfied with the results and the tests also give a clear go ahead, go forth and launch the site.
FUN TIP: Make your website launch a mega-event and gain buzz among your target audience even as you just kick off services. Have a costume party where each team member shows up dressed like a different design element present on the new website. Click a group selfie (a` la Ellen) with the entire dressed up team standing in position to look like the complete homepage.
When you make a conscious choice to incorporate fun in your work, no activity can remain drudgery for too long. Use these fun tips when you design your next website and let us know how it went.
Have any other out-of-the-box ideas for making web designing more fun than it already is? Share the love right here with us!
John Siebert is the President and CEO of Tranquil Blue – A Web Design Tampa Company that focuses on all kind of website design, mobile app development and search engine marketing.