Building a Better Website: Which Comes First?

What comes first in creating a truly great website is a great planning process.

The key elements of the planning process are:

  • Strategy Brief
  • Site Map
  • Wire-frames
  • Functional Specification
  • Design Brief

Here’s a brief insight into each of them.

Strategy Brief

The strategy brief is typically a one-page document that guides the rest of your planning process. It lays out your goals for the website – what it needs to do to be considered a success – and the tactics you’ll use to achieve those goals.

As with every stage of planning, it’s critical here to get the input from your key stakeholders. This is for two reasons:

  1. Your stakeholders are most likely to have the insights you need to build a successful marketing tool
  2. Getting their buy-in early is critical to getting them to believe in and use that tool when it has launched.

Site Map

Taking the time to map out how to organize and present the content needed to make your marketing case will yield much better results – a smoother development process with fewer costly “do-overs” and a finished product that addresses all major audience segments and their interests.

Wire-frames

The wire-frames are the bridge between the site map and the functional spec. It creates a page-by-page guide to the site, what elements need to be present on each page, and how your audience can interact with those elements. Wire-frames frequently even dip their toes into features and functionality.

One thing wire-frames shouldn’t be is a design document. To be effective, the wire-frames should be as neutral and non-visual as possible. The focus has to be on what will be on the page, not where on the page it will be.

Functional Specifications

The functional spec takes your wire-frames one step further, fleshing out not only how your audience can interact with the website, but how your administrative team can edit and update the site, and what the site coding will do for you automatically.

These can be quite simple, expanding only slightly on the contents of the wire-frames, to incredibly complex in cases like e-commerce sites with heavy transactional loads.

Design Brief

The more you can define in detail here, the fewer questions and corrections you’ll face during production. And those corrections are always faster and less expensive to fix during planning than production.

Final Thought – Content Map:

One last thought on the planning process: content. Not included above is a Content Map, though perhaps it should be. We talk a lot about content in the discovery process. Leaving it for the end, as a lot of clients want to do, is a mistake as a well-crafted site map and wire-frame can fall apart quickly if there is not enough content to populate some areas of the site and too much to fit in others. This is again an area that is cheaper and best to address in advance.

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