How to design a web page - the easy way!
Note: this is mainly for corporate customers but I guess there's something in this for everyone.
This advice works equally well if you want to design your own web site or you decide your time is too valuable and someone else should design it for you. This advice comes from 4 years of trial and error as a web site project manager.
BEFORE I start: your web site is a TOOL only, it does not replace your need to look at the whole picture when it comes to marketing and advertising. It can help, but it is part of the whole, not the whole itself.
REMEMBER: Most people use a web site because:
Step 1: Understand
what you want:
Talk to people in your organisation. Talk to the sales staff, the admin staff, the management and the accountants. Get everyone's input into what sort of things they would like to see on your companies web site. This is a slow process as most times people can always criticize something that is there ,when showing someone a blank piece of paper and asking them to scribe their thoughts, very often you will just get a blank stare.
Look at what your core business is, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what your business plan says you want to do. Base the web site around your strengths and who are you trying to get to look at your web site. Make it simple, intuative and RELEVANT and people (both customers and people within your organisation) will fall in love with it. I think people within the org are usually the least likely to promote a web site they have had no input into.
Now, for someone doing their first web site, our advice is "be prepared!". Look around at other web sites posted by companies in a similar industry. Go through their site and look at the advantages/disadvantages or their particular web site. Print the pages out (some sites may ask for permission) and arrange into sections that are appropriate for you to use on your web site.
Now go and show the people who will be providing input to the company web site. Remember people always criticize, now that you have something on paper, let them loose and the conversation is likely to be more productive.
If you think this is cheating, we are not suggesting you should copy someone else's web site but with something like 1 billion web sites, it is likely that you will be using something from someone else somewhere along the line.
Now that you have the content sort of worked out. Look at any company printed material. The company spends a lot of time and money on doing brochures etc. so why not use these as a framework for the web site. The added bonus is your website style and design matches your printed material. At the very least it may save you SIGNIFICANT time in designing the graphics.
Next look around at other sites not related to your industry, look for eye-catching simple web sites and print/book mark these. The is a catch, see Style versus maintenance.
Next, Get a piece of paper and a box of colored pens and start drawing up your web site. That's right, a paper and a pen. Write out all the content (or parts of it) on separate bits of paper and cut them out. You can re-use these 'text' boxes on numerous sheets of paper before you finally settle on a web layout.
A LOT of time can be saved by looking at what works and what doesn't on a piece of paper. You can quickly come up with a general style and then scrap it if it doesn't fit.
Now this is where the rubber meets the road, the real stuff. Make a template page. Spend a little time here to get it right because you will use this template page to form the basic structure of ALL the web pages in your site.
Once the template is done, copy it and rename the pages to represent each section. You can go all fancy and make separate directories which is probably the way to go to make maintenance easier. Now Populate all the sections and text that needs to go in.
Now that all the pages have the text, sit on the page for a while, make sure the links on each page go to where they want to go, look at the page in different size screens to see how the page sizes look. Try the pages in different browsers (Internet Explorer AND Netscape) some things work in one that don't work in the other.
You have probably spent around 2-3 days so far. But at least you have a web site that 'can' go up on an internet server.
Now the graphics. If you aren't familiar with graphics packages, and you have a spare year or two to learn, then you will need to think quick. You have two options really. Use existing graphics from the company brochure or go outside to get the graphics done.
In all reality, most of the graphics done on the web use 1-2 techniques (drop shadows or cropping/scaling) to do 99% of the general graphics seen on any web site. So if you learn how to apply these techniques on whatever graphics package you have (1-2hrs), then you can do just about anything simple to turn out a really nice result.
Start looking at the home page and overlaying the graphics into the page. Typically, graphics are used as feature pictures (usually some representation of what your company does or it's people) or for hover buttons. Hover buttons are the buttons you see down the left hand side or across the top of a page that allow you to click to go deeper into your site, like an index.
Now that you have done the first page, use the same graphics or smaller/larger versions to apply to the following pages. Now you are cooking with gas and there isn't much left to do, just fine tune each page.
Step 2: Understand the Technology
The internet is a quickly changing world, connections are getting faster and faster but this doesn't always work for your web site. Remember, the common denominator for web design is that 95% of the worlds internet users sit on a connection that is as fast as a 56K analogue (around 4K per second).
Why tell you this? Well, in general, a normal single web page can be anywhere from 10K (2 seconds to download) to 400K (100 seconds - nearly 2 minutes) to download. WHO wants to wait 2 minutes to see a page? Likely that your customers will not wait that long and decide to go somewhere else. Remember "size does matter". But again, this depends on what you want to do with the site.
What effects the size of your site: graphics and sound. Graphics are typically the most bandwidth hungry feature of your web site. Your choice of style will effect how much graphics you will need. Generally, Cosmos web designers don't splash graphics around all over the place (unless expressly asked by the customer!). Sound is very often frowned upon in a web site, and, although more and more computers are coming with in-built sound systems, most computers in a work place have no sound anyway.
Step 3: Understand YOUR limitations
Are you a web designer or graphic artist?
Can you realistically do the job? Do you have the Time?
BUT the first lesson for you is that this IS NOT A TRIVIAL EXERCISE. It will take a lot of time and effort to get your web site together. Our advice is if you realistically don't have the time then leave the design to the professionals. It is much easier to maintain something that is already there than it is to design from scratch. But at least with the information above you should be able to save a lot of money with web designers. The more input you have, the easier their job is.
Remember this is YOUR CORPORATE web site, many many people will be looking at your site so you will want to portray the best appearance possible.
Okay, here is the pitch! Basically, Cosmos do this for a living, we can very often do a web site in a week which may take a few weeks to do by the casual or weekend web designer. Unless you were hired for your web design skills, your core business is actually something else. How much is the company losing in productivity by you spending your time on web design?
Cost versus Cost Saving. It may end up being much cheaper in letting a 3rd party or Cosmos design your web site while you are actively engaged on working your core business.
Step 4: Style versus ease of maintenance
A lot of web pages look really great, they have animation, things that pop up when your mouse pointer crosses a certain section or link on the page. This all aid in capturing the attention of users and customers, to engage them into continuing to look at the various areas of your web site ,to make a sale or pass on information.
So, in a sense, the graphics make the site pleasing to the eye and therefore capture the attention. There is a down side to all this, beside the size of the web page - see above, and the down side is that to change a graphic takes a lot of effort. To change a single word is relatively easy.
The more complex and eye-catching bells and whistles you introduce to your site makes modifications and/or additions that much harder.
Cosmos advise that web site styles should be simple, neat, elegant (less is more!) and easy to navigate around. Also, the web site style should be expandable and durable. Both are explained below.
Expandable: That is, you should be able to add pages without having to change the overall site style. nothing ruins a site more than trying to add one more link that then moves some of the page around thereby changing the style.
Durable: you are going through the effort of designing a web site, you don't want to be a victim of fashion and have to redo the entire site every year. Like fashion, go simple and elegant and it will last the test of time.
Thats basically it. there is, of course, a lot more to it but at least with the basic steps above, you will be able to get a very respectable web site working in a relatively short amount of time.
Above ALL, ENJOY!!!