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Design - Information and Tips

Web Site Designs
Planning a web site is an important part of web development. To ensure that your web site is meeting your (and your users) needs, you should consider aims, audiences, content, structure, design and maintenance of the design document the site. Each of these aspects is considered below:

Site Aims and Objectives
The more time you spend on working out the key goals and inspiration for your site, the better the resulting site will be. Consider the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the site?
  • What are the short and long term goals for the site?
  • Who are the intended audiences?
  • Which of these audiences is most important to you?
  • Why will people visit your site? Do you have a unique service?
  • Are there other, similar sites?
  • What is good/bad about them?
  • Does the site have to meet any standards?

    The next step is to turn the answers into aims/objectives and to prioritise them if possible. You then have the aims and objectives for your web site.

    User Survey and Audience Definition
    Before you consider content for you site, you need to think about who your site is aimed at. Define your target audience(s). You may wish to follow this up by carrying out user surveys for each audience, to determine what they would expect from your site.
    For each intended audience, develop a scenario of how you would wish them to be able to interact with the site.
    Now look at the web sites of competitive or related organisations and list the pros and cons of those in terms of the user experience.

    Content and Functionality
    Next consider the content for you site. Don't be tempted to start giving this a structure at this stage - just consider each individual item of content. List the contents. Next to each item of content, describe what type of content it is. Is it static, such as a copyright notice or contact details? Will it need regular updating? Is it dynamic, such as content generated from a database that changes frequently? Is it functional? Search facilities, member login pages and sign up pages for email newsletters are all examples of functional content. You may wish at the next stage to group some functional elements together such as your search engine and site map onto a utilities menu available on each page of your site. Or you may wish to develop a database to store frequently changing information.
    You may now be able to begin grouping content into logical chunks.

    You can now use these chunks to build a site map. Develop a schematic diagram for the web site showing the different levels of the site. At this stage you also need to begin considering site navigation. Major sections are candidates for the global navigation system, which will appear on every page of the site, enabling users to jump quickly between sections. Do not stop just at the second level of your site. Explore how information will be grouped right down to the lowest level. Give lower level navigation the same attention as the top level, global navigation. Users are just as likely to spend time on lower level pages as they are on the top level pages.

    At this stage you may want to sketch out a design for your site. Draw up templates for the different levels of the site, showing which parts of the screen are devoted to global navigation, local navigation, content, page titles etc.. You should also take a few of the user scenarios that you have developed and story board how they might appear.

    Be aware of the need to maintain site in the future. Consider who is going to maintain the site, how they are going to maintain it and whether they have the necessary skills. Get the decision agreed by all the necessary parties.

    The Design Document
    When you have considered all these steps, you should be able to use this information to structure your design document. It may look something like this:

    1. Mission and goals
    2. User experience
    2.1 Audience Definition
    2.2 Interaction Scenarios
    2.3 Competitive Analysis
    3. Site Content
    3.1 Content List
    3.2 Content Groups
    3.3 Functional Requirements
    4. Structure
    5. Design
    6. Maintenance

    You can now decide on a plan of attack:
  • Which areas of the site are important?
  • What do you want to get online first?
  • What can be left aside for now?

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