A simple way to make your new website brilliant
You’ve made the decision. You are going to bite the bullet and get yourself a new website. Your developer comes highly recommended and you love her work. You are excited about getting rid of your stale old site and launching a new online home which makes you feel proud. What could possibly go wrong?
Sadly too often I meet creative business owners who have had a frustrating or disappointing experience when they commissioned a new website. They start out excited and gradually things become grueling and painful. By the time they flick the switch on the new site, the initial reserves of optimism or fun have well and truly run dry.
So what’s the problem?
It’s basically due to a lack of clear communication before design and development starts. In most cases I think there is simply a gap in expectations, where initial enthusiasm on both sides steals the spotlight from the more mundane task of creating a solid, detailed brief that gets into all the nooks and crannies. I’m certainly not having a swipe at the web designers and programmers building these sites, or a moan about unreasonable or demanding clients, because I sympathize with both sides. They are both focused on their own specialisms, but there is still a fundamental piece missing.
It’s the planning that’s missing. The part where you decide how your site is going to work for your customers and your business.
In our image conscious age most people make a bee line for the sexy bit first: how is this gorgeous new website going to look? But it’s not enough to tell your web designer you want a new site with ‘wow factor’, as what’s wow! to her might be whoa! to you. And you can’t just ping over a Dropbox with your shiny new logo and colour palette and expect them to work their webby magic. This requires unreasonable amounts of mind-reading.
Think of it this way. An interior designer won’t choose fabrics or colours for your sittingroom until she knows if you are a dog-on-the-sofa kind of family. A wedding dress designer won’t start sketching until she knows whether you are getting married in Westminster Cathedral or on Brighton beach. A landscape gardener will choose plants based on how much time you want to spend getting your hands dirty vs sitting on a terrace sipping chilled rosé.
If you do this kind of creative work, you probably find this strategic planning is the hardest part of the process to describe to your clients, it’s just not as tangible as the visual designs you finally deliver. But you know it’s the part where all the value lies. All these creative processes have strategic thinking at their heart, and a new website project needs the same. Only then can it deliver for you commercially, and become your new happy place.
The three stages of a new website
Broadly, there should be three stages to a website project, and unless you are working with a large agency with multiple employees, you may need two or three different experts to complete this process, so do ask upfront what your consultant can cover.
- Planning – How will your customer use your site, and what do you want them to do when they visit? How will the site bring your brand to life? You should also plan and collate images and copy at this stage.
- Design – The page layout, menu locations, footers, forms, buttons and so on. How will you apply your visual identity: logo, colours, images and other graphic devices.
- Development – the dark art of programming and technical wizardry, and don’t forget the integrations such as email signup, shopping carts, social media feeds, Google Analytics etc.
The mistake is to overlook stage 1, and start work at stage 2, at which point you kinda have to lean backwards and pull out bits from the planning as you go along. Without planning, you can be well into stage 3, and still trying to answer fundamental questions about the customer journey, how you want to handle email marketing or even what your pages should be called. (Top tip: if you are building a site with dummy text rather than real copy, you are making life 100 times harder for you and your developer.)
As with all marketing, a good website planning process puts your customer at its heart. How do we want her to feel on the site, what do we what her to do, and what route will she take to do it? How do we communicate your values not just through photos, text and colours, but through an attitude? Crucially, how do we walk the line between creating something new, fresh and different without throwing out conventions that we know create a good user experience?
Planner, designer or developer?
It’s not actually as complicated as it sounds when you know what to look for, but it just takes a mix of creative and methodical thinking. I think website planning is something we do really well at Opal & Co, which is exactly why I’m highlighting this issue. I think most people just don’t realise this part of the process might be missing until it’s too late and disappointment strikes.
We don’t do the design, and we don’t do development, but we do work closely with brilliant designers and programmers who say our plans save them time, money and tears on their projects, and we are happy to recommend these people to you. Of course some designers and developers can help you with your planning, so if they can, go for it. But not all designers want to be developers, and not all developers want to be brand strategists, so it’s worth understanding the process so you can discover this upfront. I know many designers and developers who would far rather stick to their specialism and start work once we have done our bit.
Opal & Co website planning
Here are just a few before and afters for some of the websites we have planned. You can click through to read the case studies, or visit our website planning page for more information. We currently have sites in development for a cake designer, online gift retailer and jewellery designer, so we’ll add these case studies just as soon as the sites go live.
BIJOUX FLORAL DESIGN
Website planning & copywriting.
“Probably one of the best investments I have made.” Rebecca Hobbs, Bijoux Floral Design
JANE ASHTON INTERIOR DESIGN
Website planning, website project management, copywriting.
“My website developer said website planning saved me money on development.” Jane Ashton, Period Home Designer
Website planning & copywriting.
“It is amazing how Opal & Co understand everything that is in my head.” Phoebe Oldrey, Smartstyle Interiors