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Web design

You don't need to be an expert to manage a website

What is involved?

To develop websites you need to start by understanding the medium. There are many books and websites that explore the 'secrets' of the Internet, but the essentials are to comprehend the value of good clear navigation, well-written and exciting content, and a usable and accessible site, but more of this in a moment.

Know Your Customers

As with all marketing, on- or offline, the most important thing to understand is your customer base. What do your customers want and/or expect? If, for example, your customers are under-18s, you cannot collect credit card payments directly – obvious really, but it could save you time, money and reputation. Design and build your site for your customers, not for your own, or your developer's portfolio.

Get Some Ideas

Where do you get your ideas from? Few ideas are original on the web, so look around for inspiration. You can make collages or storyboards from site printouts, magazines and brochures. Give your developer an idea of what you are looking for – you won't be disappointed.

Site Planning

Before doing anything, you should plan – plan your site structure; how many pages, approximate hierarchy, file and folder names. In doing this, your site navigation will be more understandable and save development time, and therefore money.

Take time to plan your web design – the layout, the colours and images you plan to use. Doing this also saves time as you make fewer changes and errors. I once developed a site on screen, and constantly make tweaks – finally launching two months late.

The Design Brief

A design brief can help you define what you require, even if you are designing the site yourself. It identifies the areas you feel are important to satisfy your customers. The main headings should be:

Tools Of The Trade

Professional developers often build in raw code, using applications like Notepad. The rest of us use WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) programmes such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver. I have developed a web design course for beginners that uses Microsoft FrontPage, as it is an easy to use programme for anyone used to Office software. A more advanced programme is the popular Macromedia Dreamweaver – a more powerful programme, but still easy to use and also used by professionals. There are many other programmes available, including some freeware, so there will be a programme to suit you.

Other Design Considerations

If you want a cheap and easy site, static page designs will provide the best option, even if they are less flexible than dynamic sites. The benefit of a dynamic site is that the information can change for each visitor, just like on Amazon.

Another cost cutting option is to hard code your content into each page. The more flexible alternative, and a must if your content needs constant updating, perhaps from different contributors, you will need a Content Management System (CMS).

Will your site be open to everyone, or do visitors need to register to use it? If so, you will need a registration database, adding complexity and cost.

Finally, choose a good domain name – it adds to your online visibility – too long a name and your visitors may mistype it and wander off to other sites.

Summary - Points To Remember

About the author

Thom Poole is a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a member of the Marketing Society. A marketer with over 18 years experience in online marketing and web strategy, Thom is strategic marketing consultant for Jack Marketing Solutions, working with SMEs. He is just about to launch Howto-Websites.com to teach people web design from beginners to professionals. A regular speaker on the CRM and e-marketing event circuit, Thom has also recently written a book on ethical e-marketing, called 'Play It By Trust.' The book is available at the publishers as a hardback or download.

Article first published: Daily Telegraph Business Club (November 2005)

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