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So You Do Web Design

What’s a web designer and developer supposed to do professionally? It’s the one where I talk about what I do for a living and I use a lot of acronyms.

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  • Where’s this coming from?

    I’ve been asked a lot of times what I do for a living. I tried different answers and almost all the time I couldn’t help but notice the blank stares. The ones I tried out the most are “stuff for the internet” and “web designer”. A very few times, the person asking me wanted details. That usually happens when there really is nothing left to talk about.

    I found that the easiest way to explain is to imagine a typical client project and go through the different phases, explaining my involvment. Also, I’m not always involved in all of these phases. Sometimes I’m only responsible for the front end stuff, other times just the CMS.

    We’re gonna say the client is the CIA. It doesn’s get anymore typical than that. So, without any further delays, let’s get to

    The Get to Know One Another

    It’s when I just find out about the project and ask only a few questions about the scope of the project. I don’t really need to get into the most minute details yet, since there will be a follow up meeting after. All I want is to have an overview of the project and its timetable (if there is one). During this phase I’ll also ask to try to clarify some aspects of what they want accomplished, if need be.

    Before the next meeting, I’ll do some research in order to have a clearer picture on the client’s business and competition. Also, if the project includes some special requests, I’ll find out if they can actually be done and what developing them requires.

    I try to back every answer up with studies’ results and data. Like, when they say they want to greet their visitors with a cool flash intro, I’ll tell them it’s a not a nice way to treat your visitors and why. Like tell them that everytime someone sees a flash intro, a puppy dies. Scientific data.

    The Yes, No, Maybe and Where’s My Money?

    During the next talk(s), I’ll get into as much detail as I can, trying not to leave out any side of the project. We’ll figure out how we’re gonna work together (it’s the CIA, remember?), how long each step of the project will take, what the deliverables are for each stage. I’ll be as clear as I can be at this stage about what can and can’t be done.

    We’re gonna say they need a website for the Romanian market. They’ll be updating the thing using a CMS.

    Once I have the clearest picture I can get, we get into the financial details, too. Let’s say my fee is not being terminated for already knowing too much about their plans regarding the Romanian market.

    We can also say we have a deal and can get started on the project.

    The I’ve Always Wanted to Be an Architect

    By now I’d know exactly what the content of the website will be. I’ll divide it into sections (if they haven’t already done that) and design a navigation system. Also, I’ll find out what they think is the most important section (or sections). Those sections will need to be promoted on the front page or next to any page’s content. The deliverable right here would be a detailed sitemap.

    Next step would be to design every type of page’s wireframe. What’s a wireframe, you ask? It’s a low fi way of describing the structure of a page. Basicaly, you have boxes named like the content they’ll contain. Also important is the placement and size of any box, as the graphic comp coming after it will respect it. Oh, just go ahead and google it. I’ll be here.

    Back? I now have a clear overview of the UX and the client has a bunch of files with boxes in them. We all go out and have a beer. They say drinking on the job is a no-no. I shrug and call someone else.

    And I’m done with the IA. Don’t confuse it with the IA in the CIA. Different acronym. IA professionals can drink a glass of wine during lunch.

    … but All I Got to Was Drawing Stuff in Fireworks

    The graphic comp. Present the content in a manner that respects branding guidelines and the UX discussed during the previous phases. That’s it. Maybe show it to the client to get sign off. If I don’t, back to the drawing board. Repeat.

    Sidenote: I never show more than one variation (can you still call it “variation” if there’s only one?). I believe in designing the best UX you can. Since there can be only one “best” (we’re not the Girl Scouts, you know), any variation would mean presenting a top 2, or top 3. And you risk the client choosing the one you hate the most. Lose-lose.

    The How Do We Get the Thing Moving?

    This is the really fun part. I get into development and get to use a lot of acronyms. In conversation. So, from bottom to top:

    • Server side I either develop a custom CMS using PHP and MySQL or setup and configure an out-of-the-box solution, like WordPress or Drupal. In the latter case, developing the custom theme is also required. Or, if the project is build on the Adobe Flash Platform, it’s the phase where I setup AMFPHP and the classes needed to pull the data out of the databases and encode them into AMF in order to be parsed by the client application.
    • Client side Staying with the Flash example, I get develop the project by using the Adobe Flash IDE and good old AS3 (of course, with a sprinkle of OOP. Tons of sprinkles). If it’s your regular HTML project, than this is where my HTML, CSS and JS skills come in to present the content in an accessible and W3C standards abiding manner. Validators come in very handy at this stage.

    Those being finished it’s time for

    The What Does this Button Do?

    The client needs to be taught how to use the CMS, otherwise it’s pretty much useless. Usually, that’s exactly why I actually try my best to have this phase take place right before I get into front end development. That way, while I have Notepad++ open, the client can already get started on putting the content into its place. I usually try to stay out of copy writing, but if need be I’m there to hold the client’s hand through this rather difficult phase.

    After the content is where it’s supposed to be and everything is triple checked, we get to

    The Launch

    So:

    • the database and http server are setup,
    • the CMS is pulling the correct pieces of content and putting them into their respective places in the interface,
    • the interface looks like the graphic comps presented during the initial phases of the project.

    Only a few things to do and we can set it loose. Things like migration, setting up a tracking code, search engine parsable sitemaps, automatic backups and turning on page caching. After that, we’re golden.

    The Don’t Be a Stranger

    Even after it’s live I keep a close eye on the site for a month or so to make sure nothing goes wrong (from the database to new content), check out traffic patterns and SERP evolution.

    And that’s about all she wrote. Everyone goes home happy. Don’t get me wrong. I do go home during a project, not only after it’s done. Actually, I work from home.