Over the years, I have been involved in over 100 web site projects. I’d like to say they all went off without a hitch, but if you have ever built a web site, you know that’s a lie. There are countless books and papers discussing the best way to approach this problem. At the risk of over simplifying things, I want to distill it all down to two choices. Once the purpose of the site has been defined, the choice should be:
Creative-Driven vs. Developer-Driven
Traditionally, the design of a web site starts with the graphic design considerations. We can all agree that it’s important to get the aesthetics right. Most digital agencies create a design brief that starts in the Creative department. Ultimately the design is handed over to the developers, who then have to figure out how to build it. Progressive, forward-thinking agencies pull the developers into the Creative process at the beginning, but generally in order to vet the technical and budgetary impact of the design.
The complete opposite of this process is to give the developers a functional requirements document, and let them build the site around the requirements. In this example they need to purposefully avoid graphic embellishment, and provide a platform that can be “skinned” and reorganized in a visually pleasing way. The Creative team would be involved from the very beginning, but merely to provide a sense of what design elements will need to be supported. Essentially the site comes to life as a skeleton of sorts, or an interactive wireframe. The Creative team then colors it in by developing a “theme”. This mthods is best supported by frameworks such as Bootstrap, or platforms like WordPress.
Regardless of which model you follow, the prevailing force that brings the developers and creatives together us User Experience design, or UX as we like to call it. Assuming that the strategy of the site has already been defined with the business considerations, the UX designer is the guiding force that keeps everybody on the right path. Having done a little UX myself, I understand it to be the intersection of three key elements. These are the Business requirements, the User personas, and the Technical capabilities. All of these fit within the scope of a budget and a project schedule. Ideally, the UX designer finds the intersection of these three elements and produces a wireframe. In my opinion the wireframe should be executed quickly, assuming that the development should not be delayed in favor of getting the wireframes “nailed down” and “locked in”. Nothing is ever locked in, as much as we would like it to be. Far too much energy is wasted and lost chasing the idea that we can truly know the final outcome of a web site design build.