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By Jennifer Farley

The Web Design Process Part 1: Discovery

By Jennifer Farley
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Today’s post is the first in a series of three where we’ll look at how to get started with creating your web design layout. If you’re new to web design, a blank screen or piece of paper can sometimes be a scary thing if you’ve no idea where to start so the idea of these posts is to help you develop a process for creating your designs.

So what’s the first step in a typical design process? As a designer you will be rarin’ to go but what do you do? Jump into Photoshop? Start picking out fonts you like? Fire up Notepad or Dreamweaver? No, you need to drop the keyboard and step away from the computer, buddy. The very first step you need to take is find out what you’re client wants and/or needs (not always the same thing). If you’re making a web site for yourself then YOU are the client and you need to figure out what you want and/or need. 393px-STS-124_Discovery_Launch1

When you go to meet your client to discuss their web design needs be prepared to ask a lot of questions and to do a lot of listening. A pen and paper and a voice recorder (your phone can come in handy here) are the tools you’ll need for that first meeting. There is, of course a lot to be gained by Googling and finding out as much as you can before you meet your client but a face to face meeting (or phone call if there is a lot of distance between you) is your opportunity to fill in the gaps. If the client has existing stationery and a logo, collect all of their printed materials and arrange to get good quality digital files of the logo. I was once given a club logo that was made out of carpet – needless to say there was a bit of extra work involved turning that into a suitable graphic.

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While meeting with the client, be sure to ask many questions which will help you with your task. At this stage the questions will not be specifically design oriented but more about the company. Here’s some questions to get you started which will help clarify what you need to do:

  • What does the company do?
  • What is your goal in developing a web site?
  • Does the company have an existing logo or brand?
  • What information do you wish to provide online?
  • Who comprises your target audience? Do its members share any common demographics, like age, sex, or a physical location?
  • What are your visitors looking for when they come to your site?
  • Who are your competitors and do they have web sites?
  • Do you have any examples of web sites you like or dislike?
  • What kind of timeline do you have for the project and what is the budget?

Those questions are a starting point, please feel free to add the questions you would ask in the comments section below. The discovery process is a vitally important step before you even start thinking about colors, fonts and layouts because the answers you get from the client will dictate what type of design is required, and how experimental your client and their target audience might be.

On a related note, Jason Beaird has just announced the launch of the second edition of his excellent book The Principles Of Beautiful Web Design. Check out his post.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at what you do with the information you’ve gathered from the client, i.e. sorting out your web site information architecture.

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