We’ve now been discussing for quite a long time the things you need to think about before you sit down to design your web site. If you’ve followed the whole discussion, and have answered all those 9 questions for yourself, then you now have a pretty good idea of what kind of site you want/need/can afford.
That all depends on you. It should be clear that there is no simple answer for everybody. There are a whole boatload of simple answers, each of which is great for some people and terrible for others.
But in a word, what comes next is design. “Design” is a process where you brainstorm up a good solution that meets all your requirements. Your requirements may be impossible. (For example, if you want a glitzy, database-driven site with lots of interaction, heavy graphics, and you want it yesterday at no cost, but you don’t want to do any of the work yourself, then you are in pipe-dream land. Can’t be done, although you might get most of that by just launching a blog.)
If your requirements are possible, then you need to sketch out the action plan to get from here to there. That’s your design. Only then should you start building the site (or getting someone else to do it).
A good design should take account of the possibility for change and make it as easy as possible to make changes across your whole site as quickly as possible. Let me give you two examples of that:
1) You may have noticed that I changed my little header strip just for today. (It’s the box above this blog that starts out “Successful Fiction Writing = Organizing + Creating + Marketing” and then has a bunch of products with links.) Just for today, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008, I added a little link in red that says “24 Hour Special (Feb. 21, 2008)”. I added one line in one file yesterday, and that change showed up on every page of my web site. Tonight at midnight, I’ll change that line in one file, and the new change will show up on every page of my web site. That’s good design. Many web site designs would require you to manually make that change in every page. If you have hundreds of pages, that could be a real nightmare. A good design lets you make changes quickly.
Good design uses something called “Cascading Style Sheets” to help set the look and feel for your web site. This is usually abbreviated “CSS” and it makes it easy to define the fonts, colors, background images, margins, paddings, and many other things EVERYWHERE on your site, just by changing one file. If you’ve ever had to change any of those manually on every page of a site, you know what a nightmare that is. Good design uses CSS for that. You can do most of your page layout using CSS, rather than using tables in HTML. That’s good design.
Good design is about being lazy — setting things up once, and letting the computer make sure that the same thing happens everywhere on your site. You may think this is obvious, but you’d be amazed how many sites have a terrible, wretched design. But I digress.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks. It’s time for questions. I can’t answer all possible questions, but I’ll make a stab at as many as possible. Ask what you want. We have some excellent web designers who read this blog, and some of them can likely answer questions that I can’t.
What would you like to know about designing your web site or blog? Post a comment here.