Thursday, February 05, 2009

What’s the point...? Of Your Website

So you’ve decided that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get yourself a website. Or perhaps you’ve had a site for some time and need to do a bit of redesigning. Before you get excited about uploading all that great new artwork and design…stop and think. Why are you creating this website?

Whether it’s a website, a blog, or a new artist portfolio or profile, the first step toward good design and future marketing should be the very unglamorous and unexciting planning stage. I’m sorry and I know… I can hear the groans from here. But it’s true... Thinking out the reasons and goals for your online presence is key to your success.

The planning stage is often something that gets lost in the excitement of creating your online presence, but I can tell you, every professional designer will engage in this process before they even put pen to paper in the design stage. Charting a course of action in the beginning stages of your project will prepare your site (and your business) for future updates and additions. It sets the stage for your information architecture (navigation) and marketing initiatives and provides the groundwork for meeting your goals.

The following are some of the questions I ask my clients in my Creative Strategy form. In fact, my creative strategy questionnaire is provided to “would be” clients right with my initial proposal for work. It is provided free of charge and starts the client thinking about his/her online goals whether they choose my proposal or someone else’s. Please feel free to download the form and print it out for future reference and planning.

Why are you creating this website?

What will constitute success for this website/blog?

Who is your target audience? What is their age? What is their geographic profile?

What materials should be included in the creative? (Logo, graphics, colors, fonts, photos, text)

What makes you/your artwork/your business different from the competition?

What is the benefit the website visitor gets from your site?

Once these questions have been answered, we can then begin on the more visual aspects of development. This includes something I call a “brain dump.” With pen and paper in hand, begin by centering your main idea on the paper. From here jot down the keywords, ideas, sequences, software needs, hardware needs, and materials you will need. It doesn’t matter how crazy or outlandish some of these ideas are… the point is to get you thinking and to open up your mind. Some people call this process “mind mapping” or “free thinking”. It works and gets on paper all those little abstract thoughts that will float through your thoughts at 2am. This process should also get you started on the foundation of your Information Architecture for the website which will become the navigation for your site.

Just as a house needs a solid foundation, your website needs one too. While your brain dump will give you all the little parts and pieces of your website it will not put those ideas into any order. A website needs order. The navigation of your site is what the customer will use to find the information he or she needs. It is imperative that this navigation be optimal, easy to use and flexible into the future. You might find that a story board or flow chart might help here. Arrange all the main pages (main navigation sections) on your paper and then place the secondary topics accordingly. It is much like creating that outline your English teacher made you do in high school. A well thought out navigation system will serve you and your customers well because it will allow your website visitor to find what he wants without getting lost and it allows you to update or add on to your site in the future without having to redesign the whole thing from scratch.

Now that you have your creative strategy, your brain dump and your information architecture all set, you can begin assembling your site. The majority of what you have just done has been completed without aid of your computer. Believe me, once you’ve created a website (or any creative piece for that matter) using this planning strategy, you’ll never go back. Everything should be in place and you now have a roadmap to follow as you design graphics, text copy and the pages of your site.

Good luck and have fun!

4 comments:

Art said...

Well, that's certainly something I didn't do before my blog, although it would have been helpful

Lisa Mikulski said...

Hi Art, I'm glad you found it helpful.

Barbara J Carter said...

A basic web site is an online brochure/business card. Who looks at it and how it helps your art business will come clearer once you make the thing. Don't sweat figuring everything out first, just do it. The answers will change and evolve over time anyway.

I think it's best just get a web site up, and not try to get it "perfect" on the first try. You simply won't get it right the first time. Or the second time. A web site is ALWAYS under construction, always evolving. And that's OK!

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just do it.

Christi Nielsen said...

Barbara -
You wouldn't just throw together a piece of art. You would think about it, what the message is, the best medium, how it would be installed, etc. You wouldn't let a piece of work be shown unless it was ready.

Yes, at some point, you've got to get it going. But you absolutely should figure it out first. After all, you're presenting your work!