P.O. Box 217
Montgomery, IL 60538

Planning Your Website

It is our mission at Virtually Simple Solutions to create a partnership with our customers in order to create a website tailored to meet their needs. We realize your Web site reflects your business, so customer satisfaction is our highest priority. Our goal is to have satisfied clients who will tell others about our services. Nothing other than excellence will do! Our success is bound to your success, and we will work as hard as we can to make both of us successful.

A Predevelopment Checklist

There is no one preferred way to sit down and plan a site project. If you walked into different Web design firms or in-house departments responsible for a company's Web presence, you might find their approaches slightly different based on design philosophy, workflow needs, and management styles. However, what you'd probably notice is that, regardless of approach, they were still answering a number of similar questions.

What I've laid out here is a general checklist of the questions you should ask yourself before  we actually kick off your site’s development. When you begin the planning phase of your project, write these questions down and fill in the answers with as much detail as possible, and then keep this checklist handy as you move through the rest of the project. It will help us maintain focus while developing the site.

What is the primary objective of this site?
Before you do anything, you need to know what the site's purpose is. Is the site intended to be a source of information? Entertainment? Product sales? Perhaps some combination of these choices (or others)? The answer to this question will certainly inform many of the questions that follow. For example, you'll make significantly different design choices for a site geared toward selling sporting goods than a site devoted to feline leukemia research.

Who is the intended audience?
When you understand your site's primary objective, more than likely you'll have a clear picture as to whom your intended audience will be. Looking at the previous example, a site devoted to feline leukemia will have a fairly specific audience. The audience for a site selling sporting goods will be significantly broader. This is basic demographic information. Are you targeting a wide audience or a specific niche? Do you expect to have a predominantly male or female audience? Are they business professionals who are hitting your site for work-related reasons, or are they more likely to be home users? You probably won't be as demographically driven as media folks following Nielsen ratings (unless you plan to generate revenue from advertising perhaps). Just realize that whom you're pitching to affects how you pitch. This will affect the tone of the language in your site, as well as artistic design considerations. Think of how you might design a site that sells skateboarding equipment versus a site about prenatal health issues, for example. These are two radically different audiences with different sensibilities.

How will visitors be viewing the site?
This is almost a subsection of the previous question. When you consider your audience, you also want to think about the hardware and software they'll most likely be using to access your site.
In terms of hardware, will it be possible to know in advance what their connection speed will most likely be? Are you looking to attract business users connecting from work on super-fast T1 lines or home users who more likely have a slower DSL or even 56k modems? Yes, there people who still use dial up modems to connect to the Internet! Are your visitors more likely to be high-end computer users (big monitors, powerful graphics cards, etc.) or will they be on the low end, for example schools with a more economy-minded setup (15"-17" monitors, slower processors, etc.)?
On the software side, there are operating systems to consider. The majority of people these days use Windows. However, there are Mac and UNIX users as well. You might find yourself working on a company's intranet (an internal Web server accessible only to employees within the company) where everyone is using Macintosh.
In all likelihood, you'll be developing a site destined for the World Wide Web, which means you'll want to create a user experience which is as inclusive as possible. Knowing your audience's hardware and software preferences can help you make choices about design. You may find you need to make certain sacrifices in order to deliver a site that provides the best user experience to the broadest audience.
This leads naturally to a discussion of Web browsers. Are your intended audience members Internet Explorer users or fans of Netscape Navigator? Each program has had over five different releases. Each browser is now in version 6.0 or higher as of this writing, and for each version, new functionality has been introduced.
This means that something Internet Explorer 5.5 can do may not be possible in Internet Explorer 2.0. And you can be assured that something Netscape can do may not be possible with Internet Explorer. These inconsistencies are the bane of the Web designer. Optimally, you want a site that behaves much the same way across both browsers and across multiple versions of the same browser. As neither browser supports each new Internet technology in exactly the same way, you will end up making compromises.

How will visitors navigate the site?
By navigate, I mean how your visitors will literally get from one page to another. On the surface, this may seem obvious: They'll follow a link. However, you know as well as I do if you've been surfing the Web, there's more than one way to link from one document to the next. I'm not talking about the visual, onscreen component of this navigation scheme yet. What I'm concerned with here is the process by which you plan on presenting your site's information to the visitor.
For example, Amazon.com has a specific method for serving the contents of its database of books and products up to their viewers. The initial page presents a visitor with a number of categories, specials and items of interest within those categories, and a search interface to locate specific items they may be looking for, either within one of the categories, or across Amazon's entire range of product listings.
Amazon's method is only one way of doing things. Your challenge is to determine the best way to present your site's information to your audience. This is a process that can't properly be done in your head. You should work it out on paper.
Things to keep in mind: 1.) Finding information should be as painless as possible for the visitor. 2.) The navigation scheme should make the visitor's location within the site obvious at all times. In other words, if a visitor is in the veterinary research section of that feline leukemia site we mentioned earlier, whatever navigation device you decide upon should clearly indicate to them that they're in the veterinary research section. 3.) The visitor should be able to get back to the top-level document of the site itself, and if possible, any main subsections, easily and intuitively. Using the Amazon.com example again, no matter where you are in the site, the tabbed navigation buttons at the top of the page always indicate your location. If you want to go to another section, you need only click another tab. If you want to get back to the site's top level page, you only have to click the first tab (Welcome), or the Amazon.com logo. As you can see, the answer to this question will have significant impact on your overall site design, which is good because that's what the next question is all about.

What will the site look like visually?
Having determined the primary objective of the site, who the desired audience is, making allowances for their hardware and software setups, and deciding how best to present the site's information to them, we actually get to the fun part—creating a site design.
Typically, you want to begin with some sort of mock-up—a representation of what you want to create before you start developing in code. You can draw your design on a sketchpad or use your favorite graphics program. The point I'm getting at is that you should put your designs on paper (or monitor) prior to developing the actual pages themselves. It's much easier to make additions or deletions to a piece of artwork than a partially developed site document.
Once you have the design pretty well fixed, you have a reference you can work from when we begin building the pages of your site. You don't want to be halfway through the development phase of a project and still be hammering out major aspects of your design; this is mostly because it wastes time to be developing and then redeveloping the same pages, but also because it creates a situation where major inconsistencies in the site's overall look and feel can creep in. Launch a site with radical shifts in design from page to page and you create an inconsistent and disjointed user experience. This will tend to confuse your audience and possibly put them off.

Simple Beginner's Steps:

  • Website Host? Who will you use to host your website? V.S.S. provides hosting services!
  • Domain Name (www.yourdomainname.com)? Do you already own or are you going to buy your domain name? If not, let V.S.S. obtain and register it for you!
  • Sketch a basic design of your website layout:
    Start with your homepage, draw in each sub-page, and add links to other websites, if applicable.
    Example Sketch (click to enlarge): sketch


  • Draw a story-board for each page and show what you want your website to basically look like. Don't forget to add your pictures, graphics, counters, paragraphs, etc.
    Example Storyboard (click to enlarge): storyboard

  • When you are ready to submit your website plan, contact V.S.S. for your initial consultation and price quote. If you have any questions or need help, please contact us via e-mail. We recommend you view examples of completed sites, located on our Portfolio page to get some ideas of website design.




































































































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