The contract is signed. You have just hired a website developer to redesign your website. Congratulations! Is it now time to say “call me when it’s done”? No, not quite. While you are hiring a professional to do the work for you, there are still a few steps for you to do. While it may vary from one development firm to the next, this chapter describes the typical development process and how you fit into it.
There will be some upfront deposit that is necessary before development begins. Make sure to handle this promptly to avoid delays in starting production. Your site won’t get scheduled on a developers’ production schedule until this initial deposit is received. This means other projects that make their deposit before yours have an opportunity to move ahead of you in the queue.
If you have hired a developer for a custom design website, then an initial design meeting is needed. This helps the developer to get a feel for your project first hand by talking with you about branding, your ideal customer, and what the most important aspects of your products or services are in order to feature them in the layout. The designer will typically have a preset list of questions (sometimes provided to you in advance) to ensure everything is addressed. At this meeting, it is extremely helpful to your developer if you come with the following items prepared:
· Examples of any existing marketing materials you are using
· A digital copy of your logo
· Examples of competitor sites
· Examples of site designs you like and why
· Photography of your business, products or service offerings
· Any additional information that defines your brand
· Login information for domain registrar and hosting FTP account
· And as an added bonus, if you already have all of your site content, your new developer will love you!
Initial Design Mock-ups and Feedback
Once you have had the initial design meeting with the developer, they will start creating a mock-up of the website. This mock-up will be based on the information they gather from you in the initial design meeting, so as you can see, the initial design meeting plays a big role in setting the tone for the website. This process can take some time as it is probably the most critical aspect of the development process and likely the step of most interest to you.
The design mock-up will not be a functional website. At this stage, the developer is simply getting his or her design ideas expressed visually in order to share them with you. In most cases, this mock-up will be a layout design for the home page of the website.
It is important to note, that web design and print design are not the same. Don’t get hung up on exact placement of items on the mock-up or the size of graphics. When designing for print, you are dealing with a fixed format, and can be exact with the layout. With websites, we are dealing with a fluid format, thus requiring flexibility in how things display. Different platforms (desktop, tablet, mobile), different browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari), and different user settings (monitor resolution, scaling) all factor into the way the design looks. You should still point out your preferences when reviewing mock-ups, but allow some grace and trust your developer who is considering all delivery outputs.
Some developers specify in their contract how many mock-ups and revisions you are allowed as part of the initial design phase. Others do not place any limits and work with you until the design is right – right for you, your customer base, and your brand. Bear in mind we are talking about custom design here. If you only hired your developer to install a pre-built WordPress theme, don’t expect any mock-ups or revisions.
Your developer may have a client portal where you can access all of the mock-ups and revisions, as well as any other content or documents that apply to your project. A portal such as this can give you an area where you can check up on design work and see the most current status on the project. This can be helpful, instead of chasing down links and information in various emails sent over a period of time.
Once the final mock-up is approved, the developer will use this as the design theme throughout the site. The project will move from non-functional mock-ups to actual working webpages. Now the project will come to life as you will be able to navigate through the site as pages are built out. Obviously, content pages can’t be created if there is no content for them, so if you haven’t already provided page content at this stage of development, it will be important to do this now to avoid delays. If your developer is contracted to create content for you, this would be the stage they enter it for you, or coordinate with staff assigned to the task.
During build out, the programming team will be working behind the scenes creating functional aspects of the website. For example, if your site features user logins where visitors to the site can access content associated only to their account, this functionality would be created by a programmer. At times it may seem like nothing is being done on the site when in fact, massive amounts of code is being generated. This code may have minimal visual impact, but is crucial to making the site work as outlined in the proposal.
As the site is being completed, quality assurance testing is done to ensure the site works as it should across all delivery formats. This testing will typically include browser compatibility testing, walk through of all site functionality, testing of e-commerce systems (if applicable), confirmation of baseline SEO setup, and anything else outlined in the proposal or your developers pre-launch checklist.
Launching Your Site
Once development and testing is complete, you have approved the work, and any final contracted payments are made, your site will be scheduled for launch. It is important that you and your developer coordinate this step together, to ensure a smooth launch. It is also wise to schedule the launch earlier in the week, and in the day, so if issues arise during launch, you have at least a full developer work day to address and resolve them.
If your new site uses a content management system, or some type of back-end management portal, training will be scheduled to teach you and/or your staff how to use it. While training can be done before launch, it is more commonly scheduled shortly after launch as a sort of handing-the-keys-over-to-you ceremony. Training time will depend on the complexity of the site and how much functionality it has. However, expect 1 to 2 hours of training for most websites. If you are familiar with using social media accounts where you log in, manage a profile, upload photos and make posts, then you will already have many of the skills needed to work most CMS tools.