Important Questions for Your Web Site Project

When approached about taking a web design project, the first thing I do is to ask a series of questions of the site owner. The idea is to get him or her thinking about important aspects of the web site before any work begins.

I send the potential client a questionnaire with questions ranging from technology needed to budget and timeframe expected. I also explain my web design philosophy: simple, clean, and to-the-point (read more about the simpledream philosophy).

Along these lines, Drew McLellan recently shared his list of important considerations when planning a web site. He came up with five factors that go into the process.

In summary, these were:

  1. Who is the site for?
  2. What are the visitors trying to achieve when they visit the site?
  3. What does the site owner want visitors to achieve when they visit?
  4. How frequently do people expect to use the site?
  5. How will the site owners measure the success of the site?

This is a good start; the only one I would change is number four. My number four would be: “Budget: how much do you want to spend in time and money?” Knowing how much investment a potential client wants to make in the site makes a big difference on whether I take the project or not.

Money is not the only thing, either. Respect for you as the designer, time spent preparing content, and overall concern for the site’s success go a long way. Typically, if the client is excited about their site and wants to be involved in the process, the site itself has a greater chance of being successful.

There are other important questions for web sites including what technology is required, how much maintenance is needed once the site is launched, and what marketing exposure is required. The ability to answer these questions honestly gives you and the client a great foundation to build upon if you decide to work on a project together.

What questions would you ask? Do share.

Learning Web Design

People often ask me how I learned web design. My first response is that I am still learning! The question comes from people who are curious about getting started in the field. In this blog I hope to share some techniques for learning web design especially aimed at beginners.

If you are interested in learning to design, build, and maintain web pages, read on. If you are already a web designer or developer, go build something, and use CSS to it’s maximum potential. (Jeremy Keith nails it again).

Web design is exciting, it changes day by day. It is a diverse field, and many have dabbled in it at some point in their online lives. As with web technology in general, there is room for a solid career in web design with potential for growth. Good web designers are very much in demand right now as the web expands and requires skilled people to build and maintain sites.

As with any career path, there are many ways to enter web design as a career. Most of my colleagues learned on their own, but I do know several web designers who took college courses and received degrees in computer-related fields. For the most part, though, web designers switched from other fields to dive into web design full-time. Web designers typically come from other backgrounds: graphic design, communications, journalism, art, business, and many more. Today, however, children and teenagers are exposed to web design early and are able to choose web design as a first career.

Whatever your current skill level or interest, there is a place for you on the web. The first thing to do is: try it! That is how I began: I signed up for a free Yahoo account (it was Geocities.com back then) and started my own web page. I enjoyed it, and eventually it expanded from a hobby to a full-time job.

I learned web design (and am still learning) through several methods: college classes, books, online tutorials, viewing source code, and experimenting. If you can do a little of everything, you will benefit from the variety of learning and teaching methods. Often designing a few web pages or sites on your own can be frustrating when you are a beginner, so team up with a friend, fellow student, colleague or family member. If they are an experienced web designer, so much the better. Looking over friends’ shoulders is another way I learned valuable web design skills.

College Classes

Take as many classes as you can. If your college offers a “webmaster” or web design degree, take it. Even if you think it’s too basic or hard, it will do you well.

Through my local community college I took basic computer programming, digital arts (Photoshop and Illustrator), and several web design-specific courses. I took one or two courses a semester, and was able to learn design and programming skills even as I was experimenting at home.

Books

There are lots of books out there. Here are some of my recommendations:

Online Tutorials

As with web design books there are many good online resources. They are mostly free, so take advantage of the wealth of knowledge out there. Here are some of my favorite web design blogs, tutorials, and references:

“View Source” and Experiment

One thing about web design is that most of your work is free for anyone to use: the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is visible to anyone with a computer and a web browser. This can be bad, as plagiarism, piracy, and stealing code is a common practice. But it can also be good for web designers because you can learn from other designers’ methods.

On any web site, hit “View Source” in your browser to see the HTML (in IE it’s under “View” toolbar, “Source”. In Firefox, go to “View”, “Page Source”). For CSS, use Firefox’s Web Developer Extension or copy and paste the URL for the CSS file from the source code. Feel free to look at and experiment with code, just make sure not to take it and use it as your own.

Learn Solid HTML and CSS Skills

Finally, a big part of being successful in web design is mastering HTML and CSS. Hypertext Markup Language is the de facto markup language for formatting web documents and Cascading Style Sheets is the language that gives the HTML markup it’s beautiful colors, typography, layout, spacing, and the rest of the visual elements. If you are a beginner, start with CSS and HTML basics and build up your skills from there. A solid foundation here will give you full control over your web pages and a deep understanding of how they work.

Note: A good resource: HTML and CSS: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide

Moving from Design to Web Design

If you are already working in the graphic or print design field, making the step to web design isn’t very difficult. Your skills will come in handy, and you can apply many of the same principles used in traditional design to web design.

For you, I recommend additional reading:

Go Forth and Code

Whatever your skill level or desire, web design starts with solid HTML and CSS, training, reading, and experimenting. Don’t ever hesitate to ask for more information.

Using Web Cache

If you have built a web site or two you have probably heard of “web cache” technology. Even you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the “cache” settings in your favorite web browser.

While web caching is not hard to understand and implement, it is often misunderstood. Some site owners dislike a cache since they think it will serve “old” content to visitors. Others think that caching can distort site statistics since visitors getting cached content aren’t making requests all the way into the primary server in some cases. Web surfers may think they are getting stale or old content as well.

As with any technology, understanding brings happiness. I came across a great web cache tutorial and recommend it highly: “Caching Tutorial for Web Authors“ by Mark Nottingham. Read it to learn how you can control the way your web site uses cache technology.