Web Design: When Is It Ready? Finding Balance between Perfect and Half-Baked

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With any work there comes a moment when both you and your client start asking one and the same question: when is it finally going to be done? Depending on the kind of work you do, it may be a hard or an easy one to answer. For example, printed materials have a very definite point of completeness: when they are printed. With web design, things are vaguer because you can (at least theoretically) go on perfecting and adding up to it indefinitely, even after the website is up and running.

Thus the question of readiness acquires a very specific meaning when it comes to digital projects. So how does one answer it? Let’s find out.

There Are Many Gradations between “Ready” and “Not Ready”

It isn’t necessary to polish the website to perfection before launching it. Launching it in small steps, gradually adding elements and functionality is quite a viable solution with a number of definite advantages:

  • You deal with many deadlines instead of one, which allows for better planning and makes you less likely to be late with your work;
  • You can concentrate on one segment or function of the website at a time without scattering your attention;
  • It will give you an opportunity to start testing the website in working conditions long before the launch date. If you find out that something isn’t working properly, it will be easier to correct mistakes without taking half the structure apart.

The main problem with this approach is that it is usually only appropriate for personal projects and long-term contracts with clients. With most customers, trying to arrange an incremental launch cycle will take more time and effort than it is worth.

An approximate launch schedule will look something like this:

  1. Place a teaser or a preview on the main page. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a timer counting days to launch, an image in keeping with the general design and a newsletter subscription will do;
  2. Fill the home page with meaningful content: current projects, services rendered, portfolio, links to social media;
  3. Add contact details, a query form and “About Us”;
  4. Gradually fill in internal pages and navigation;
  5. Add images and, if necessary, update content;
  6. Add a blog, a news feed or another information sharing method that will have to be kept up to date.


Define the Final Destination Beforehand

Web design is an industry that is singularly subject to featuritis – as the work doesn’t have any clearly definable final condition, one can add new features, alter the existing ones, improve small details and bring it up to date with current trends forever. Even when, from a technical standpoint, the website is complete, and everything works as intended, there will always be small details that can be improved, now or later.

We use the same principle in our Themes. Adding new features, polishing design, improving responsive design are just some of the perks we add in new releases. Some improvements are small, while others can be much bigger. We just released a big update to our best selling WordPress Blog Theme, Amory. A shop was added with WooCommerce plugin so you can now also sell products with your blog with a seamlessly integrated e-commerce solution.

Therefore, it falls to you as a designer to define the limit to which you are going to do it – and it is necessary before you even start working on the project. You should come to an agreement with the client as to what final functionality he expects from the website and how many updates and adjustments he has the right to ask for after the job is completed. Preparing a wireframe or a mockup and explaining how things are going to work to the client at the very beginning can help avoid such misunderstandings.

Don’t agree to vague suggestions like “Can we contact you if we need some small changes”? Define your obligations and the amount of support you provide definitely and clearly before you start working, lest you be constantly bothered to bring things up to date long after you have finished the project per se.

Image credit: Responsive Template

This arrangement doesn’t simply turn you into an indentured servant with an indefinite term of employment. It often works to the detriment of the final result. More isn’t always better – and you should learn to set a limit if you want to succeed in this line of work.


Concentrate on Main Elements

According to Pareto’s principle, 20 percent of an effort is responsible for 80 percent of results, and it is just as true for web design as for everything else. The primary factor defining the readiness of a website is how well the main elements of design are implemented (if at all) and how efficiently they perform their intended functions.

The list of these main elements is more or less the same irrespectively of the website type, subject matter and owner:

  1. Navigation – should be easy and intuitive, spend as much time testing it as possible;
  2. Homepage – produces a very important first impression, should make it immediately clear what the site offers and who its potential clients are;
  3. “About Us” page – adds personality and breeds trust. Try speaking about the people the business serves first and the business itself second. Add a photo of the company’s team and testimonials from clients (again, with photos), if available;
  4. Contact details – allows for feedback, helps in demonstrating that the entity behind the website is living and functioning;
  5. Products (services, store, shop) – make sure it is easy for clients to find what they need and discover new things. Here functionality, navigability, and clean design beat creativity every time;

  1. Call to action – what this is all about, in the long run;
  2. Search box – to make finding the useful stuff easier;
  3. Blog – if applicable, but most modern websites have one anyway. Here the business interacts with clients, shares useful content and maintains community;
  4. Footer with basic information about each page;
  5. Characteristic style of navigation elements, to make differentiating between the elements easier;
  6. High definition, custom-made images to give the site a touch of quality;
  7. Carefully chosen fonts. Should be both easily readable, work well on the Internet and be appropriate for the particular website. Completely unnoticeable when done well, they cause no end of frustration and annoyance when picked poorly.

Your first order of business should be implementing all these things. Until anything from this list isn’t present or has clearly visible room for improvement, you shouldn’t waste time doing small tweaks and testing how well different variations of blue backdrops are going to influence the general feel of the place.


Seeing How It Works

Let’s say the website is ready, everything seems to work as intended, and the website looks ready to launch. Weird as it may be, but many designers forgo a final and extremely important stage of work: testing. No matter how thoroughly you’ve studied all the ins and out of your website and how long you’ve checked its functionality it is almost a given that you’ve missed something. You as a developer see the things differently and cannot even imagine the ways in which some clients are going to behave on your website.

There are two basic ways of checking if everything works:

  • Look for the assistance from your friends, family, acquaintances and other people who don’t have anything to do with the project and, preferably, web design in general. Ask them to look through the website, test its navigation, read content, press all buttons and do anything they will probably do as normal visitors. Then compare their user experience with how you intended it;
  • Provide feedback channels your real visitors will be able to use to express their concerns and encourage them to share their opinions and problems through it;
  • Use a special service aimed at testing websites for all kinds of things: usability, performance, compatibility and so on. It will cost you money but provide a full picture of all the current and potential problems. There are also few other opportunities to check how your website looks on all the devices used today.

The important thing here is that all these approaches are useful and not interchangeable. Full-scale testing will give you a lot of factual information to think about, but feedback from actual living people can sometimes bring you insights no amount of statistical and analytical data can give you.

Ragnar Responsive on Mobile

Don’t Waste Time Over-tweaking

Making small changes to see if the website works better may be useful for achieving an ideal… but remember that ideal is unachievable by definition. There will always be one more thing to tweak, results of tests may be inconclusive, you have to check again with different settings, and quite soon you will find yourself fiddling with typeface combinations, HEX codes and the like while neglecting more pressing concerns. I can get really sucked in when polishing the design of our WordPress Themes. And at some point you just have to say to yourself it’s enough, otherwise, you can decrease the usability of the website instead of improving it.

So don’t do it – especially if you feel that you may be doing it because you are trying to avoid a bigger and more difficult issue. Even taken together, these changes are unlikely to make a great impact on the efficiency, functionality, and usability of your website, which means that in most cases you can easily forget about them and employ your time better elsewhere. If it becomes obvious that some things have to be tweaked after the website’s launch, you will have to do it anyway, and with some additional feedback on the subject instead of your own gut feeling.


Getting Ready to End It All

Web design is a very flexible industry, and every designer has his understanding of when his job is done. Clients also may have certain views on this matter, and they will not always overlap with your own.

Thus there is no checklist to define if the website is done that would be cast in stone and universal for the entire industry and every particular situation. However, here are some points that may help you:

  • Website is functioning properly in all modern browsers, all basic functions work as intended, performance is acceptable and enough to satisfy the mobile crowd;
  • The code is clean and doesn’t contain anything superfluous. Maintenance is made easy for the end user;
  • All the client’s requirements as described in the design brief are met;
  • It’s been a while since you encountered an error. Errors that you still sometimes find are minor, don’t cause many problems and are easily rectified;
  • Interface and navigation are intuitive;
  • Design is modern and uses all the contemporary web design conventions and standards (HTML5, adaptive design, etc.);
  • Tests return good results, feedback from visitors indicates that everything works as intended.

Understand That a Living Website Can Never Be Truly Finished

One thing every web designer has to learn early on in his career (at least if he wants to stay sane) is that as long as a website exists and functions, the work on it can never be truly completed. There are three basic reasons why:

  1. Web design trends keep evolving. Two trends that are currently “in” are responsive and flat design, each with its own set of specific features. In a few years’ time, the situation may change, and businesses willing to stay ahead of the game will have to redesign their websites, sometimes from scratch;
  2. Consumer preferences keep changing. Two words: mobile revolution. Today all websites have to take into account that more people surf the Internet using smartphones than PCs, and who knows what websites will have to adapt in future?
  3. Search engine optimization keeps changing. With Google habitually rolling out at least one update a year it is impossible to design a website that will meet all its requirements ahead of time.

All this means that you have to build a website for the current situation and try not to be overly perfectionistic about it. Eventually, it will have to be redesigned anyway, and the only thing you can do is to make sure it does the best possible job in the world the way it is right now.


Know When to Stop

In other words, ask yourself: Does website look good? Does it do everything you and your client want? Does everything work as it is supposed to? If the answer to all the questions is in affirmative, then the website is probably done, and polishing it further isn’t going to bring much regarding results.

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