How to create a good enough website

For most people, that’s all you need. A website that’s good enough. Not that breaks new ground, establishes a new identity, discovers new ways for people to interact online. Just a good enough website that didn’t kill you to launch.

To be clear, the following advice assumes that:

  • You’re not trying to reinvent the idea of a web page–that the page is a means to an end
  • You work with other people

So, here’s what you do. First, realize that traditionally, the job
of designer has been linked with the job of programmer. There were very
good reasons for this. Designing a page that can’t work is silly, and
changing the design every time you change the way the page works can be
time consuming and expensive.

As a result, web design became a sacred art, one done only by the
blessed few, in caverns far away from where mortals tread. In addition,
it became expensive, because design changes (which marketers love to
make) got in the same queue as programming changes.

We need to start by divorcing the two practices. There’s no longer a
really good reason for the two to be so closely linked, especially
since disciplined use of CSS and testing pays such dividends.

Start with design. Don’t involve the programming team until you’re
90% done with the look and feel of your pages. It’s cheap to change
design if it can’t by supported by programming, and cheaper and faster
to have design done in Photoshop before you commit to cutting it up and
coding it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and beg you not to create an original
design. There are more than a billion pages on the web. Surely there’s
one that you can start with? If your organization can’t find a website that you all agree can serve as a model, you need to stop right now and find a new job.

Not a site to rip-off, but an inspiration. Fonts and colors and layout. The line spacing. The interactions. Why
not? Your car isn’t unique, and your house might not be either. If
you’ve got a site that sells 42 kinds of wrapping paper, why not start
by finding a successful site that sells… I don’t know, shoes or
yo-yo’s… something that both appeals to your target audience and has
been tested and tweaked and works. No, don’t pick a competitor. That
will get you busted. Pick a reasonably small but successful site in a
totally different line of work. Say to your designer: "That’s our
starting point. Don’t change any important design element without
asking me first. Now, pull in our products, our logo and our company
color scheme and let’s take a look at it."

At this point, some people are aghast! Shouldn’t the web be a design contest on top of everything else? I don’t think so.

Now, take your finished Photoshop pages and get every single person
who can possibly veto your project to say okay. THEN give it to
engineering to make it work.

[Boy, am I in trouble. People hate posts like this one. They read all sorts of things into it that I don’t intend. I’m certainly not against bespoke design, or designers. I certainly don’t believe that all engineers are bad designers or even difficult to deal with. The point of the post is most definitely not to encourage you to commit copyright violations or even ethical ones. It merely works to recognize two things:

1. If you are unable to agree on an existing site, you are sure going to spend a lot of time and money trying to agree on a custom one.

2. The process of design and user interaction is best done separately from the process of server speed, database structure and uptime.

Forgive me!]