The ultimate guide to creating a web design workflow
Beautiful website design doesn’t just happen.
While your clients might think their slick, high-functioning website popped out of nowhere, you know that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into it.
Most of your clients have never been through the web design process before. This will be their very first experience, which is why it’s so important to make it as straightforward as possible. Doing so will alleviate any stress, confusion, and ultimately, any unhappy customers.
Implementing a well-defined web design workflow will help you strategically guide your clients through every major phase of the project so they know exactly what to expect and when.
What is a web design workflow?
A web design workflow is a collection of processes that cover every step involved in creating a website. It doesn’t simply take into account the actual design process, it encapsulates everything from the preparation stages right through to post-launch.
Its goal is to make it easy to glide through the web design process so that you can keep a pulse on the processes involved from start to finish and everything in between. It also helps you determine what individual and team tasks need to be completed first to ensure the project stays on track and that you don’t run into any speed bumps along the way.
There are plenty of advantages of a web design workflow - not least because it keeps everyone involved and in the loop at all times.
When run successfully, team members and clients alike should be able to check-in on what’s happening at any given time, whether it’s mocking up wireframes, testing the user experience, or uploading content.
If you need more convincing, here are a few more reasons why a web design workflow can help to improve your design process:
Improved planning. A workflow helps you map out the timeframes of each task and gives a broad overview of all of the processes involved. This means you’re able to create an accurate project timeline for both your clients and team members, which leads to improved communication and decision-making throughout the project’s lifecycle.
Increased productivity. Things run so much smoother when everyone knows what they should be doing and when. A workflow gives team members the heads up about what’s coming next, so no one is sat twiddling their thumbs.
Improved consistency. Building a tight structure for your web design projects will help you remain consistent with every single client. This means no more missed steps, which makes it so much easier to maintain a high level of quality throughout everything you create.
Helps you stay on task. A web design workflow will help you stay on track and hit deadlines every single time.
Keeps clients happy. When clients know what to expect and when they’ll stop piling into your inbox and will leave you to do what you do best. Why? Because trust is the foundation of every great client relationship, and clear communication and transparency are the quickest way to build it.
The fundamental phases in a web design workflow
The Planning Phase. This is where you’ll determine the objectives of the projects as well as the target audience the site will be aimed at.
The Implementation Phase. This is where ideas and visions start to come to life. It’s where the design work happens, where content creation takes place, and where it all comes together.
The Test and Launch Phase. The final stage is testing the design and content and pushing the website live for the world to see. This phase also includes carrying out further improvements once the website is live and you’ve started collecting visitor data.
What you need to know to build a web design workflow
Before you start building out your web design workflow, there are a few things you need to know. Understanding these elements will help you create a slick process with no bottlenecks.
Here’s the information you’ll need to gather:
The client’s timeline and budget
The website’s target audience
What resources and team members you have available
The design elements you need to create
The content you need to create
When the launch date will be
Once you have a good grasp of this information, you can start piecing together a web design workflow that works for each individual client.
The practical guide to web design workflow
Now that you know what a web design workflow is, what phases are involved, and what data you need to collect and finalize before you get started, here’s a guide to putting it into practice.
1. Manage expectations
The first step in the preparation phase is to make sure everyone is on the same page. This includes clients, team members, and any external stakeholders that are involved.
A successful web design workflow allows all parties involved to easily monitor the process at every stage and also provides a top-level view of what needs to happen, when, and who is responsible.
2. Define the objectives and target audience
The objectives will drive your web design project.
Think about what the purpose of the website will be. Is it to sell products or services? Is it to attract new hires for jobs? Is it to provide a great user experience for blog readers? Is it to increase brand awareness for an emerging startup?
Once you’ve nailed what the objectives are, you can start to think about the people that the website is for.
Who the site is geared toward
What these people are hoping to find when they land on the website
What the main purpose of the website is (e.g. to sell, to entertain, or to inform)
What competitor sites are out there and what will make this website different
3. Plan the site structure
This part of the workflow involves two steps:
Creating a sitemap
Drawing up wireframes
A sitemap is a visual representation of the actual website from a birds-eye-view. It helps designers map out what pages go where and the hierarchy of content.
On a deeper level, wireframes outline what each page will look like, complete with the most important elements without being influenced by the design. This is a great chance to figure out the user journey and to bring the most important elements to the forefront.
4. Decide on your CMS
You might find that your client has already predetermined which content management system (CMS) they want to use and you’re tied to that. If not, this is the time to decide.
It’s a good idea to think about what system would suit the purpose of the website best. For example, if the site is set to have hundreds of informative pages, you’re going to need a robust CMS to handle that, whereas if it’s a three-page portfolio site, you probably have more flexibility.
5. Create mockups and visual elements
This is where the fun begins.
Now that all of the background research is in place, you can start creating the visual elements - a.k.a. the meat of a design project.
This might include the overall web page design as well as branding assets, print assets, and social media graphics. If the web design project is also part branding project, there will be tons more visuals to contend with.
Make sure you plan in advance which team members will be involved and who will do what. Play to their strengths, too. If you have multiple designers on your team and one is particularly good at creating logos, give them that standalone task rather than assigning them to generate the assets for the entire website.
6. Create the content
Once the design is mapped out, you can start working on the content. This will include copy and everything else that isn’t design-related. Basically, it’s the moment everything comes together to create the overall end result.
At this point, you’ll also start baking the content and design together to see if it works (e.g. if the block of copy is too long, or too short, for the given space).
7. Review and approval
The website is pretty much ready to go. Now, it’s the nail-biting moment of revealing it to the client and getting their approval.
This stage might involve a meeting or simply handing over the assets. However you do it, you should have a system in place for getting feedback from all stakeholders involved.
You can do this by:
Sending out a survey
Creating a video walkthrough of the design
Hosting an in-person (or virtual) meeting
Allowing stakeholders to make comments in a document
Teamwork allows you to collaborate and gather comments all in one place to avoid the nightmare of endless email threads.
Not everything will always go to plan, which is why testing is such an important part of the web design workflow.
This is the part where you can:
Fix any bugs, including broken links, buffering videos, and defunct contact forms
Proofread and check your content to make sure everything is where it should be and that it reads well
Check your SEO settings to make sure everything has been implemented correctly and successfully
Test mobile responsiveness to make sure the website is mobile-friendly across devices
9. Launch and further improvements
You know better than anyone that a website is never “done” when it’s launched. There’s always something that needs tweaking or a little edit that needs to be made somewhere.
The final step in the web design workflow is carrying out further improvements. Once the website is live and starting to collect data, you can begin to track analytics to gain a deeper insight into how the audience is behaving on-site.
On top of this, websites need to consistently be updated, which often means the web design workflow is ongoing.
If you haven’t already got a web design workflow mapped out and in place for your web design clients, why not?
Having a workflow makes the design process slicker and far more successful since you can strategically move from one stage to the next without missing any important activities.