Reverse engineer your website design

By Chuck Sink | January 29, 2016

Typical small business web design scenario:  Your company recently completed a rebranding initiative. You sit down with a marketing agency or website designer who wishes to discuss the “look and feel” you want for your new website. You describe your company’s branding identity and product value that you want visitors to perceive.  Together you look at various modern websites – both competition and non-competition – and talk about design elements that you like and dislike. You give the designer your logo and a few good photos to work with. By this point, the designer is eager to take what you’ve given him and get to work on your web design. You’re eager to start the process so the meeting ends and the designer moves forward to create a comprehensive layout (design comp) of your homepage and a sample interior page.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the steps taken in this scenario but there’s a vital ingredient missing which often leads to client disappointment. Being focused on graphic design and showing something artistically pleasing, web designers will rush off to design a website without client-reviewed content, save perhaps an established tagline and some corporate identity. Let’s take the simple example of a coffee shop. In all the zones where the right words are needed to convey your precise message, you see something like this…

Image source:

Image source:

Now, you the client are expected to fall in love with the colors & visuals, approve the “look and feel” and begin the hard work of replacing the meaningless “Lorem Ipsum” placeholder text with your own expertly written, compelling messages so the designer can develop a functional website.

The ball is in your court and the process is stalled. 

You may not even like the initial design visual because the verbal messages for the website were glossed over and not provided for in your meeting. The designer’s incomplete understanding of your business and brand identity can result in a design do-over with frustration on both sides.

Do you have time to write your entire website – headlines, storytelling and bullet points – or would you expect your agency/designer to help produce a strong message in both words and visuals… at a minimum, something to kick start the process with the initial design comps?

You may wonder at this point why the website design process isn’t better defined – particularly in the small business arena. Small web boutiques and freelance designers often struggle with the content provision aspect of web design during the early development stage, instead relying on their clients to come up with it.

Need a good web designer? Ask a content specialist!

Great web development firms apply consistent processes and systems to their clients’ projects which includes specifying responsibility for launch-ready content. This manages both expectations and workflows. But for many small businesses, affording the top tier services of such firms can be an issue.

There’s an alternative web design approach that allows small businesses to work with talented web design pros combined with the creative direction and business acumen you find at elite marketing agencies.

You begin your design process with content. 

A website design that begins with the actual words and messages that it will ultimately display, rather than a bunch of placeholder gibberish, is starting out much more true to the brand. When you see the words and images working together from the get go, you will be further on your way to approving the design, completing development and launching the website. Editing text and images here and there on a live website can be done on the fly.

Finalizing the design becomes enjoyable as you see it all come together in a beautiful and fully functioning website. You cannot wait for your customers and the public to see it, engage with it and act on it’s messages.

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