Website Design and Development FAQ: Design

Posted: January 31, 2014

Carissa Hoel Web Account Director

The design phase of almost any project is typically the most exciting for our clients. After months of research and planning, the client finally gets to see everyone’s hard work pay off in visual form. It’s a chance to see a client’s brand guidelines and website information architecture (IA) really come together to bring their content to life.

In addition to being the most exciting phase, VisionPoint Marketing clients often find the design phase to be the easiest to grasp when compared with other steps in a redesign process. That doesn’t mean, however, that they have any fewer questions. In hopes of making the design process a little easier to understand for our clients, we thought we’d list out and answer some of the most common questions we’ve come across.

What happens in each round of design?

The design phase is much more of a collaborative effort between VisionPoint and the client than it is a strictly mechanical one. The better the collaboration, the better the final product will likely be.

Our projects usually consist of three rounds:

Round 1

VisionPoint begins the design phase by creating and presenting different design concepts to the client. Most scopes of work call for two to four unique concepts, with each consisting of a homepage and inner page. We present Round 1 concepts in person, discuss them and then work together to come up with a solution.

Round 2

To kick off Round 2, VisionPoint’s designer uses the concepts the client selected, their feedback and the templates produced during the information architecture phase, to help create the rest of the pages for the website. We then introduce this new deliverable to the client to inform them of both how the site will look as well as how it will function. As with the previous round, round two also ends with client feedback.

Round 3

The final round of design is used to make final touches and adjustments to designs. In most cases, no major changes are needed at this point – allowing VisionPoint and the client to move toward the next phase of the redesign process. If changes do need to be made, we’ll do our best to come up with a solution more on this later.

What makes the concepts different?

Each concept will look pretty similar to one another. That’s in large part because our concepts are always based on the same IA. Ultimately, we use the various aspects of a client’s brand as the key differentiators between a set of design concepts.

It’s important for our clients to understand that while our design concepts are an important guide for the rest of our designs, the concepts are not final. Things can always be changed or improved if something isn’t working right.

What type of feedback should a client provide?

We like to view design feedback as an extended conversation with the client. Our ultimate goal is to examine each issue a client has with our designs and then find a way to address them.

As our clients move through each round of design, we encourage them to try and identify problems rather than propose specific solutions. By focusing on problems alone, instead of specific suggestions for ways to solve them, our clients give us a chance to present them with a broader range of potential solutions.

The Design Round Breakdown:

Round 1

While all of a client’s feedback is valuable to us, this round of feedback is arguably the most important because it sets the stage for how the rest of a website will be templated. In short, we present the client with the various design concepts we’ve created, from which we ask the client to select the one they like most.

Because this round has such a huge impact on how the finished product will look, this is also the round in which we’re usually on-site with a client.  A face-to-face meeting gives everyone on the client-side a chance to openly discuss what they do and do not like about each concept, while also giving us an opportunity to discuss the costs and benefits of specific design decisions. Once the client feels comfortable about the concept they selected and have a good idea of how it will impact the rest of the website design, we move forward to Round 2.

Round 2

In this round of the design phase, our designer uses client feedback from Round 1 to drive the creation of design templates for the rest of the website. Feedback for this round of design needs to be the most in-depth because the following round is reserved for making small finishing touches. Throughout this round, we encourage our clients to ask themselves questions similar to the following:

  • Are elements of the design as prominent as they need to be?
  • Are some elements too prominent?
  • Do the colors, style and type employed in the design match your institution’s brand?

Round 3

As mentioned before, Round 3 is typically reserved for making final tweaks and improvements. We encourage our clients to critically review all of the design materials we’ve produced on a granular level, and then take note of any changes they would like made and discuss them with us.

How are the schematics used to created the designs?

Although schematics look like black and white webpages, schematics are not design. Essentially, schematics inform our designer what content needs to live on a page and how important that content is based on its assigned hierarchy from the IA phase.

For example, at the top of a schematic, there might be a box for an image next to social media or additional navigation. When the designer creates a concept, the image may take up the entire width of the page and the additional items might live underneath the image.

What’s a web-safe font? Why do my fonts need to be web-safe?

In the early days of the internet, web browsers had complete control over what font faces and styles a user would see. The rise of CSS eventually made it possible for individual web pages to take control of this feature. Based on what the CSS specified, websites could call up any font as long as it happened to be present on the user’s computer. If a website-requested font was missing, the website would default to a similar font found on the user’s computer. That’s where the term web-safe font comes from the font has to be on the user’s computer to be used on the website a user is viewing, or it’s not considered safe for a website to use. For years, this severely limited the types of fonts that designers would be able to utilize for their website designs.

Modern web design and development is much different and luckily much better, too. Because CSS3 and HTML5 allow developers to directly embed fonts within a website, finding a web-safe font is easier than ever before. Font services like Typekit and Google Fonts provide scripts which can be easily embedded into a web page’s code, allowing virtually anyone to access the fonts a designer might have intended. If a script malfunctions or another issue prevents a font from displaying correctly, sites can be coded to gracefully degrade it to another web-safe font as an alternative.

Note: Clients can cut down on a lot of time and headaches by knowing if their font is web-safe before the design process begins. If a client has a font they would really like to use but aren’t sure if it’s safe, we encourage them to consult with us. If an alternative font is needed, we’ll do our best to offer means for finding one.

What images and videos will be incorporated in design?

For most projects, we ask our clients to provide some assets to use in the new design. Most project scopes don’t plan for things like custom illustrations or video/stock photography. If this is something that happens to be the best solution for the client, we’ll consult with them and offer input on the best ways to find the assets they need, whether that’s coordinating a photo shoot, finding good stock photography, or hiring an illustrator.

Once the final round is approved, can anything be changed in development?

In an ideal scenario, all design changes would be completed during the design phase.  Because design changes after project completion can often mean developers re-doing portions of their work, we typically don’t budget for it and deal with those types of situations on a case-by-case basis.

If design changes need to take place after development is complete, VisionPoint’s project lead will work with the client to lay out steps to solve the problem. Depending on the overall scope of the project and the total hours logged to that point, there may be some flexibility in addressing minor design issues. If the changes are larger, we typically pull together a change order for approval before moving forward.

Will the developed site look exactly like the design?

We always do our best to create an exact match with what was agreed upon in the design phase. However, there are occasionally times when the design needs to be tweaked slightly during development because of unforeseen limitations in functionality imposed by the site’s content management system.

Examples of this include:

  • Assumptions made about external data that is out of our control (we can’t include an image if the database we’re pulling content from doesn’t have one.)
  • Issues with overwriting the default styles to third party widgets (Twitter, Facebook, Google Search)
  • Functionality of the CMS requires a different layout or ordering of content pieces
  • Changes or additional needs of design/content made by the client between the end of design and beginning of development.

The development phase is just as collaborative of an effort with the client as the design phase. When issues like this come up, we do our best to communicate them to the client and find the solution that works best for both design and development. We make sure the client is on-board and aware of any changes that are made, as well as the reasoning behind them.

The Wrap-Up

We’ve done our best to cover most of the common questions we hear from clients, but you might have a lot more you’d like to ask as well. If that’s the case, we’d love to hear them. Contact us today with what’s on your mind, or start a discussion below.