This first step to creating a new website is probably the most important link in the design and construction chain, but it also the one most often neglected. I understand the temptation to dive straight into Photoshop and Dreamweaver to get the site up and running as quickly as possible, but it’s a temptation which I force myself to resist, because the only possible outcome is failure on many levels.
Without a simple sketch of your sitemap and plan of your content (as well as an idea of who the website will be created for), you’ll be driving blind, and before you know it you’ll be staring at the screen with no idea of what to do next. The site will end up being a generic mish-mash of poorly considered text & stock images which will bore people into leaving.
Just like in graphic design when you need to sketch ideas for a logo or brochure, in website design you need to do the same - but also take it a little further. You have to consider functionality and usability.
My plan is to create a website (the one that you’re reading now) which explains in simple language how to go about designing and building a website. The design and build process needs to take account of everything from the planning and initial design stages, through construction and search engine optimization to publication. The site needs to be simple to navigate, contain easy-to-read and print articles, and will contain few (if any) ‘bells and whistles’ unless they have a specific purpose.
In order to work, the website therefore needs to feature a natural progression which leads the user (you) through a series of chronological steps (this being the first one) to a point where the website is published online. It will probably be best to group these stages into main categories such as planning, designing, construction, SEO and publication. There will also need to be a category for additional functionality and usability, such as the integration of Google Analytics, Google Maps, interactive PDF readers and so on.
But all that’s for later. Let’s start with the plan. Normally, if I’m creating a proposed sitemap for a client, I’ll use Adobe Illustrator to make it as clean and clear as possible. Don’t worry if you don’t use Illustrator - a pencil and pad will do just as well.
Before I think about design, I’m going to nail the sitemap.