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Given that, I thought I would offer some guiding principals that helped us to develop more effective sites. Please feel free to add, subract, edit or comment on these ideas. Mostof us with experience already know these things, but they might be of help to those that are "New to Web Development"
The Five P's of Effective Web Development
A successful and satisfying web development project needs to be based on sound planning. It is not uncommon to have great ideas about a project on the grand scale, while forgetting the detail necessary for success. The following helps us to clarify the steps needed to bring the idea to fruition.
The Internet is a communication medium. Successful sites begin with this understanding.
There are three forms of communication that a website can facilitate:
1. Communication to the visitors
2. Communication with the visitors
3. Communication between the visitors
It is important to define at the outset the primary form of communication the site is meant to fulfill.
The average "Brochure Site" communicates to the visitor. it presents information in a passive way. These types of sites serve a definite purpose, especially with the rise of "Local Search". It is not uncommon these days for folks to go the their browser for information before they go to their phone book.
Interactive sites attempt to communicate with visitors. This often means that the visitor will "ask" for information which the site then provides. Think of realty sites on which a person asks for properties meeting certain critera, search engines, reservation and ticket sites, etc. On all of these there is some level of interaction between the visitor and the site.
With the rise of community sites (myspace is one example) we see how the Internet can serve to faciliate communication between people. Forums, such as WebmasterWorld fall in this category, although the genre has developed far beyond a simple forum these days.
The form of communciation that a site offers will determine much about its underlying design. We have found it is helpful to design a site's purpose in terms of a clear understanding of its primary mode of communication.
Communication takes place between people, and not just any group of people. Begin a web project with a target audience in mind. The selected audience will effect every stage of the design process. A site aimed at children will have very different content, copy, graphics and layout than one designed for goat farmers.
Questions to answer about the target group might include:
1. Location - Will visitors comfrom a local area or from around the world?
4. Technological Sophistication
6. Ethnic, cultural or religious background
7. Connection - Don't expect rural US users to wait as their dial up connection chokes on a large Flash based site
The requirements of a local restaurant wanting to create a brochure site listing menu items and upcoming entertainment will be very different from those of a professional organization wanting a site to enhance member communications. A dating site for seniors will be strikingly different from an educational site for pre-schoolers. And, a site selling fine art to an Inernational clientele will have different needs than a local farm selling fresh produce.
The Internet is about communication, and communication takes place between people. To be effective it can be neither bland or impersonal.
Every webdesigner should read the Cluetrain Manifesto. Among other things, its authors state:
"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter and getting smarter faster than most companies."
A website relfects a personality. If you are like me, you have a distaste for the emergence of things like automized self checkout in stores like Walmart. We like to interact with real people. How does this look on the web? A site should reflect the personality of its owner(s)
Even successful Interent behemoths such as Google have discovered the importance of personality on the Internet. Those that watch Google closely are aware of the special logos that the company displays from time to time. These logos are far more than a humurous affectation used by a large corporation. They reflect in a subtle, visceral way the playfulness and human side of what could easily be a faceless monolith on the web.
Desing a site around a theme that reflects the values of personality of the owner(s). It can be difficult to identify this theme, but in our experience, once it is identified the development of the project flows more smoothly, and the end result hangs together as a more coherent whole.
This is where most of us begin a site in our early stages of learning design.
We make this mistake because we forget that form follows function.
The presentation includes graphic elements, site architecture, content style and more. The presentation elements of a website bring all of the different aspects together into a functional whole that will work for the visitor and the owner. Grounded in the purpose of the site, it reflects the personality of the owner while serving the needs of the visitor.
An effective website is Zen like. It is simple, yet deep. It facilitates the interactions necessary to attain its purpose. It is rich in its essence while maintaining balance in its goals. It does not over reach itself with meaningless gewgaws, nor does it fall short of expressing its essence.
An effective site communicates with transparency, drawing the visitor in, maintaining their interest, and moving them towards its inevitable purpose.
Too often this is lost to the bias of the designer. Those that excel at graphic design tend to develop sites with visual elements that take center stage. Those whose strengths lie in programming develop sites that have pure code and are standards compliant but might be sterile and lifeless. Those that write well might have pages and pages of well written copy that is ineffective when presented in the medium of the Internet.
If we know the purpose, audience and personality of the site, the presentation elements are much easier to develop.
[edited by: willybfriendly at 6:35 am (utc) on Feb. 3, 2006]
Performance issues include both the hardware and software aspects of the site's infrastructure, traffic flow, and later an analysis of the effectiveness of the site in fulfilling its purpose.
A site must be given the proper hardware and software to support its purpose.The server and its connections to the Internet must be fast enough and have enough resources to handle the traffic load and processing requirements. For many small sites a shared hosting environment is sufficient. For larger sites (like WebmasterWorld) multiple dedicated servers mgiht be necessary.
It is easier to scale hardware than it is software. Poorly written, inefficient scripts will never scale well. We have had to refactor our own early spaghetti code more than once. There is little joy in that particular exercise.
A site without traffic is like a car without gas. It just won't get very far. These boards provide a wealth of information about generating site traffic. Since we began the project with a clear idea about our target population, we are prepared to identify the best strategies for traffic generation. If we choose pay per click, we are positioned to identify effective ad copy for our target group. We can use web metrics to guide our SEO efforts for SE's, and directory submissions, that will provide appropriate traffic to the site. Knowing our traget population can help to guide us in finding links on other sites that will provide appropriate traffic.
And once we start getting traffic we are prepared to really examine the site's performance in terms of its purpose.
We need to look at both logs and feedback from real people when we guage performance.
Is that brochure site for that restaurant getting local traffic? Are patrons making comments about the site?
Is the professional organization's site getting appropriate traffic? Are its forums being used? Is it being talked about amongst its membership? Are the numbers of users increasing? Is the organization growing?
Is that E-Commerce site making sales? Are people abandoning the shopping cart? How are they moving through the site?
Is the service site generating inquiries? Phone calls?
Are these sites being talked about on the web? Do they appear in discussions on usenet, forums or other places where the targeted audience might congregate? Is the site being linked to via email (log entries like http*//us.f522.mail.yahoo.com/ym/ShowLetter)
Based on an analysis of these things we are now prepared to go back and make changes that will improve the site's performance. If we have laid a stron foundation by covering the pupose and people, then we should be able to focus on the personality and presentation as we make improvements in the performance.
And as we practice these principals and ther implementation, we might even progress to the point that we can proclaim ourselves to be professionals...
The first question I ask a client who approaches me for web design is "who is your target market?"
Most clients haven't got a clue. The article you have posted here should be read by not only webmasters trying to improve their approach - it should also be passed around as a handout to clients!
We have had to refactor our own early spaghetti code more than once.
I think this is one of the most over looked development points of new sites. Code that can easily withstand server changes, template changes, transfers of ownership, etc is invaluable.
it should also be passed around as a handout to clients
That is actually where these ideas got traction under them. In fact, I have a meeting in about an hour in which I will be reviewing much of this information with a potential client. (That is probably what moved me to post it in the first place, since I was looking at WebmasterWorld as I was preparing for the meeting last night.)
I did not expect this to make front page at WebmasterWorld, and am duly humbled. I can say without doubt that the majority of what I have learned that really counts I have learned on these boards, or been directed to from these boards.
BTW, I just realized that Best BBS will translate the abbreviation "W" "M" "W" into WebmasterWorld. Cool!
I really would like to print it or link to it and give it to a client to read - but I don't want to do so without proper credit to the author, and permission.
If you do publish it, please sticky me?
Both in development and in day-to-day administration of a website, the owner or manager responsible for the website must establish excellent working procedures for his "people" to follow. With procedures, the quality and maintainability of the produced software becomes a breeze; and day-to-day functions such as customer service or uploading content becomes flawless and trouble free.
In many cases, the ultimate owner or manager of the website may not have the competencies to draft the procedures, this is especially true for complex things like the development of the software and establising customer service procedures when a team is large. In this case, the ownner/manager must use the expertise of a sutiably competent person to establish and review the respective procedures.
Procedure building is usually the most neglected activity of small businesses and start-ups, who will end up learning the hardway that "quality is a procedure"!
As this thread largely pertains to web development, rather that site administration, some procedures I would like to suggest are:
- Need gathering procedure
- Development procedure(s), often called SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle)
- Testing procedures
- Release procedure
- Beta procedure
- Maintenance procedure
- Billing and accounting procedures
- Client servicing procedures
- Feedback collection and analysis procedure