Web Site Design: How Do You Want To Communicate
Teacher: Richard Lowe, Jr.
By this point you know what your web site is about, you've got a good idea about your audience and you know what you want to tell them. Now it's time to figure out how you are going to get that message across to them. What is the best way to deliver your thoughts to the people who want them?
The first step in this process is to ask yourself if a web site is the best or only way to reach your audience. This is useful as there are many different ways to communicate on the internet and a site is only one of those methods. You could, for example, create an electronic book (ebook), electronic magazine (ezine) or even an egroup (an email discussion list). Each method of communication has it's pros and cons, and they are by no means mutually exclusive.
On our web site (Internet Tips And Secrets) we use some of the above mentioned methods to communicate our message to our readers. We have a web site and two ezines (a daily and a weekly version). In the future, we will probably create a discussion list and several ebooks.
Email Discussion Lists
There are, of course, other ways to communicate with people. These are just some of the more popular methods.
Once you have decided on one or more methods, it's probably a good idea to begin thinking about which technologies you want to use to deliver your messages. For example, if you have a web site will it be mostly static (straight HTML) or dynamic (changing regularly) or even database driven? In the case of an ezine, will it be HTML, text or both?
Other questions to answer may involve interviewing or surveying your intended audience. I cannot over emphasize how important it is to get feedback from these people before you begin writing your specifications or a single line of code. You have no idea how many times developers think they know what their end user needs and wants turns out to be completely different than their actual requirements.
You also need to consider your own skill set as you go through this exercise. You may want to create a fully dynamic database driven web site, but if you don't have a clue how to do it you will either (a) have to learn, which will delay your final product or (b) hire someone to do it for you at a significant expense. So be careful to make sure that you are creating something that you are capable of creating.
Another variable that may limit how you deliver your message is finance. If, for example, you want to include some interactivity on your website requiring CGI, you must understand that this is usually not available for free. Database driven web sites are even more expensive, at least in time, to maintain.
This is a great time to start considering how graphical your finished product will be. Will you create a web site which contains a large amount of beautiful graphics or a fairly plain, content oriented encyclopedia? Will the web site have animation and other dynamic elements or will it be fairly static?
Again, this is a thought process not a writing or coding process. The more of these types of questions you can answer near the start of a project, the smoother your project will be and the happier you will be with the result. In addition, the more time you spend ensuring that your message and the way you deliver it matches your audience, the more likely they are to read that message.
Be sure and tie every single answer back to your earlier stages of design. Ask yourself: does this help me with my original goal? Is it something of interest to my audience? and does it fit into the type of information that I want to deliver?
I know this all seems like a lot of work to do before writing a single character of code (after all, that's the fun stuff), but it will save you an incredible amount of time later on. It's trivial to change your mind now, as you have not created anything permanent. As you proceed through your project it will become more and more difficult to make changes, until it becomes virtually impossible to modify anything significantly without starting over.
Remember, your goal is to communicate (and possibly to sell something), not to code a website.
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