Web design and the craft of building a website

Designing and building a website is very much like building a house.

Let me explain. Every Friday, our team gets together for lunch. Someone always cooks and it’s on rotation. Once a week, we eat, talk and share stories. Sometimes, if it’s been a particularly tough week, it’s quiet, the mood a little sombre. But most of the time it’s buoyant, lifted by the challenges that we’re sharing day in day out. Recently the talk turned to the subject of building websites and the challenges we face sometimes with how clients understand exactly what it is we do!

The team here is quite diverse. The directors come from a traditional, print-based background. Even though they both graduated on the cusp of the internet the training and subsequent experience was mainly focused on print, packaging, and the world of design you could touch and feel. Our designers are both old enough to remember Sega, but young enough to have the internet as part of their teen years. Their design experience is very much in the digital world. Our developer is the wise man among us and his experience bridges the old and the new, pre-internet, to post-boo.com. Our project managers have the mix of experience and background that compliments the technical and design teams. In short, we’ve got our bases covered.

During the relatively short time that we have been developing web solutions, we’ve honed a process that involves the careful consideration of client and user needs, expressed though functional design and the craft of colour, type, image, words, composition and context. We strive for a balance of form and function. The process can best be described by analogy. We always seem to call up analogies when trying to explain to clients what we are going to do to solve a particular web design issue. The best analogy we came up with is that of building a house. Not architecture, but simply building a house.

When you build a house, before you can lay pipes, you need to know where the bathrooms are going. Before you can decide on curtains, you need to think about windows. Windows needs walls, walls need foundations. Everything connects. For some reason though people generally find it hard to see why we can’t just start talking about curtains. It’s like everyone has suddenly become an interior designer. Where the logo is going to go, colours, images and so on, become the focus without really considering how it all fits together and how it’s going to function. If we were actually constructing a house, a client would clearly understand the cost implications of moving a bathroom from the top floor to outside the dining room, or the removal of a structural wall, or the demolition of a previously build room. Properly planned, we shouldn’t have to re-plumb the entire house, but it happens in web. We shouldn’t have to start with the roof and build down, but it happens in web. And we definitely shouldn’t have to design an entire house based on the colour of a floor tile… but it happens in web.

Our process involves agreeing with the client about the floor plans and budget, then building the foundations, laying the walls, putting on the roof and THEN putting in the services in like water and electricity. Only at the very end can we start to apply the surface decoration, decide on the doors, the colour of the walls, the pictures frames. The curtains. If we don’t do it in this order, then it ends up being a costly exercise building a house that no one will visit, and no one will ever call a home.