When we work with our clients to design and build a brand new website, or redesign an existing website, we generally use WordPress.
There are a number of advantages provided by employing WordPress as a website platform, but that will be the subject for a separate article. In this piece we specifically address the benefits provided by custom-designing WordPress sites, as opposed to using publicly available pre-fab templates.
Our strategy: Bottom-up design
What exactly is: “bottom-up” design? To define that, we need to explain the methodology of effective website creation. It’s actually quite simple. The order in which you do things should be:
Figure out the purpose of your website
Maybe you have forms that you’d like people to fill out before coming into your location. Or perhaps you just want to provide a good deal of relevant information.
The point is, before starting on anything else, you need to decide what you’d like your website to accomplish for you.
Decide what materials will make up the website
Also consider audio and video media, forms you might want people to fill out, interactive information you provide (such as account access, purchase and sales data, et al.)
As you’re deciding which materials will be part of the website, always keep in mind how they support the purposes established in the Step 1 (above).
Design and build a site which supports steps 1 and 2
To put it more directly: unless you are a website production company, the website is not your product or service; the website is simply there to represent your products and services.
Just as important is to stay focused on how easy it is for your website visitors to find exactly what they are looking for. As much as possible, try to think of your website from the user’s point of view. It’s easy to get lost in a “company-centric” myopia, which does not typify the way your customers view and use your website. Avoid that at all costs!
Following this process, where you start from the “bottom” (the ultimate goal of the website), and work your way to the “top” (the actual website) is what constitutes “bottom-up” design. Essentially, you begin with the most basic elements (the goals) and work your way to the final product: the website itself.
Using pre-made WordPress templates works against you
Now that we’ve laid out the proper way to plan and design a website, let’s examine the how — unfortunately — many people go through the process of creating their website. In fact, it is precisely the reverse of how it should be done.
Most people will look at samples of websites first, and pick the design that they “like” the best. This is where using pre-created templates is problematic. In choosing a template that you like the “look” of, you then are forced to fill in the spaces in that template to match the sample you’ve seen.
So, rather than letting the content drive the design, you’re allowing the design to push you into creating content that you feel you need, to accommodate that template you’ve chosen. By now, the shortcoming of this approach should be obvious. But it gets even worse.
The most important aspect of a website gets minimized
Remember Step 1 above? It is: Figure out what you want your website to accomplish for your business. In the “backwards” methodology taken by many business owners, deciding what the website should actually do for them is often an afterthought at best.
In contrast to the “bottom-up” philosophy that we recommend, this “top-down” methodology is typical of the “ivory tower” syndrome that many companies suffer from. In the end, the result of this flawed approach is that the website is much less effective than it could be, as an asset to your business.
Good design is a multi-level process
Effective website design is often misconstrued as simply the art of making a site visually pleasing. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A good website designer uses well-established principles of readability and user-friendly techniques to make a website easy to use, as well as to render it a powerful communication device.
The designer will put extensive thought into fonts (readability, versatility, and cross-platform viability, to name a few criteria), photos, the placement of all sections of the site as well as how those sections will move and flex with different screen widths, colors, organization and subdivision of text blocks, and many, many more items.
As website designers, we need to understand both the user experience in different devices (desktop computer, laptop, tablets, phones) but also how the code will work to provide optimum presentation in those devices.
Far from being simply an artistic preference, good design is much like engineering: it takes into account many factors, and winds up at an optimum solution.
Informing the entire process, is the requirement that the design serve the overall purpose of the website. And of course the only way to do this, is to design the site from “scratch;” something that cannot be done when faced with a pre-configured template.