I’ve worked at Adido for the past nine years, and whilst over that time I have seen our agency redesign and relaunch its own website 2-3 times, thanks to COVID-19 this is the first time I’ve been the client on part of the project. Also, like a client, I had to get to grips with a new CMS at the same time...
As Strategy Director, I'm someone who doesn't get involved in web design projects on a daily basis as my role in these projects is more consultative (I tend to offer strategic advice on how websites and marketing channels could work together). Therefore, when I got heavily involved in bringing our own website project through to fruition I very much saw the process from the client's POV and really got stuck in during the process. It's a perspective I don't get to experience regularly, but after the successful re-launch of our site I thought I’d share my experience, as in all honesty, up until now I’ve under-estimated the collaboration required between the agency-client partnership to get a website live!
Hopefully some of my points will put you in good stead if you're embarking on a web project of your own.
Website design should be a partnership between agency and client
Clients don’t commission a new website, they buy into a process
All projects start with a brief - whether that’s written or verbal - where all the fundamental details of the project are recorded and shared. The client kicks off the project in this way, the agency adds details through further investigation and together they agree on a scope of work. The more detailed this is, the less iterative changes are likely at later stages which can add time and cost to the project.
At this point there should be people in both teams (agency and client) let loose to start their roles in the project. Under no circumstances should the client think that their work here is done until the wireframes and/or designs arrive for inspection.
A typical web build for us involves six stages, some occur at similar times to complement each other:
- Planning & UX
- Testing and content population
- Digital marketing
- Go live
Whilst the agency initiates the planning and UX phase involving user stories and wireframes, there are things that as the site owner you should be looking to start sooner rather than later. These involve COPY and IMAGERY.
You may see these on the project schedule as tasks required during the testing and content population phase (8-10 weeks into the build) but if you leave until then you’ll be under a lot of pressure to complete in a short timeframe and it’ll either delay the project or you’ll have to make some compromises.
Now, granted you don’t have the design yet so how do you know what to write or what images will be required?
You don’t know exactly, but you should have a good idea what sort of paragraphs, sentences, headings and images you might want to use. Start building up a library of potential options and as layouts and designs start to emerge from the agency you can adapt together.
Don’t underestimate the power of content
The reason I say this is that copy and imagery are two of the most time zapping components of a web build that as a client you cannot completely handover to the agency, unless you’re prepared to pay big bucks! They are also two of the most noticeable components of the build!
Our new site isn’t very big, but the man hours invested in each page’s copy, and selecting the right imagery soon adds up and can slow down the launch date if you wait until you’re ‘delivered the CMS’ to populate.
Images can also have a massive bearing on the final design. Whilst typically you’ll receive an indication of what your ‘finished’ site will look like in the template designs, the final outcome could look very different based on the images you’ve selected.
If you’re buying a CMS-enabled website, which lets face it, it is the preferred option because it allows you to add pages and amend content with minimal (if any) assistance from a web developer, then you will be expanding your site footprint over time.
As a result our web designers tackle page template designs and content blocks but they don’t design every page of the site individually.
This is one of those moments where you realise that you’re more involved in the look of the site than you realise!
Everyone's busy behind the scenes
Both teams should be very busy behind the scenes throughout the project. The sooner the sitemap is completed, and the wireframes signed off, the better both parties can contribute to the evolution of the final product.
We’re well versed in following a process from inception through to design through to build and launch, however from a client perspective it may feel a little too much like a waiting game. Waiting for those agreed milestones and sign-off points until you’re given the green light to get your hands on the CMS.
With the completion of the sitemap and wireframes you should be in a great position to hone the copywriting and start to plan out how much copy and images are going to be required. It pays to be super-organised!
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
My experience of our recent website build has taught me that it’s only when the real content and real imagery is added, and the website comes to life, that you become truly critical of what has been produced.
On our site, I had been involved in the wireframe discussions, I had seen and given my approval on the page templates, I had proof read the copy, but when I finally got my hands on the CMS and the content was added, I felt the need to alter or at least enhance what we had approved.
Luckily web builds these days make the most of content block creation, so for the most part it was a matter of borrowing elements from other pages and adding them into others without losing the integrity of the original design.
This is also where the collaborative nature of the project comes into its own, the fusion of vision with reality.
On occasion though change requests did have to be made, as a content block wasn’t suitable for the intended placement. So my advice is always have a bit of contingency budget in reserve to do those little finishing touches which will make all the difference to the user journey and website performance. If they’re small changes you might get away with it in the snagging updates (shhhhh, I didn’t say that!), but for significant design amends or sheer quantity of little extras, don’t be surprised if this adds to the cost of the project.
But wait, that’s only the beginning…
Once your website launches, whilst it’s shiny and new and will feel precious to you, the proof will be in how well it performs.
You definitely shouldn’t need to do anything to it immediately, but after 24hrs, a few days, a few weeks, a few months keep your eye on the stats and user feedback and be willing to make adjustments.
A website should never sit still, afterall, the beauty of digital is the real-time feedback we get on performance that should not be ignored.
I'm looking forward to seeing the results our hard effort result in better rankings, and a better converting site. Watch this space!