1.    The Design Phase

Purpose:

Design starts with deciding on the controlling purpose of the site. Will you sell merchandise, impart information about your business or organization, set up a service or communication link with customers, members or subscribers? Whatever you decide will impact the complexity of the site, the cost of designing and hosting it and the continuing expenditure of energy, time and expense to keep it current. In general, first timers are well advised to put energy into creating a pleasing visitor experience as opposed to putting up a virtual business system. You should also keep in mind the level of expertise available to you at reasonable cost to perform routine work on the site and make sure the technical attributes of site management don’t exceed the capabilities or the available time of whomever will routinely work on it. Do not overlook the possibility of using your site to handle routine information gathering tasks which otherwise are handled manually; for example, gathering data to quote a product or service, set up an account, or handle initial intake of a client.

The principal points of reference for defining your purpose are the people in your organization and you.

Your Constituencies:

Who is your audience and where are they? This web site -EzBiz- is oriented primarily to businesses and organizations who have an actual physical presence at which or from which they interact with their constituencies (meaning customers, members, subscribers, vendors, supporters, etc). If you have been in business for a number of years, your population of visitors will include people with whom you already have a relationship -your existing constituents. If you’re new in business, your visitors will include more people with whom you don’t have a relationship. Some of them you want, and some you don’t. Your target audience should reflect in general the location of your existing and future constituents. Thus, if you operate a consignment store, it is likely that many of your customers are within 20 miles of the your actual store -and that they travel to you. However, if you are a growing general contractor, your customers may be many miles away and in most cases you will travel to see them. If you are a specialized consultant you may, in fact, routinely travel thousands of miles to see your constituents, from an office in your home.

Whatever the case may be, your constituent profile will have a bearing on the design of your site: the consignment operator will properly focus on the display of the shop; the contractor will call attention to work sites, and the traveling consultant will point to successfully completed projects and personal skills and experience. The whole point is to make the design of your site relevant to the interests and needs of your target constituencies.

Your principal source of information about designing for your users is your existing (or anticipated) constituents.

Look and Feel:

Color, graphical devices, textual content and the flow from one section of your site to another, in general, should reflect the kind of experience you expect to produce for your constituents personally and individually. The best source of ideas for the visual nature of your site is often (but not always) the premises you occupy and graphic collateral (your logo, for example) you employ to ply your trade or advance your cause. Look at your letterhead, your business cards, your brochures and your advertising. Be prepared for the possibility that any or all of these may need to be updated or changed to reflect the way you operate now, or even may not exist at all. Design of the web site is therefore a good time to consider revamping other aspects of your public presence, for two reasons: First of all, because web design is intrinsically visual by nature, whatever is produced for the site is easily migrated into printed material. Second, looking at ALL your visual presence assures that everything will work together to support the impression you want to give your constituents. In a nutshell, look and feel of the site should reflect the look and feel you want for your operation as a whole.

Aside from the resources you already have around you, a key contributor to look and feel is your web or graphics designer (who may well be someone in your organization).

Functionality:

Once you know what you want the site to do, who its intended for and the impression it will make, the next questions are HOW will it meet those requirements and how easy will it be for your constituents to use the site. Information gathered on your site should be sufficient to be actually useful, but should not be tedious for the visitor to provide. Once provided, should the data go to a file for to you to download later on, or to an email -or both? Will you impart information on your actual web pages, by downloading files -or both? Will you accept orders on the site or advise people to call -or, again, both? Will you keep product or service information up-to-date on your own, or rely on links to your suppliers or vendors? One of the best ways to decide these and similar questions is to ask people -especially your constituents- what they want. You will rely heavily on the web author and the hosting site to deploy and support these practical aspects of building and supporting the web site.

The above four facets of design are listed in no particular order because the insights and ideas that emerge when considering one aspect may well influence something in another aspect.

That said, the controlling test of any idea should be that it supports the purpose without causing complications that would unduly delay getting on the web. Because a web site can be changed very quickly, good but untested ideas may be incorporated later.

Actual Site Design:

Once you’ve given some thought to the material above, EZBiz can actually draft up a site and put it on the Internet so you can see how it looks and works. The service is free and is a good way for us to collaborate with you on the design and functionality. The sample sight request form will get you started if you’re ready right now; otherwise there will be other links on these pages and under Master Navigation to the request form. If you do make the request right now, we encourage you to return to these pages so you can familiarize yourself with the over-all process.

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