| Branding, Web Design

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In our [intlink id=”1026″ type=”post”]previous post [/intlink]we explored how we make a decision on which Content Management System (CMS) to recommend to our clients for their web site. As I wrote, we use a range of tools to design and build web sites that our clients can update and edit on their own.

How do we keep the web development process design centered?

When you consider that your web site is likely to be your number one place for building your brand identity and brand equity, you want to make sure that your chosen CMS and the web development process allow for the web design to be rendered as it was imagined by your professional web designer.

Our web development process starts with design work in PhotoShop. We show our clients mockups that are not fully functional, and in fact are sometimes nothing more than a large jpeg. We’ve found this workflow to be the best use of our time, and allows us to focus on the design and branding elements without taking too much time to build out HTML, CSS or other functionality.

Understanding Web Design

But this process would not work if we didn’t understand the parameters of effective web design, and understand fully the capabilities and limitations of HTML and CSS. For example, during the design process we are aware of when we are using HTML-rendered type and when we will be creating a graphic element. We are aware of showing mockups that demonstrate content being presented in a way that works with the chosen CMS.

Our goal is to create design mockups that will translate with 98% accuracy to the live site. Otherwise, there is a problem.

That means we only use certain web building tools and only work with the best developers. In general, we avoid highly templated systems because it’s unrealistic to expect to create a unique and compelling brand identity for our client if we are highly limited by a generic template. We also demand that our web developers use the best CSS practices to be able to render our design as close as possible to our mockups.

For each content management platform, we understand the functionality of how it pulls in data. So while we say that our designs are not CMS-driven that doesn’t mean that the CMS is not a consideration.

For example, for branding purposes we may want to use [intlink id=”949″ type=”post”]graphic images rather than text[/intlink] in the navigation of a web site. We did this recently with the site: PolyphonyHS.com. No matter which CMS we worked with, the client will not be able to edit the items in their top level navigation. But that’s OK. We knew the client’s expectation up front. Also, for SEO purposes those words are not content-rich; yet in terms of building a brand identity, they are critical.

Graphic-based navigation
The navigational area of PolyphonyHS.com which uses graphic elements in the navigation. Regardless of the CMS tool, these items will not be editable.

Why a designed-focus approach is critical

For many small businesses, their web site is the most widely seen component of their brand identity. Your prospects are going to your site to learn about you before they meet you or use your product or service. Or, later in the sales process they are visiting your web site to validate a choice to buy from or do business with you. A site that has weak design (because of a poor choice of CMS or just the effects of an inexperienced web designer) has the potential to lose a client’s business before it even gets started.

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