WHAT IS WEB DEVELOPMENT?
While the terms “web developer” and “web designer” are often used synonymously, they do not mean the same thing. Technically, a web designer only designs website interfaces using HTML and CSS. A web developer may be involved in designing a website, but may also write web scripts in languages such as PHP and ASP. Additionally, a web developer may help maintain and update a database used by a dynamic website.
Web development includes many types of web content creation. Some examples include hand coding web pages in a text editor, building a website in a program like Dreamweaver, and updating a blog via a blogging website. In recent years, content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla have also become popular means of web development. These tools make it easy for anyone to create and edit their own website using a web-based interface.
While there are several methods of creating websites, there is often a trade-off between simplicity and customization. Therefore, most large businesses do not use content management systems, but instead have a dedicated Web development team that designs and maintains the company’s website(s). Small organizations and individuals are more likely to choose a solution like WordPress that provides a basic website template and simplified editing tools.
What is the Website Development Life Cycle?
Before jumping to the details of website development steps, let’s briefly take a look at what the website development life cycle is and what it commonly consists of.
The software or website development life cycle is the methodology or a standard that guides you in the right direction to build a high-quality solution. It can be referred to as an outline of what should be done to complete the project.
We know that there are varieties of what a standard website development process should be. However, there is a general expectation of guidelines to be adopted for success in the development life cycle of any given website. Based on user value, our focus in this article is the trending list of steps that lead to a high-quality website development project delivery.
PROCESS OF WEB DEVELOPMENT
The overall number of development stages usually varies from five to eight, but every time the whole picture stays pretty much the same. Let’s choose the average value.
· GATHER ALL INFORMATION NECESSARY FOR CUSTOM SITE DEVELOPMENT
As with most custom projects, we must first start by collecting information from the customer. Although it may verge on the edge of triviality, this step is the most important out of the entire process. Think about it, if at this stage we have huge misunderstandings or our priorities are not in sync with those of the customer, the finished product will be incorrect and the customer confused.
If we gather all the information we need right from the very beginning, we save tremendous amounts of time down the road, especially in the initial phases of the design stage.
In order to ensure that we do indeed obtain all of this information, we have our customers fill out a multi-page brief. Our customers fill out this brief and answer questions pertaining to specific details about their company or business, their competitors, and what advantages their company has over others like it.
Once the brief is complete, our design and development team begins its research. On average, we explore at least a dozen competitors’ websites in order to distill from them the best ideas for the industry in which we will be building the site. We then improve upon these ideas and incorporate them into our plan for our customer’s own website.
Following this research is the laying out of the initial structure of the website. From different modules to the functionality of each page, we want to understand how everything should work and interact on the website.
It is only after we have reached a thorough level of understanding of every aspect of the site can we proceed to the next stages of web development.
· PROFESSIONAL CONTENT REVIEW
This phase runs in parallel with the creation of the site through the entire development process. The reason is that we will inevitably collect more and more information from you as the process proceeds through each step.
When beginning to fill the site with valuable content, we start with the main page (also referred to as the home page) and the main internal pages. Although the content will be finalized at a later point, having these pages already populated allows us to develop prototypes of the design based on the layout of the content.
It should be noted that when we say content we do not only mean text. Content also includes visuals such as photos, videos, tables, and charts. Even audio clips count as content. It is essentially anything and everything that we need visitors to stumble upon. Most of this content is taken from an older website, but we also advise that you neednot be shy in hiring a professional photographer and a copywriter as the site progresses.
· WEBSITE DESIGN PROTOTYPING
In principle, yes, you could have drawn the layout of the site from the very beginning, but it is best to wait to do so until all of the background components of the project are in place.
Every designer will do it differently, but we here at Direct Line Development make prototypes of not only the main page but also of every small page throughout the entire site. We make sure our design team has plenty of prototypes to work with.
The logic behind this process is sound. It saves a huge amount of time and money for the design team. To clients, most of their critiques and suggestions will be during the design phase (unless of course they are programmers themselves), so it is much faster for us to change a prototype rather than a fully designed web page. It gives the customer the freedom to experiment with their ideas without delaying the process or adding to the total cost of the project.
In sum, we make the prototypes of the all the pages on the website, beginning with the largest and most important, and show them to the client. The client may remember that they actually wanted a specific module on the homepage in location that our designers originally placed the title of the client’s business. Using minimal effort, the designer can simply rearrange the page so that it fits the customer’s tastes, but is still aesthetically up to par. What is most important about this step is that it does not proceed further until the client has entirely approved each prototype. This ensures their satisfaction and prevents confusion and misunderstanding down the road.
· CUSTOM WEBSITE DESIGN
Now we enter the stage that is arguably one of the most fun for clients: design. The prototypes are passed to the design team who, having already been working with the prototypes and client from the start, has a solid understanding of what the client is trying to accomplish with their website. Still, we arrange a working discussion around the specific website design needs of the client. For instance, if they own a business in Philadelphia, Denver, or Austin, we will be sure to take all aspects of that region into account when building their custom website. We need to create a website that exactly meets our clients’ needs and surpasses their expectations.
As with the prototypes, we begin by working with the client on the homepage of their site. From experience, we know that this is where the most questions will arise. The client is, after all, choosing the face of their company online. We do not move past this stage without the approval from the client because this selection sets the design theme for the rest of the website. We always encourage our clients to take their time in thinking over their approval decisions, but we also advise that they not dwell too long on something. Overthinking will cause you to scramble every idea that you’ve had up until this point. It’s best to make a calculated, yet timely decision.
If the client, even after all of our research and questioning, does not like the first design of the homepage that we present them, our designers will develop a second version with absolutely no extra charge. We understand that sometimes to make the right decision, you need to have options.
The layout is overwhelmingly important. It is the path by which you and your site’s visitors will navigate your company or business. In order to get it exactly right, we question the client in detail about their preferences and design tastes. We understand that most clients won’t know why they like something, they just do. Totally fine. Our designers and developers are fully capable of distilling your preferences from the information you provide us, such as which sites you like and the sites of your competitors. Again, this phase is crucial to the success of the website, but we do our best to move through it as quickly as possible.
Once we settle on the homepage design-scheme and layout, we can quickly integrate that design throughout the entire website, since the general theme is already established.
· FRONT-END DEVELOPMENT AND PROGRAMMING
Contrasting the fun involved creative process of the design stage is the programming phase. This phase can last anywhere from four to eight weeks for an average-sized site. During this phase, the client takes a back seat as the technical details are hammered out behind the scenes.
The project manager, having already prepared a detailed outline of all the pages of the site, passes it over to the lead developer for the website. That developer then installs the Content Management System (CMS) and programs all of the necessary modules for the site.
At the moment, we use Python as our primary programming language for all of our sites. It is high-powered and conducive to speed and reliability. For example, if we were to write a site in PHP and operate through WordPress, a few hundred visitors would cause the site to lag and freeze up. A Python website, on the other hand, could take that influx of traffic many times over and not even break a sweat. The difference is impeccable.
The goal of this step is not simply to scrap together the code needed to launch the site. Instead, our developers work to make the site run as efficiently and quickly as possible, and doing so requires intense analysis and review. The main blocks of code will be reviewed by many different people, including the lead developer for the project. The whole site then passes through an Alpha testing in order to ensure that our efficiency standards are met.
At this point, the site is drawn out, compiled, programmed, and ready for use on an actual internet browser, but still only for the development team.
The first phase of testing is populating the rest of the website with relevant content. This is done through the CMS, which inadvertently checks the functionality of the CMS itself as well as the semantic integrity of the website.
It should be said that no matter how professional the team is, no matter how much time is put in, etc., you are going to find errors on the website. Some of these errors will be huge and require immediate fixing, others will be barely noticeable. Naturally, most of the main bugs will have been addressed and fixed, but some errors find their way to the surface only after a series of actions take place that brings them about. The goal is to find each and every bug and correct it before the public launch of the site.
We also test the site for optimal User Experience functionality. We do this by having people use the site who are unfamiliar with the project. We ask them to navigate the site from a laptop, iPad, phone, etc., and to use it for its intended purpose (i.e. shopping, information, commenting). If we have the same people who have been building the site go through and test for User Experience, they will be too accustomed to the project and overlook certain details that a fresh set of eyes would notice immediately.
The goal is to make sure that by the time real users visit the site, there will be no errors that could spoil their impression of the site or business. We especially want to avoid the kind of errors that would cause visitors to leave the site altogether.
· WEBSITE LAUNCH AND CUSTOMER PRESENTATION
Our favorite step of the website development process.
Like the birth of a child, the finished product of a custom website always brings a smile to our customers’ faces. It is the culmination of several months of hard work by dozens of people and gives everyone something to be proud of. The designers and developers take pride in their work while the customer takes pride in their company.
You should always keep in mind that the website development project doesn’t start with coding and doesn’t end after the day you finally launch your website. The phase of preparation affects all subsequent stages, defining how productive the development process will be. A profound and in-depth discovery of such aspects like age, sex, and interests of your end-user may become the key to success. The post-launch period is rather significant. Your project should be agile and flexible enough to have a possibility to change your website according to users’ feedback or spirit of the time. Keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as insignificant website development phase will prevent you from unexpected troubles and give you confidence that everything flows as it should, and you have full control over the project.