Who Is Your Audience?
A clear understanding of a website’s intended users is critical, as it informs just about every decision you’ll make with regard to the site’s design and functionality. For the purposes of this article, let’s imagine that you’re getting ready to build a new website for an elementary, middle, or high school. Begin by brainstorming a list of the different user categories. For example, parents might be one category, while students might be another. Who are your website’s intended users?
What Are Your Priorities?
Once you’ve generated your list of users, rank them in order of importance. This is a tough exercise, and it shouldn’t suggest that your website can’t accommodate multiple groups of people. That said, prioritizing the site’s users can be very helpful in making decisions about how the site is presented. For instance, a school website that prioritizes parent users might feature announcements and forms more prominently than a website that prioritizes student users. Again, your website will likely serve a diverse set of users, so try not to think of this exercise as limiting.
What Does Your Audience Want?
Now that you have an idea of who will be using your website, think about how you can serve those users. Getting back to brainstorming (a recurring practice in web development), make a list of the different features that your site’s intended users might want access to. It’s just a brainstorm, so don’t be afraid to dream big at this point. For example, if I’m devising a school website that I want students to use regularly, I might include a feature that allows teachers to post assignments on dedicated pages for their classes. For parents, I might want a calendar page with weekly lunch menus, bus schedules, and the academic calendar for the year. Since we’re still in the preliminary stages of planning, make the list as long as you want. There will be multiple opportunities to pare it down before any of the actual design and development begins.
Who’s Going To Manage The Website?
There are a variety of excellent platforms for running and maintaining a website without the need for coding knowledge or technical expertise. Adding and editing content is in many ways no more difficult than making changes to a text document. That said, somebody has to do the work. If you're planning for a school website, can you identify one or more people in your school who will be responsible for tasks such as adding news, posting photos, and updating calendars? If the answer is no, well, it may be that developing a website for your school doesn’t make as much sense as creating a Facebook page and sticking a phone number on it. But if you are able to identify one or more website administrators, it’s important to identify how often they will be available to update the website and how much time they will be able to commit. This will help you start to hone your list of site features and design considerations. For instance, if your website administrator can commit 30 minutes every two months to updating the site, it might not make a lot of sense to prominently display timely information, such as school news, on the homepage.
Ask For Help
There are aspects of developing a website that you can probably do on your own, and others that you probably can’t without some assistance. A good web developer can work with you from the start of the exploratory process or jump in when you’re ready to pursue the technology choices that will make your vision become reality.