The idea of building a web site is not new. The idea of wanting one is far from rare. To start with a good site on the first try, planning is essential. Unless you have plenty of time to design a site over and over, identify what needs to be done to make it right and save as much time (and lost hair) as possible.
The first thing is to decide on a theme for the site. What topic will it cover? What information do you have to share about the subject? How many pages are required to cover each issue? Will there be diverse sections or just one? Do you need several graphics or just a logo? Every section and page on the site should be a continuation of your main theme. Everything on the site should be a reflection of that theme. Even though subject matter may change from page to page, it should still be related to the main theme of the site.
Make a list of ALL topics to be covered on the site. Take that list and break it down into the number of pages you will need to cover the topic well. Use a word processor for your text, as it would be on individual pages. Try to keep the length of the pages no more than two or three full screens. What you see when you look at the initial page without scrolling is one screen. Visitors lose interest easily if they have to scroll very far.
Making a pre-list of all files (pages, scripts and graphics) will also help prevent incorrect revised links and associations. I use Microsoft Excel to maintain a list of what goes on each page. This helps when you want to get organized for upgrades. You know what is safe to delete and what has to be saved. As the site ages it is easy to forget what a particular file is for if it isn't used often.
Once you have a good idea how many pages will be on the site, it's time to decide on a navigation system. Simple navigation should be the foundation of every good site. If your visitors can't find your pages they will never see them. It's a good idea to make every page of the site accessible from every other page. If your site is large, that can mean numerous links that become cluttered if an understandable navigation system is not deployed. Whether you use simple text links, mouseovers with images, or even go for an elaborate scripted system is up to you. Whatever you choose, the system should handle every page of the site without confusing your visitors.
“If you plan to use large databases or if large files will be downloaded by your visitors, you must verify the server you select can handle the bandwidth requirement.” — Maggi Norris
Repeating, I believe every page should be an extension of every other. Colors and fonts, as well as subject, should be the basis for that extension. It gives a uniform feel while allowing subtle differences. When you choose the color and font for your main theme (your index page), that color and font should be continued throughout. This maintains consistency and adds professional appeal.
Keep the names of images and pages closely connected in order to find them at a later time. As the site grows, memory of names may escape you if care isn't taken in association. Example: A page titled "books.html" could have images of the books named "books-jordon.jpg" or "books_king.gif".
If you plan a large site with different sections about different concepts of your main theme, you could use a separate folder for each concept. This avoids clutter in the primary root directory. Folders for images and programming (*.swf, *.asp, etc.) are also a good idea. My site has folders named literature, images, awards, graphics, photos, flash, and several others. I am able to find what I need quickly and easily without a major search through thousands of files.
It is important to understand what technology is required for your site to operate as designed. If you use forms, a shopping cart or search, then you will need scripting to make them function. If you aren't a CGI programmer there are many resources that can assist. Also ensure the server you choose can handle the file extensions of the programming.
If you plan to use large databases or if large files will be downloaded by your visitors, you must verify the server you select can handle the bandwidth requirement. Many servers have limits not only on the amount of data you may store, but also for the network bandwidth utilization.
Finding the right server to upload your work can be as important as the design. Some servers have high download speeds that will make large pages load faster. Most have different capabilities in handling file extensions. If disk space will be a factor, you will find servers that offer anything from one page to unlimited space for prices ranging from free to several thousand dollars a month.
Proceed to part 2 of Maggi Norris' Design Concept Planning tutorial.