People don't often know what to expect when they sit down with a web designer. Most of the time the site development process is kept secret as if it is the Holy Grail because competitors could somehow steal the process. We at Ringer Consulting Group have adopted the attitude of transparency with our clients and the online community. We understand that talent cannot be stolen; hard work and attention to detail is often never duplicated. So I'm not too concerned to share with the world how we build remarkable websites.
It’s important to understand that we always thrive to have a full understanding of our client and what the expectations are for design look and feel before we ever start the actual work. Most design firms simply throw together a couple of comps, often recycled from previous projects, and give the client four or five different versions of the site to choose from. When I started the company seven years ago, I told myself that I would never take this approach. I prefer to actually understand the client’s needs, research the competition, and deliver a site that is 100% original and created for that client’s business from the ground up.
So Enough Ranting And Onto The Process!
Our clients often tell us: "The Ringer design process is a night and day difference from what they have experienced in the past with other web design firms". One of the things that they notice right away is how interactive we are with our clients. Our meetings are setup to be highly collaborative and we prefer the client to be present during the initial design and comp process. The Ringer design process is extremely simple to understand, over the years it has been refined and has evolved into what it is today.
The Typical Ringer Consulting Group Design Workflow
Design Meeting & Research - We want to know everything about our clients. We believe a company’s website is more than HTML CSS and Images thrown together on a page. The more we understand about our client, our client’s customers, and their competitors, the better the end result will be. I will usually gather as much style and aesthetic preference information from the client and contract that information with the styling of their competition. After talking with the client, I generally have a solid understanding of what the website needs to look like.
Pen & Paper Comps - This is the fun part. I start with good old fashion colored pencils, markers and crayons when necessary. I'm actually not much of a pen and paper artist, however, I think it is vital to the design process. The pen and paper comps are almost always done with the client present. This allows me to share my layout ideas and interface with the client in real time. Our ideas usually evolve together, but by the end of this phase we all have a good idea of how the site will function, have a good understanding of the layout and variations, and the general aesthetic styling.
Photoshop Mockups & Revisions - This is where all of our ideas and concepts start to take on a personality of their own. It’s crazy how once we start seeing the design come together in front of us it recharges and invigorates me as a designer. The main challenge here is not to go overboard. I constantly have to think about how changing an element or adding detail will affect the rest of the process. At the end of the day the designs need to be functional and easily translated into HTML / CSS. This places limits on how "out-there" we can get with the design. With a little magic and some design guru trickery, I can nearly always get the detail and functionality into balance.
Slice Design & Generate HTML / CSS - This is by far the hard part! I have to take off my artist hat and put on my engineer helmet. Anyone who had the task of cutting up a custom site design in Photoshop can tell you it can be tricky. You have to think in terms of layers and space. I strive to create a flexible design that will work regardless of the content and will be somewhat future proof. Online people call this Pixel Perfect Design, I call it turning a painting into a puzzle. Depending on the complexity of the design this usually is the most taxing and time-consuming part of the design process.
Install & Configure Content Management System (CMS) - Many of our customers opt to utilize a content management system. We here at Ringer Consulting Group feel that the best open source content management solution available today is Joomla. We have been integrating Joomla into our designs for three years now and are very pleased with the flexibility and overall horsepower of the system. This is where my team steps in and starts sharing the workload. We setup hosting, create the MYSQL databases, and install the Joomla core files. Once installation is complete we run the security patches and updates, install our favorite administration components, and test the system.
Create CMS (Joomla) Templates - Creating a Joomla template is a pretty easy task - If the site HTML / CSS was created with Joomla integration in mind. I setup my module positions and create the XML code that Joomla requires for smooth operation. Often times we need to create several layout variations or templates to accommodate different content types and layouts required by the client.
Site Content Build Out - We generally work with one of our copywriters to create all of the copy used on the site. I tell people constantly, "I am a visual artist and not much of a content writer". I do however understand what the customer should be reading and how to setup a sale on the site. Balancing keyword placement, providing valuable content, and pitching the site visitor all at the same time requires a keen attention to detail. We feel that when content is properly placed and balanced with some interactive components the end result for the client is always successful.
Install + Modify Module CSS - This phase is often a back breaker. Most designers don't take the time to modify the module CSS and PHP code where necessary. Ringer believes that the devil is in the details. It’s the small adjustments to a slider module or the slight color shift on a slide show that makes the site look 100% custom integrated. My goal here is to make it look like the module was custom made for the custom design. It takes time but the payoff is always worth it.
Content Optimization for Search Engines - This is where we take a fine tooth comb through the website and making sure that the header title and alt tags are all properly formatted and include all of the valuable keyword phrases. This is clearly Phil’s department. See his blog posts for additional information here.
Final Modifications & Site Launch - The day we have all been waiting for! We are ready to collaborate with the client and generate a list of punch-out items. We all want the site to launch so we rocket through the list and get the site perfect for unveiling. Pop a bottle of sparkling apple juice and break out the fine plastic ware... the site is up and running!