The Web Design Process: What to Expect

by | Price & Process

Getting started on a new web project is super exciting! But…for you, the consumer, it can also be confusing, leaving you unsure of what to expect.

What’s more, you will not find this to be a consistent experience across the landscape of designers. Our process will differ from another agency or freelancer’s process, potentially quite a bit.

So, this post will not focus on universal themes; I’m not sure if it’d be that helpful.

Instead, I want to show tell you what to expect should you ever decide to work with NorthMac.

That way, you can move into the process confidently, knowing what to expect.

The Appetite Mentality

We like to assign and schedule work based on the “appetite” that work requires. We have three general appetites to schedule work by:

  1. Small (3 Business Days)
  2. Medium (2-4 Weeks)
  3. Large (8-12 Weeks)

As you might imagine, most new clients start on a large appetite with us. An example would be a brand new website build.

Medium and small appetite projects are much more likely to be customers already.

A medium appetite might be adding a new page, form, or workflow to the website, whereas a small appetite might be changing fonts or updating some text.

This is neat because it allows us to set and maintain expectations throughout the life of our relationship.

If you’re reading this article, you are almost certainly wondering what to expect during a brand new website build (large appetite, for us), so that’s what we’ll focus on for the rest of our time.

Initial Contact and Onboarding

After we have a Compass Call (our take on a discovery call), if it looks like you are interested in moving forward, a contract will be created and sent for you to eSign via a tool called Signaturely.

Once signed, that is the “go ahead” we need to start the process of billing, getting you onboarded, and getting your project on the team’s schedule.

Billing happens first, and you should see the first invoice come through not long after you eSign (1-3 days at most).

In the same time period, you’ll be added to our CRM to make sure we can keep in touch via email, and you will also be sent a link to join a project management tool called Basecamp.

Basecamp is central to the progress of your project. We’ll talk about it much more below.

Beyond that, the design phases begin, and it’s off to the races!

The Design Phases

We have two ways of thinking about the design phases: One faces you (the customer) and the other is more for internal use.

I’m actually going to describe both here, though, so you know exactly what’s going on with the team while working on your project.

The main way you should be thinking about the project is in four phases:

  • Phase 1 – Collect
    • We’d like to collect as much content as possible from you BEFORE the build begins. Images, copy, etc.
    • You’ll fill out a website questionnaire that tells us what you do and don’t like and gives us a head start on content.
  • Phase 2 – Create
    • We build the website using a client design questionnaire (Content Snare) and/or StoryBrand Brandscript
    • Then, we’ll do a new home page reveal before moving forward.
  • Phase 3 – Critique
    • Enter the revision phase.
    • Our terms: “Please note that this agreement allows for a maximum of three (3) rounds of revisions during the initial development phase. (One round of revision constitutes the sum total of changes to any and all text and/or images which appear on the site, requested within a 7-day period of receiving a new draft.) Subsequent revisions during the initial development phase of the project will be subject to our standard hourly rate for out-of-scope work.”
  • Phase 4 – Care
    • You’ll sign a “Build Sign-Off” form which releases us from the website build process, and enters the “Care” phase where the terms switch to maintenance, management, and 1 hour per month of work on the site. (Recall that we only offer a subscription pricing model.)

This is the simplest way for you to think about the project. To get a sense for how we think about the project, we abide by the following internal process:

  1. Client Onboarding
    1. Set up invoicing and client payment portal
    2. Setup client file storage location
    3. Add primary contact to our email list and CRM
    4. Add client to Basecamp
  2. Plan and Prepare
    1. Write Project Overview
    2. Provision Staging Website
    3. General Site Cleanup
    4. “Before” Shots
    5. Schedule Project Timeline and Assign Dates
    6. Plugin and Software Discovery
  3. Design
    1. Color Palette
    2. Decide on Fonts
    3. Header & Footer
    4. Home Page
    5. Internal Page(s)
    6. Archive Page(s)
  4. Development
    1. Site Configuration
    2. Header & Footer
    3. Home Page
    4. Internal Page(s)
    5. Archive Page(s)
  5. Custom Work
    1. Scope for custom layouts and/or advanced integrations.(Social, podcasting, advanced commenting, individual blog posts, etc.)
  6. Functionality
    1. Complete Functionality Research & Assessment
    2. Create Additional To-Do’s Based on Assessment
  7. Testing & Finalization
    1. Test Browsers, Links, and Forms
    2. Client Sign Off
    3. Set Up Final Domain
    4. Make Website Live
    5. Basic Accessibility Checks
    6. Basic SEO Checks
    7. Add to Anti-Spam and Analytics Software
    8. “After” Shots
    9. Create Training Materials

The time it will take to complete this work depends, but as mentioned already, we tend to deliver on large projects in 8-12 weeks.

Marketing Hubs (i.e., a website that focuses on solidifying your marketing presence) will take closer to the 8-week mark, while eLearning websites will likely take closer to the 12-week mark.

Handling Communication

One of my favorite business authors is Mike Micalowicz (AKA, “Mike Motorbike”).

In his book Clockwork, he introduces the notion of the “Queen Bee Role.” I’ve declared “Radical Overcommunication” as the Queen Bee Role for NorthMac Services.

You can read more about that here.

Unfortunately, “my web designer stopped answering my calls and emails” is one of the biggest reasons new clients come to us, and this testimony is shared by many colleagues as well.

We decided early on that was unacceptable.

While my teammates and I protect our time through time-blocking and limited meeting availability, we treat communication as the single highest priority in the entire business.

Now, it’s easy for us to say that. Anyone can say that. So, here are a few things we practically do every day to live this out.

We use Basecamp. Basecamp is a project management tool that was made for handling communication both internally and with clients.

It allows us to keep everything associated with a project, including all communication, reference documents, and more in one place. Easy to find, easy to retrieve, never scattered.

You’ll be onboarded into this right away.

Of course, tools are only as good as the people who use them. A client who loves communicating with us via Basecamp hated using it with another team years ago.

Which brings me to how we utilize Basecamp for communication.

We write in long form. Very little of our communication is “chat” style, and even less of it happens over phone or video meetings.

Most of our communication is thoughtful, long form writing that communicates ideas to the fullest expression possible.

There are numerous reasons we choose this communication style.

The two most important are (1) that our team works across multiple time zones (so “real time” is not always possible) and (2) that it cuts down dramatically on time wasted in meetings.

We give you access to the whole team. I was always told that customers wanted a single point of contact. In fact, we personally like to have a single point of contact with clients.

In our personal experience, we find clients often want access to the entire team. This was surprising, but once we saw the trend, we immediately made it happen.

This is possible because we only hire great communicators!

So if you want to have only one point of contact, great. That will likely be our project manager, Brian.

But if you would like to communicate with Sam, Jime, Tiffany, or someone else, they can see the conversations happening and chime in as needed.

What Will Cause Delays

For the most part, we stay on schedule with projects.

However, this is not always the case. What things could potentially slow the project down?

By far, the most common problem is getting content from clients.

I wish that weren’t true, but it is what we have seen. We use tools to help mitigate this, such as the questionnaire already mentioned.

May I be extremely honest with you?

Consider allowing us to write the website copy for you.

Yes—it will cost extra. However, it will help us keep the project on schedule and avoid unnecessary delays.

We get it—content (what to say, imagery, etc) can be super difficult. Nobody expects you to be an expert, which is why we do all we can to make it easy for you!

At the end of the day, your website is there to be compelling and useful. Good copy (text) and imagery is essential to that, so we’ll offer that to you early in the process.

Beyond content, clarity around the purpose of the website can cause delays.

For example, let’s say you are going back and forth whether you want to offer B2B or B2C services. If you are unclear as to your target customer or what you would like to offer them, it will take a while to get finished.

Indecisiveness is another issue. While we understand this project is probably special to you, we stress that you leave most decisions to the experts.

Practically speaking, this concerns things like fonts and even (to some extent) colors. Business owners should not be overly concerned with these minute details, as long as things are on-brand.

One reason for this is accessibility. You might adore a particular shade of pink, but it turns out that color fails accessibility tests, meaning a (potentially large!) percentage of people will not be able to read or understand your website.

Another reason is sheer expertise. While you know your market, customer, and vertical, we know and study marketing, user behavior, and conversion tactics.

Finally, scope creep. In our contract, we draw clear lines around the deliverable. This is to guard against scope creep, which is the tendency for projects to get bigger and bigger as they go.

This should be avoided at all costs.

If it looks like you start asking for things that are not part of the original scope, we’ll politely remind you of the original arrangement and suggest tackling it as an additional “phase” of the work.

Of course, this is to protect our time and resources. I make no apology for that. But it’s also to protect yours!

A project that never ships because it keeps inflating is going to hold your business (and your life, seriously!) up, and that’s not good for anyone.

Wrapping Up

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this look at the web design process for our business!

To be honest, we have a ton of fun doing what we do, and we do our best to make sure clients have a fantastic experience.

I look forward to serving you in the future!


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