The Essentials of Designing an Easy-to-Maintain Mega Site
As a part of a talented website design team, it has been my luck to work on more than my share of large enterprise, corporate and ecommerce websites. The larger a website is, the more are the chances of one’s making costly mistakes. Years of conceptualizing, designing and maintaining such mammoth websites has taught me a few lessons that I’d like to share with you. I hope that these insights will help you avoid making the many mistakes I did!
Step 1: Begin with the End in Sight
Think in terms of easy maintenance and seamless scalability
The design and conceptualizing process for a large corporate or ecommerce website can get impossibly complicated, and you may get entangled with complex problems and forget the end goals. Many large websites I’ve had to redesign looked good on the surface, but their labyrinthine lines of code showed that the previous designer had made my job impossible.
When you are building a large website, don’t make it too dense. Stick to the standards and make it easy to maintain. Keep in mind that the business may grow bigger over time and new pages may need to be added. Forget a few pages – websites get new sections over time. You need to create a code and a design that has the ability to absorb any changes.
Step 2: Determine Tasks and User Groups
Find out who will use the website to accomplish what tasks
For a couple of years, I had worked of smaller websites, and hadn’t formed the habit of giving a lot of attention to tasks and user groups. When I worked on my first big project, I just realized how complicated defining tasks and user groups can get. For accomplishing this task, you need a very clear brief from the client.
Once you have a clear idea of the groups (buyers, sellers, advertisers, authors, visitors, members, admin, etc.) that are using the website, you need to determine what actions each of these groups will perform. Your work is to create a design that allows the members of all the groups to quickly accomplish their tasks. The more you understand the needs and desires of all the groups, the better your design will function for them.
Step 3: Prioritize Groups According to the Purpose of the Site
Design a website that furthers the goals of the business
This point is intricately interlinked with the main goal of the person who owns the website. Let’s imagine that you are developing an ecommerce web portal that sells thousands of products. There is a group of people selling goods through the website, there are administrators managing the site, there are people browsing through the site, there are people writing reviews, and there are people buying products.
The goal of the owner is to earn profits. The profits are earned when a transaction is made – when the visitors pays money for a product. So, while designing, the first priority will be given to the needs of potential buyers. After that, it is people who have already bought products once that get the priority. The seller group comes after this in priority as the website depends on their products to attract buyers. Administrators and other comes after the needs of these priority groups are taken care of.
When you are designing a website, you need to take into account the goals of the website, determine the importance of the needs of different sets of users, and create a design on the basis of their priority.
Step 4: Plunge into Design
When you know what kind of design is needed, it is time to start the process
Designing begins now. When you are building an elephant of a website, getting the ideas perfectly clear helps you win half the battle. In no situation do you want to leave the conceptualization for later – you cannot wrap your head around all those ideas while you are designing. Even if you do, beginning straight up with designing almost guarantees several reiterations.
This is the time for wireframing – there is a mountain of ideas and information that needs to be visible on the page. Lots of rough drafts will pave the way for a layout that suits your needs. First step is coming up with a layout that presents all the information in a pleasing and comprehensible manner. Once that is done, it is time to refine the design and keep refining it till it becomes perfect.
Step 5: Systematize all Information – You’ll Need it!
Designing & coding need to go hand-in-hand with meticulous organizing
During the design and development process, it is crucial that you systematize all the information smartly. If you need to make changes to the website (or if you find yourself working on an identical site in the future), you will need to access all sorts of data. So, it is best to organize your interface images, scripts and stylesheets in separate and easily accessible folders. Create a simple and easily understanding naming system for all the files and make sure that all the members of the your team stick to it.
While coding, ensure that you and all the members in your time write a clean code without cutting any corners. For a big website, there will be reiterations, no matter how well you design the site. You will be working with that code for a long time – and you may need to work with it again if the website needs to be redesigned.
As you have read (or skimmed through) this whole article and scrolled enough to reach the bottom of the page, I guess you are designing or redesigning a mega site. You will face a lot of hurdles during the development process – lack of information, lots of reiterations, conflicting advice and opinions, and impossible deadlines. Just break the whole process into small parts – it is simple advice, but makes your task more manageable. Good luck!