The process of planning a website is often long and arduous. For large web design firms, it doesn’t get any easier. When you are part of a design firm, the projects are larger, as are the numbers associated with completing them. That includes the number of people involved in the websites’ creation. Suddenly, the skill set needed to plan websites shifts in priority from an understanding of information architecture to above average interpersonal skills.
When you are creating large websites, those with 1000s of pages, it takes a team of professionals to bring it to life. These designers, business decision makers, marketers and content creators must communicate to ensure that a website project comes out exactly as planned. They need collaborative tools to plan websites like theirs. Without them, large web design firms may opt for template-like designs, rather than flex their creative muscle.
Slickplan doesn’t think large web design firms should sacrifice design potential over logistics. That’s why we’ve got four collaborative tools that help large web design firms plan websites. We also make it easy for everyone involved in the design process to use them, while keeping them simple enough for everyone outside of the design team to read them. Because, let’s face it, what good are great website planning tools if you’re the only one that can understand them?
Plan websites with a sitemap builder
When many people are working together to plan a single website, it makes sense to separate the project into sections. That way, one group can work on one part, while another works on something else. The problem with that approach for large web design firms is these groups may not regularly communicate with each other. Without some sort of guide, the end project might be a puzzle with pieces that just don’t fit.
Sitemaps help everyone see the big picture. They come in many varieties, from simple lists for business decision makers to review to detailed visual flowcharts for creators to digest. They help information stay well-organized and focused, even when multiple creators are working on the same site. They also make it easier on robots when created as XML files.
There are many types of sitemaps, but for large web design firms, the visual sitemap is likely the most useful. Whereas other sitemaps merely focus on the use of text and or HTML, a visual sitemap also utilizes drawings. These types of sitemaps resemble organizational charts, with each page represented by a block. Those blocks are linked together in a computer-rendered drawing, making it very clear what is going on inside of a website.
A sitemap builder may not seem like a necessary website planning tool, but it is actually one of the most important. A sitemap builder makes it easy to create a template from an existing site, saving valuable time for large web design firms that build multiple sites with similar architecture. It’s also essential for planning, giving designers a place to list pages before building them.
Slickplan’s sitemap builder can help create the perfect sitemap for any project. It has powerful features for creating designing and even collaborating about sitemaps. Plus, with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to both create and import sitemaps, your creations are easy to share. There’s no reason why anyone on the project can say they didn’t know that page existed.
Visualize user flows with a diagram maker
There are sitemaps, and then there are diagrams. When large web design firms plan websites, there’s a very good chance that they are using both. Whereas sitemaps represented a list of pages on a website (and many times, how they are connected), a diagram provides more room for explaining detailed, interconnected relationships between pages.
Diagrams help design teams understand how users will interact with a website. They are visualizations depicting user scenarios that help designers anticipate the actions a site visitor might take. These diagrams illustrate a user’s flow and as a result, are often called flow diagrams.
Flow diagrams are about usability, which may go overlooked on a small website project. However, on large sites, such as membership or e-commerce sites, a flow diagram can directly affect a site’s profitability and most likely, viability. Flow diagrams can be used to diagram the checkout process of an e-commerce site, possibly identifying customer dead ends that are impacting sales. While many developers use flow diagrams to plan websites, they can also be used for application development and off-page search engine optimization planning. Slickplan’s diagram maker is perfect for large web designs firms. Whereas the sitemap builder helps them plan websites from the inside out, the diagram maker helps them do so from the outside in. With this tool, it’s as easy to design for what may happen when the outside interacts with your project as it is to plan what they will interact with.
Stay organized and on schedule with a content planner
So, the designing is finished, and everyone knows exactly how the pages fit together. The hard work is done, right? If only it were that simple. Content planning is just as important as building the structure of the site. Some would say it’s more important because poorly organized content can drive visitors away and impact search rankings. However, when a website is created by a collaborative process, and there are many pages to create for, it’s no surprise that something is bound to go wrong.
What do you do when the content that you’ve requested doesn’t fit the page or site design? You can either edit the content to fit or edit the design to fit that content. Either way, it’s going to cost you time and money. On the other hand, with proper content planning, everyone involved will know exactly what’s needed.
Content planning involves tying the content to its intended page, getting approval from the necessary parties and planning out its SEO. Many websites choose to create a website and then fill in content after the fact. This actually takes away from the user experience because it is not content-first. It also makes the project take longer.
When a content-first approach isn’t utilized, many large web design firms face a scenario like this: Congratulations, you have a website; now please wait while we fill in the content. Not only does this delay the project, but it may also take away from the experience- especially if you are looking to build impactful projects. If communicating a message is the goal, then that message should be the focus. By filling in content after the fact, you are creating content to fit a design, rather than designing to fit the content.
Content planning is also useful for content management systems. While these frameworks make it easier to manage sites with a large amount of regular content, they still benefit from some planning ahead of time. To maintain a content-first approach, website developers can plan ahead by creating templates.
Slickplan understands the need for content planning within the web design process. The content planner tool connects gathered content to sitemaps, making it easy for a designer to see what they should be designing around. It also streamlines the content creation process, giving creators the ability to set clear guidelines by building templates, and managers a single place to monitor the workflow. With the sitemap builder and content planner tool, both the content and design teams can be working on the same project at the same time.
Show it off with design mockups
Planning out a beautiful, content-first website is an accomplishment on its own, but large web design firms are often not in the business of simply building for the fun of it. They create websites that clients want to buy, and those clients want to see more than a list of pages on a site, or a diagram of how someone navigates through the checkout process. Design mockups give professional design firms a way to show clients an example of what they might see in a finished site.
The ability to see what a site might look like before it is done has enormous benefits. Most importantly, it gives business decision makers a chance to provide valuable feedback before the project is completed. This could prevent costly revisions after the fact and encourage customer satisfaction at the project’s completion.
Design mockups may include a variety of formats, depending on the needs of the site. Designers might choose to share a wide range of “notes” within their mockup. In addition to a visual sitemap, content and user flow diagrams, a design mockup might also include prototypes, UI elements, and wireframes.
With everything that can be included in a design mockup, it’s no surprise that they are often very large files. This is not a problem when you use Slickplan because everything (and we mean all of it) is hosted in the cloud for easy access and easy sharing. With the design mockup tool, it’s easy to share intricate mockups with a single link, making collaborative website planning effortless for both individuals and large teams.
Written By Jenn Marie
Jenn Marie is a freelance copy writer and internet marketing strategist based out of the Seattle area. A true tech evangelist, Jenn previously helped individuals utilize the full potential of Dell, Microsoft and Amazon products. She now focuses on building authentic online presences for small businesses and entrepreneurs through her company, Jenn Marie Writing & Marketing.