As a web designer and developer, one thing that I have come to rely on with my clients are test sites. Test sites are specific domains that I have purchased, and that I host on my server, that I use to build and test site architecture, functionality and design. I start by building all of my client wireframes on these domains so that my clients (as well as any other people we can recruit to test) can have a clickable blueprint of the navigation and layout of their future site to try out. This way, if there are any issues present, we can figure them out early and fix them so that we do not have to go through massive rebuilds down the line (which are time consuming and costly). Once we have established the site’s mapping, I’ll move on to adding functionality and design elements. It progresses in a logical way and I can collaborate with my clients through every step. Once we get the fundamentals established, I’ll migrate what I have or start fresh on their domain.
Using test sites is a fantastic technique; I started implementing them when I started freelancing. To be honest, it was a great way for me to ensure that I was on the right track and in alignment with my client’s goals. I didn’t have a manager or art director guiding me; it was all me and I wanted to put a system in place that ensured success.
As a side note, I also love to use test sites to push the limits of my web design skills. Here is where I want to “break” something and have it all go wrong. This way, I can work the issue, find a solution and be prepared should there be problems in the future.
My Faithful Toolset
Test sites are easily done with Open Source CMSs (as you’ll know from my former posts, CMS stands for Content Management System, examples of which are Drupal, WordPress and Joomla). I can put one up quickly and get started on bringing concepts to life (this is, of course, after the pre-work of site builds, to include thorough consultations, feasibility studies and content mapping).
Take a Peek
If you remember from my post “The Vital First Steps You Can’t Miss When Designing a Website,” I included screen shots of a wireframe that I built for a Beauty Salon client . The current in-progress page build (we had some delays but are getting there) is below. To show you a further work in progress, I also included a shot of a new portfolio site that I am working on in my spare time as well as an e-commerce client site that is a little further along (I have two shots of my portfolio site so that you can see a couple of the slider graphics that are included). As you can see, these are two different looks and we are still working on content, SEO and commerce details but, these test sites have been invaluable in testing different configurations, color schemes, code clocks and graphics. The beauty is, since I am building these sites in Drupal, I have the ability to put the site in “Maintenance Mode” (you’ll see a note telling me this on the e-commerce screen shot) so that the general public sees a default splash page and not the half-done site. When I am ready to show my client, I can send them login information or take the site off maintenance mode so that they can get in there and review the progress.
Keeping Focused and On Track—Back to Basics
In web design, there are a multitude of directions that you can go in when you are building a site. It’s difficult to not get distracted by all that is out there. Open Source CMSs, for one thing, always come with tons of add-ons, options, template choices (called themes and modules in Drupal or Widgets in WordPress)…the list goes on-it’s mind-boggling. They allow for added functionality, different looks and thus customization of your website so that you can build a site that meets your business and/or personal goals. One thing that can be overwhelming is the sheer multitude of choices that you have which is why it is so important to stay organized and in communication with your client. I know I mention this a lot but it is vital, especially in this age of global markets, telecommuting and general overwhelm. A website is a vital piece to any brand and as I’ve mentioned before, strong brands are founded in consistency (along with communication and effective collateral). So go ahead and spend some time making sure that your website is organized and a true representation of the brand that you are building (several times throughout the planning and building phases it helps to take a step back and re-affirm your focus. I often go for a run or put some music on and get in the kitchen and cook). Stay refreshed—it works wonders on your motivation. Consider everything; color, fonts, graphics, your logo; basically, the whole look and feel. This builds credibility for you and allows people to form trust for you. It pays off big in the long-run, trust me.
Another reason to be mindful of the choices you make in the functionalities of your website (the modules or widgets that you add) is usability. Don’t make site visitors think when they get to your site. Allow them to get to the content that they are seeking quickly and efficiently. If that means not having flashing graphics or rotating logos (please do not include these) then so be it. Having a clean, streamlined site is much more professional and credible than a site muddled with the latest web tricks.
The point here is: experiment, play and take the time to get it right. Use test sites and use them for what they are; a testing ground (in some ways a playground) that works towards the goal of the website. Don’t be afraid with these. Try the outrageous and eccentric. You never know, it might just be exactly what you need.
Have a great weekend everyone and remember, if you have any questions or would like to hire me, use my contact form. I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.
Jennifer is a Marketing, Graphic and Web Design professional. She has worked for companies small and large all over the world in her career and is now working towards a masters degree in Web Design and New Media while launching her own Marketing and Design Business, Pure Designs. When she’s not researching, sketching, designing, taking a class or writing, Jen loves to spend time with her family, cook, run and read.
- Custom Web Design, Logo Design, Brand Development…Want It All? Read On… (jenniferbeatty.wordpress.com)
- Designer’s Intuition: Knowing What Web Design Approach is Best for The Client (jenniferbeatty.wordpress.com)
- ForeSite Announces Platinum Sponsorship of the 2012 Drupal Camp CT (prweb.com)
- Drupal Aware Design: Good Techniques for Better Themes (slideshare.net)
- The Vital First Steps You Can’t Miss When Designing Your Website (jenniferbeatty.wordpress.com)