Development: The Build Process Explained

From the point that you decide that you need a web site, a number of different elements need to be combined to create the finished site.

Functional Outline

The functional outline is a written specification of what the site is going to acheive. This does not need to go into great detail, but should provide a brief description of each functional area of the website, the type of content being stored and displayed, and how users will interact with the site. For more complex sites, such as those providing content management or e-commerce functions, sufficient detail should be specified to ensure that both the client and the developer have an equal expectation of what the site should acheive.

Site Mockup

Mockups are visual representations of how the information contained in the site will be organised and shown to the user. Different page types will have been determined during the functional outline stage, and mockup can be created for some or all of these to illustrate what those pages will look like. This helps both client and developer to understand various design and usability issues and create a clear understanding of how the site will function and appear to the user.

It may be practical at this stage to 'storyboard' processes such as e-commerce transactions so that the sales process can be validated.

Template Development

HTML page templates are developed from the mockups for each of the different page types. This translates the designers visual ideas into HTML markup that can be understood by web browsers. As there are differences between web browsers from different manufacturers, versions and operating system, part of this process ensures that the site can be viewed successfully on each intended platform. Where problems do exist, graceful degradation of the design should be applied so as to ensure that users are not inadvertantly prevented from using the site.

Content

Content is then inserted into the page templates, either manually in the case of small sites, or through populating the content management system in larger sites. Integration with other sources such as product databases can take place at this stage to 'flesh out' the design.

Most content will be the responsibility of the client for whom the site is being created. It is critical that the client prepares and provides at least draft content early in the development process, and is ready with final content at this stage of the process. This will help to prevent unnecessary re-provisioning of content before the site goes live.

Image Optimisation

Part of the content for most sites will include images of products or other illustrations. These need to be sized and cropped appropriately for use on the web site, and optimised for file size and resolution so that users do not have to wait longer than necessary to view the site content.

Hosting and Email Setup

Once the site is nearing completion, the web host needs to be prepared to received the various components. Most hosts require a waiting period when the setup changes are made to allow those changes to propogate around the internet. This is particularly true in the case of DNS (Domain Name Server) changes that would be required if an existing website or registered domain is being transferred to a new hosting location.

Email accounts must be setup under the new domain and transfer of any existing mailboxes must be managed to ensure no loss of inbound mail during the transfer.

Go Live!

Once all the previous steps are complete the site can go live. There may be additional steps to take, such as search engine submissions to ensure that the new site content is indexed by the various search engines.