Think of it as three phases.
Planning / Organizing / Designing
Deploying / Maintaining
Phase 1: Planning / Organizing / Designing
Every website is there to answer a need. Anyone who thinks they need a website should be able to say in not many words exactly why they need one. They should be able to list the things that the website is meant to accomplish for the business (or project, institution, or individual). The best websites are based on an absolutely clear understanding of the need. Therefore the planning period should be taken very seriously.
Timeline. It can’t be well understood until the website is well understood. Someone please tell all the clients that. :)
It’s generally helpful to have a large enough planning group to generate excitement and ideas but small enough to not founder on large group dynamics, 3 to 5 seems to work well.
Step one would be to imagine the web site as a machine and categorically decide what this machine needs to do. The list should be relatively concise, a laundry list of requirements that should fit on a single page.
This is criteria for success. This is how you measure whether you reached the goal. Later you can go back and check off “Is it doing this and that and that?”
There is no predictable time period for this process since it depends on individuals but I would say a week or two of serious consideration should be done to get it right.
Time: One to two weeks
Once we know what the “machine” is to do we need to begin by considering what technological means will be required to make any special functionality such as e-commerce or subscriber registration work. It might also include reserving a domain and acquiring virtual hosting for the website. This mainly the concern of the web builder but they may need to explain advantages and disadvantages of various approaches to the client.
The other thing that begins here is called Information Architecture (or IA): Every website has things to say and communicate. IA is the way that that big pile of unstructured information gets chopped up into categories and subcategories and then is organized and positioned within the website. This is the underlying logic of the site or the conceptual skeleton. It determines how easy or hard it is to find what you need and use it. The IA for every site should be unique and arise very naturally the content itself and the needs of the site visitors. This is another planning process. It should probably have a lead person but with someone to be a sounding board. Weird navigation ideas can seriously undermine an otherwise good web site.
Once the IA has been planned you have a defacto sitemap. Now Content Mapping should begin. This means that we have a master list of all the pages etc. that need to be present and we begin systematically accounting for the words that need to be on these pages. Documents are either found or written for each one. We check them off as we get them and make sure we are keeping them all in a safe, well organized place.
Time: Probably 2 to 3 weeks
< Possible Delay Warning >
If branding is a settled issue then designing is a smooth process. If it needs to be done or redone then this is full stop until this critical step is settled. Logos, colors, fonts, emotional tone, etc. etc. All flow from branding. So if this is undecided the designer is simply pulling things out of thin air. I recommend that if this issue is up in the air that it be settled before this point. It can happen concurrently (but as a separate task) from the earlier planning stage.
Once branding is finalized the designer combines the established IA with the branding “bible” and works up one or or two preliminary designs. This is run by the client (singular or plural) who can accept it outright, reject it or best of all thoroughly critique it, which gives the designer a clear direction. This is a period of “Warmer…colder…” which eventually settles on a complete design. There may be five or six iterations but it should be much beyond that or people are not communicating clearly.
Time: One to two weeks
Phase 2: Building/ Testing
This phase depends on how complex and extensive the site is but it is relatively swift as long as all the earlier steps were finished. If they weren’t followed this stage can become limbo.
Basically, with a WordPress platform we quickly install WordPress on the site server. Configure all the settings for it to the needs of the site and install the designers theme. Then we install all needed plugins (Apps) and begin creating all the pages and populating them with the content we banked during content mapping.
Time: Allow one to two weeks
This phase overlaps with building and probably a bit beyond as uncertainty underlies everything in web design due to device dependency and browser variation.
Phase 3. Deploying / Maintaining
In one sense this the act of publishing, the moment the thing is out there to look at. In another sense it is publicizing the debut of the web site. Background plans for this should start back in the planning stage.
Time: This is a moment but it should essentially be a planned part of the overall timeline.
This is the process of updating and editing content s needed but also keeping an eye on site security and related issues.
1. Planning / Organizing / Designing = Probably six weeks
2. Building/ Testing = Probably two weeks
3. Deploying / Maintaining = Ongoing
It is a little harder generally to say exactly what it is doing for them or how well it is doing it.
If it is supposed to help customers find you and customers are finding you, I suppose you could declare victory. But the unknown is: How many potential customers are NOT finding you?