How to Know When Your Web Design is Done

Pamela Wilson Authority Intensive

My eyes were starting to lose focus.

It was 2:00 in the morning. My hands were coated with pastel dust. An inch of cold coffee sat in the mug next to me.

I stared at the drawing I’d been working on. I took a step back and tried squinting, then I moved in close and looked at the details.

Was I done?

It’s the question that haunted every first-year art student. It kept us up late adding, adding, adding layers of complexity to our pieces, sometimes to our detriment.

You go through enough gut-wrenching public critiques of your pieces during that first year of art school that you quickly develop a better feel for when your work stops being productive.

You know when to step away from the canvas. You know when to stop tweaking.

And that, it turns out, was a vital skill to learn … both for my art and for my business.

Because when it comes to your website — that ever-morphing online representation of your business — knowing when to stop working on your design is not easy to figure out.

That’s what we’re going to cover here. You’ll discover how to know when to stop tweaking your website design so you can move on to bigger and better things in your business.

Don’t hide behind your “under construction” sign

Let’s just state the obvious: as long as your site isn’t finished, you have a great excuse for not accomplishing anything with your business.

“I’m still working on my website” sounds like you’ve got an important project on your plate.

But as long as you focus exclusively on that, you can’t focus on other aspects of your business like your marketing strategy, your products and services, and your long-term vision.

Your goal should be to remove that “under construction” sign (whether it’s visible or simply psychological) as soon as possible, so you can turn your attention to the money-making aspects of your business.

Don’t tweak out of fear

Another common website-related excuse is that you “aren’t quite done” with your site.

Websites, by nature, are a work in progress. But constant tweaking may be a symptom of unease with other aspects of your business.

It may feel more comfortable to tweak a web page than it is to make real progress with an element of your business that will add to your bottom line.

The best thing you can do is to tweak strategically. Make changes to your site when they’re part of an overall plan to improve processes or streamline your offerings.

The next time you find yourself endlessly changing HEX codes, or fiddling and re-fiddling with your typeface combinations, stop.

Take a moment to confirm that you’re not trying to avoid a larger issue.

Do you have the basics covered?

Before you walk away from your website design, make sure you’ve covered the basics.

Every site should feature these pages, which visitors expect to find in your site navigation:

Home

Your home page makes an important first impression.

After hitting this page, your site visitors should understand what you offer, and who you serve.

You should establish your brand style on this page, and apply it consistently through the rest of the site.

About

Want to know a little secret about About pages? The most compelling ones talk about the people the business serves first.

Everyone wants to read about themselves, so start out by sharing who you serve and how.

Wrap up the page with information about why your business is trustworthy. Include photos of you and your team if you have one.

Consider adding testimonials (with photos) from satisfied customers.

Products or Services

This page may also be called “Store” or “Shop.”

This is the commerce section of your site, and should be a place where visitors can find out more about your offerings and discover products and services that suit their needs.

It should be clean, easy-to-navigate, and highly functional.

Contact

Your contact page gives visitors an easy-to-find way to get in touch.

Don’t share an email address on this page. Instead, use a simple form that sends you information once it’s submitted.

If you’re reading Copyblogger, you know about the power of content marketing, so there’s a good chance this will appear in your navigation:

Blog

Here’s where you can wow your site visitors with your information, guidance, tips, and interaction.

Post at least once a week, and be sure to break up your posts with good formatting, include lots of images, and end with a call to action.

If you’ve covered these basics, there’s a good chance your site is ready to launch now.

You can always add pages later. Don’t delay putting it out there because you have additions planned for the future.

Don’t fear exposure

I’ve met a lot of people who have a tough time making their sites live. And I know that feeling.

In art school, I almost threw up the day I sat through my first public critique. Pinning my work to the wall, watching everyone look it over, and then listening to the good, bad, and indifferent comments was excruciating.

The first time.

The second time? Not so bad.

By the third time, I was an old pro.

Here’s how you can think about it so you skip that nausea-inducing first-time feeling:

  • Your website isn’t you. Separate your ego from your work. It’s a survival skill art students learn, and you can use it, too.
  • Yes, your website is on display. But imagine that it’s in a gallery where you can go up to it, take it off the wall, work on it, and hang it back up.
  • You won’t know what works and what doesn’t until you put something out there. So … put something out there.
  • There’s anonymity in numbers: With 2.4 billion published web pages as of this writing, chances are good that your site will spend at least a few months blissfully incognito. You can spend those months getting feedback from the visitors you have and making any necessary changes.

If you’re using WordPress, you know that changing your look is as easy as switching your theme.

So commit to the site you have, make only the most-important changes, and plan for a revamp in the future if the site you publish doesn’t work for you.

Know when to stop

Your design is done when it’s communicating what your business represents and what makes it unique.

It’s done when you’ve covered the basics, and it’s clear and easy to use.

Don’t hide behind your website design project. Your site is a means to an end … and the end is more important than any single web page.


Editor’s Note

Pamela will be a featured speaker at our content marketing and networking event — Authority Intensive — taking place May 7-9, 2014, in Denver, Colorado. The show is sold out, but stay tuned for details on next year’s Authority Intensive.

About the author

Pamela Wilson


Pamela Wilson is Director of Special Projects at Copyblogger Media. Follow her on Twitter or Google+, and find more from her at BigBrandSystem.com.

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Comments

  1. I once saw a quote from architect Helmut Jahn that went something like this:

    “The creative process is a subtractive process. When you can’t take anything else away, you know you’re done.”

    This is often true in web design. Remove all distractions to drive the focus of your visitors. If you want to make something more prominent, don’t make it bigger or louder. Create white space around it. Creation through subtraction…

  2. Great Point Pamela

    Your website is always a work in progress.

    Researching, Changing, Testing, Asking Feedback, Tweaking.

    Rinse and Repeat.

    Its a constant process.

    • It’s so easy to live this process with a website.

      After 25+ years in the world of print marketing, I still get a little thrill every time I have to make an update and it doesn’t involve new artwork sent to a printer.

  3. Just last week, after lots of tweeking, I changed over to the Minimum Pro theme. It was an important redesign and I am pumped that it is up and running and featuring some of my PR coups from last year.

    Of course now I need to review my “About” page…

  4. Pamela

    My own copywriting website has been live for nearly 18 months now. To me, it still feels like a building site. But it’s getting enquiries and the blog’s getting comments and shares.

    So I guess other people don’t notice the things I think need urgently fixing.

    And here’s the other thing – sometimes you’re not sure how you should set out the content on your About page or how to arrange your links above the fold.

    And it could be months before something inspires the solution and the penny finally drops.

    In other words, I couldn’t agree with you more. Just get it out there and start building your own digital footprint on the web.

  5. Hey Pamela,

    Great article! I agree that many of us get carried away with the design aspects of our websites just to avoid other crucial problems in our workplace. I also really liked what you had to say about separating your ego from your work.

    That’s incredibly hard to do for artists and other professionals alike. We’re programmed to believe our work is our path to survival, but that’s such a rough way to look at things. I agree we should try our best to segregate work from the rest of our lives.

    If we don’t, we’ll never be done with our projects. Thanks again for writing this! This was definitely a unique piece. I’m sharing it. :-)

  6. Wonderful piece, Ms. Wilson, very nicely done. It is essential to know when, the site is ready enough.

    After several websites through the years, I tend to agree with Seth Godin: Ship it, then fix it.

    Thank you for a truly great read.

  7. A huge issue with Web projects is whether to begin “small” or “large.” Having recently complete a Tech Project From Hell, I had to laugh at the following apt quote in a Cool Tools review of a classic (funny) book, The Systems Guide, by John Gall (formerly called Systemantics – because systems tend to behave antically):

    “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The parallel proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

    My advice: NEVER try to design a big website or application from scratch, unless you’ve already built the foundation from the bottom up, starting small.

    The project that drove us crazy was a free app for viewers of a really great film starring Elisabeth Rohm (American Hustle), Finding Happiness (http://www.findinghappinessmovie.com). After six months and a couple thousand emails, we’re doing the right thing: climbing off the beanstalk and starting small.

    • George,

      Great advice to start simple and make it work before you add complexity.

      It’s tough, I think, because we spend so much time on highly complex websites.

      When it’s time to create our own, we figure they have to be as intricate and layered as the ones we use every day.

      But most of those sites started out simple and built up over the years. We’re seeing a highly-evolved version of the original idea, and shouldn’t compare it to the sites we’re creating from scratch.

  8. I’ll keep this simple. Pamela, YOU RULE!

    You get the web on all the levels.

    Dave

  9. Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed reading the post.

  10. This is a great article. I love pam’s insight to the design world.
    Thank you Pam, This is Great ;)

  11. This is one of the more immediately usable and well-written articles on the subject of simplifying a web design, and serves as a good reminder even for the points that some people might already ‘know’.

  12. Oh thank goodness for this! I spent two months not getting started because I was always “working on my website” – and finally, I had the same realization. I could be working on it forever and never get anywhere. I know there are definitely some things I need to work on, but the basics of the site – as you mentioned in your post – are there. I’m still a little anonymous, and I’m still working on it.

    I also, though, have a new sense of loving all different types of websites, and I have a bit of website-envy. Hmmm, new project idea: make 10 different websites so I can have all the looks I like. Ok, maybe not, maybe I’ll focus on the business of my business instead. :)

    Great post! Thank you!

  13. I worked off of a whack blog design for years….but because it was live, and not undone, and dead, I saw success. Go live. Crush the fear of criticism, and failure, and go live. Learn along the way, or befriend a talented developer/designer, to get your game up.

  14. Heck, I’ve been delaying getting a decent headshot. Does this piece “speak” to me? You betcha.

    One of my issues is one that Ira Glass of This American Life often discusses. You see I’ve got great taste…but holes in my skill set.

    As I’m closing those gaps, I’m gaining confidence. But the biggest push for me is the push to create. I can’t wait to get my hands back into the clay.

    Pamela, I can’t tell you how valuable and inspirational I’ve found your materials, both here as a Copyblogger regular and on your own site with your webinars.

    • The best way to develop those skills is to get out there and use them, right?

      I’m glad you’re getting your hands dirty and going for it, Lori!

  15. I agree with most of the sentiment in this article, but I never believe it’s “done”. SEO is constantly changing, so I guess while the design can change, there’s lot of behind the scenes tweaks that you can make in say 6-12 month intervals.

  16. How very timely. Will be sharing this with a client who seems stuck on the business building part of the process and is daily fiddling with the site, constantly breaking it!

  17. You should know when your web design is done by actually having a laid out plan and flow chart for your site, don’t deviate just for something flashy.