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Constructing a 'grand design' for your website

Commissioning a website – the ‘Grand Designs’ way

You might not think that commissioning a website has much to do with building a house, but as we’ll show you, the ‘Grand Designs’ approach to construction has as much to say about websites as it does beautiful homes

Many of us will, at one time or another, have sat transfixed watching an episode of Grand Designs. Forget Escape to the Country, and Location, Location, Location. This is ‘property-porn’ par excellence, where people embark on schemes to create their dream home, under the ever watchful, sometimes incredulous, and often slightly patronising eye of Kevin McCloud. All budgets are catered for, from modest to outrageous, and there are many hitches on the way. But the end result is usually stunning (proper, objectively stunning, whatever your own taste in bricks and mortar or straw bale, or flat pack…), well-built and fit for its purpose. Whatever lifestyle the inhabitants favour, whatever size of family, wherever they are based, the common denominators of every Grand Designs home are fundamental and define the success of the project.

And in this digital age, for a business, a well-designed website is as important as a well-designed home – and believe it or not, Grand Designs has a lot of lessons to share.

Communicate the purpose of your website

Although some of the projects on Grand Designs don’t employ the services of an architect, many do – but while an architect can design a building, they can only do so successfully if they know what the home owner wants. So it is with a website.

  • A web developer is not a mind reader. A web developer’s expertise is in interpreting what the customer wants, in digital form. But it’s you, the business owner, who needs to communicate what the website needs to achieve, how it needs to perform.
  • Identify the purpose of your website. Before you commission your website, work out what you want your website to achieve – sales, information gathering, PR. Whatever it is, your web developer won’t know them unless you tell them.
  • A good website is ‘personal’. Just as a house is very personal to the family who will live in it, so a website – a good website – will very much reflect the business it’s built for, designed for the customers of that business to use.

Consider the user

If you have seen Grand Designs (and if you haven’t perhaps you can imagine) you’ll remember those cringingly awful moments where the builders take matters into their own hands without thinking about what the home owners – the end users – who will live there want. It never ends well. I’m thinking of one episode in which a local builder improvised during the renovation of a ski chalet and not only used the wrong wood but put the electrical sockets in different places to those specified by the owner…

  • Your web developer also needs to know about who will be using the website, what they are looking for, and what you want them to do when they arrive at your website. Unless your website reflects what the user wants, it is unlikely to be fit for purpose.
  • Balance what the user will want with what your business needs to achieve There’s not going to much point giving users an incredible experience on your website if it doesn’t actually deliver for your business.

Choose professionals you trust

Just as there are many architects and many building contractors, so there are many web designers. Who you choose to create your dream home – or your perfect website – should be the result of a complex process where you consider cost, style, whether you will work well together, how quickly they can complete the work for you.

  • Don’t simply be steered by price It may be that the cheapest quote offers you everything you need – equally, the most expensive option may also not be the best.
  • Understanding is key You need to choose a web developer who understands you, your business, what you want to achieve.
  • Choose a reputable professional you can trust As web developers who concentrate on providing websites that offer exceptional value for the businesses who commission them we’re only too aware of the consequences of choosing a website based on price alone.

Have a plan – and know your own limits

Another scenario that those who have seen Grand Designs will be familiar with is the one  where the couple have no experience of the building trade – or have experience of one aspect of it, and choose to forge ahead, missing out certain steps in the process. Cue escalating costs, deadlines being missed, families living in damp static caravans for months longer than they anticipated…

  • Plan well before you embark on your website To avoid the digital equivalent of a damp caravan, plan your website well up front – which is why all the work identifying what the website is for, and who will be using it is so important.
  • Set a realistic budget A realistic budget for the work that needs to be done is vital. No point getting the walls up if you can’t afford the plumbing or the electrics.
  • Don’t get too involved Strike a balance between being interested and involved in the process and creating obstacles. Select your web developer wisely, brief them well, and then allow them to get on with the construction of your website. A good web developer will allow plenty of time for tweaks and testing.

Finally, you may think you can build your own website and avoid paying for a website at all, but remember, to do this will take time. And time, as we all know in business, is money. Can you really afford to take time out of your business and dedicate it to building the website? Just think of that damp static caravan…

Although many of us will never commission and build our own home, the unstoppable march of digital, combined with the fact that more and more of us our running our own businesses, means that you may well be involved in commissioning a website. Be passionate about what you want to achieve, brief your web designer well, and stay involved – but not too involved – in the process, and you’ll be rewarded with a great website.