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Web Design Process - When You’re Short on Time or Money

It can be tempting to throw out process when your client’s timeline is in the past tense, your employer doesn’t prioritize work properly, or the project is otherwise crunched. Always remember though that your process will save you time, keep your customers happy, and result in a higher-quality website (not to mention happier visitors). Instead of skipping vital phases of your process, look for shortcuts that can save time or money without sacrificing quality.

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This diagram might not completely represent your particular flavor of web designers. Whatever you call the web design steps in your process though, these tips can help you scale back without compromising.

Planning: Scope, Discover, Define

The planning phase is particularly important, and the most tempting to let slide. While you may not be able to do in-depth interviewing of users or extensive surveying, you can and should still pay close attention to the goals and intent of the project, as well as the website’s audience.

  • Find existing documentation. Does your client already have a defined marketing plan that describes their ideal customer, product niche, or other details? Are there existing personas or journey maps from previous projects that apply?
  • Ask the client or business partner to do some of the work. If you haven’t been provided with requirements already, ask one or more of your major stakeholders to give you a list of goals and expectations for the website you are designing. They should be able to articulate in writing the intent of the site and the major functions it is intended to provide to visitors.
  • Scale down research. Instead of doing extensive competitive and user research, ask the stakeholders who their main competitors are as well as who they admire. Investigate those first. Then, look for research that’s been done by the pros so you don’t have to duplicate it. For example, Nielsen/Norman group has an entire index of free and not so free research reports. 

Designing: Site Maps, Wireframes, Content, and Visual Elements

The design phase can be shortened in similar ways to the earlier phases.

  • Find existing documentation. Look to existing marketing plans and materials that describe color schemes, can be borrowed for mood boards, or repurposed entirely (think graphics and images). Content from marketing materials can also be used as inspiration or edited for the web channel.
  • Ask the client or business partner to do some of the work. If this is a new venture, product, or complete revamp there may not be as much existing documentation. Chances are though that copy is being written and graphics are being developed for marketing materials and advertising. Ask for access to drafts and early versions of this type of work.
  • Scale down iterations. Instead of doing three versions, do two. Get colleagues to do heuristic evaluations instead of paying users to test. Don’t present stakeholders with options or let them bog down the review process with nit-picky suggestions. Present your best design and welcome constructive feedback, but (politely) shutdown extensive discussions and unfounded opinions with firm timelines for turn around on a single revision.

Testing and Launching

These last phases are not the place to take shortcuts. Thoroughly test the functional, technical and aesthetic elements of your site no matter how off track or limited your project plan. The same goes for launching the site. If no one knows about the site, or it crashes the first day, it’s effectively useless to visitors and stakeholders alike. Luckily maintenance will likely fall under a different project or contract, so you don’t need to worry about that phase as much, but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind how the site will be supported, expanded, and updated in earlier phases.Add paragraph text here.


Next time you are presented with a completely unrealistic timeline, instead of getting frustrated, get creative. Look for ways to save yourself from pulling your hair out without sacrificing the quality of your work.

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