A Little Planning Goes a Long Way in Web Design

I recently redesigned my website. Ta dah! 😀

The original site had been okay, but felt generic. I’d put it together quickly just as my first book was released so I’d have an official “author” page to help with marketing, but I always knew I could do better.

The smartest thing I did was start my new author site at WordPress.com, where I got a built-in blog along with many other features useful to writers. But since I was short on time back then, I had picked a theme that resembled my old personal website and went with what was familiar to me.

Which was fine for a while, but the more I looked at the site, the more I felt it had to evolve. I played around with different headers and backgrounds, but it soon became clear that the current theme wasn’t enough anymore. I had more content now and I wanted to be able to share more pictures and eventually some video and audio material. I wanted my home page to feel more lively and fresh.

So, a redesign was in order.

As this article from The Daily Post notes, when you get the idea to redesign (or set up your first site) you spend a lot of time pouring over different themes, trying to find the perfect one. That’s okay. Take all the time you need. You do want it to be the right one, especially if you’re choosing a premium theme that costs money.

But along with that window shopping, you need to start thinking about your content — what you currently have and what you want to add. Because the reason so many of these themes look beautiful is because they have content already. You aren’t going to get the same look on your website that you see in that gorgeous theme demo if you don’t have text and pictures to fill up the pages, posts and other pieces that comprise the theme.

So, I did take a long time to peruse different themes, try them out through my dashboard to see how they’d affect my current content, and when I finally settled on one I loved, that’s when I got out the notebook and paper.

Yes, I went old school. With the demo of the theme on the screen, I examined every area of it to understand what pieces of content I would need to fill in the various boxes and widgets and menus, and I made a list.

  • I listed what content I currently had and where it could fit in the new theme.
  • I noted the menu width and location (because I may have to adjust the number of items in the menu to avoid wrapping or blank spots).
  • I noted where social media icons were located, because that was a feature important to me.
  • I also took the time to read the theme documentation.

In your excitement to get your new theme up and running, you may forget this very important step. The documentation gives you step-by-step instructions on how to use the features of your new theme, and is important to have on hand for the more complex themes that have sliders and special menus.

My next step was to list all the “new” information I would need. In my case, I’d picked a beautiful new theme with more focus on images, but I  hadn’t always added a featured image to posts in the past because my old theme didn’t need them. Now I would have to do that.

So, I made a note of what posts I wanted to be in the theme’s featured sections and what type of images would go well with them.

My theme also included a slider (which I love, love, love!), so I needed to plan out what posts would be part of the slider, and what imagery I’d need to create for them. In particular, I needed to know what size images fit in the slider. If you don’t use the correct size, the slider won’t look its best.

It took about a day to get all the information I needed, write up my plan of action and gather the missing pictures. But once I had that plan and all the pieces, putting the site together was breeze. Because I’d planned ahead, I was able to convert the old site into the new site in less than a day. And although I’m still tweaking a few things, that advanced planning minimized those awkward “under construction” periods when a website’s in flux, and the new site is now up and running great.