Monday, 9 July 2012

Web Design from Scratch

If you've been following me for a while, you'll no doubt have seen me blog about how I really need a new website. I do a variation on that blog entry about every six months, and then nothing much happens.

The thing is, being a web (and ebook) designer, whenever I'm designing, it's always for someone else. I never get around to building a new website for myself.

This time, however, I've come up with an idea to force myself to do it and to make up for the fact that I'm rubbish about blogging regularly here. As an added bonus, the whole thing is designed to give you, yes, you, dedicated and neglected reader, the chance to find out how to build your own website from scratch.

This is the idea:

I am going to blog the process of planning, designing and building a whole new author website from scratch right here. I'm going to try to do it in such a way that if you're thinking of building a website (or getting someone else to build one for you, or even if you're just planning to get a simple pre-built template for your website) you can follow along and see what you need to do and how you can do it.

And, what's more, I'm going to approach the whole thing from a novel (!) angle.

I've blogged about building websites before, but that was quite a few years ago, and as Stephen King would say, the world has moved on, and I'm a far better web designer than I was back then. I also have Ideas.

Now, building myself this new website is going to take place in the few free moments I have between my paid design work, my writing and my looking after my son, so this is going to take quite a while to get through, but stick with it and we'll get there eventually, and if you've walked with me all the way, you should have a shiny new website at the end of it.

(If you're following this blog because you're interested in ebook design and formatting, don't worry, I'm not neglecting you. I'm planning a whole series of blog posts on how to convert and format your novel as an ebook. Hang around. We'll get there...)

So, let's get started on websites.

Character Motivation

Okay, huh, what? I'm supposed to be talking about websites, not characters, right?

As it happens, I've spent the morning writing my incredibly awesome, ground-breaking, block-busting (ahem) novel, so I'm in writer mode.

Conveniently, writer mode is actually a very good mode to be in when you're planning a website. I'm going to treat this whole website as a novel, rather than a website, and I think you should do that too.

Isn't that just a gimmick?

No. I don't think so. You see, some terrible lethargy and lack of imagination seems to come over people when putting together their websites. They might be the best writer in the world, full to the brim of exciting, mind-blowing, sparkling ideas, but when they start making their website? They design and write with all the imagination of an underpaid temp being forced to sell a bargain brand of carpet cleaner. It seems like a chore. (I've been that temp; believe me, you're not going to feel inspired.)

I want us to attack our new websites with the same energy and understanding that we do when we write a new novel or short story. (Or, if you're not a writer yourself, then with the same enthusiasm you do when you crack open a new novel by your favourite author.)

I don't want us treating it as an oh-my-God-I-don't-know-how-to-do-a-website. Because you do. Know, that is. You just didn't realise it.

The protagonist

In this particular story we're creating, I'm playing the protagonist (yes, I do write most of my stories in first person, since you ask...), and I know enough to realize that you don't launch into a writing a story without knowing the motivation of your protagonist.

Planning and building a website is a big job. It's an investment in time and/or money. It can be a tough challenge. There are going to be obstacles and reversals and possibly some big tragedies. As the protagonist, you need the motivation to start it and get through to the end.

First up, let's look at where I am as a writer. (Your own position will be different, and it will influence where you're going with this if you're playing along, but the principles are the same.)

I've been writing short stories for, well, a long time now. My first stories were published in 2002, and I've had another fifteen or so published since, along with a bunch of reprints. About five years ago, maybe, I turned most of my efforts to writing novels. Although my incredibly awesome agent is currently sending my most recent novel around, I don't have a book deal. A month or two ago, I put a bunch of my previously published short stories up on Amazon as ebooks.

So, from my point of view, I want my website to:
  1. Promote my short story ebooks that are on Amazon
  2. Let visitors find out about and read my other short stories that aren't on Amazon
  3. Present me as an exciting author to potential publishers
  4. Be able to be easily repurposed to promote my books if I'm lucky enough to get a book deal
Right now, my website is painfully inadequate to meet any of those requirements. My primary motivation in this whole process is to be able to reach those goals, and to do it better than any other author websites out there. (Reach for the stars, etc, etc...)

The current (and very old) website: not up to the job. At all.

My secondary motivation is entirely selfish and not really related to my writing: as a web designer, I want and need to be pushing myself by learning new techniques and technologies. I can't always experiment with client websites, but I can with my own. I'm planning to learn a few new things in this process. More on that later.

Okay, my protagonist has his motivation. But the protagonist isn't the only person in a story with a motivation. In fact, in this particular process, the protagonist's motivation is arguably not the most important one.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk about the other characters in our story, and what you need to know about them.

Feel free to leave comments, questions, your own character motivations (if you're planning to do this yourself as I go along), or requests for anything you'd particularly like covered in this series.

By the way...

I've called this series 'Web Design from Scatch', but I'll be covering a lot more than simply web design. I'll be looking at all the planning, structuring, writing, designing, building and deploying of the website.

If you want to follow along with this series but you're not interested in the rest of the blog, you'll be able to see all the entries under the web design from scratch tag.

See you tomorrow!


Sage said...

It is true that planning and building a website is a big job. There are a lot of elements to consider such as the color combination that would best represent your business, the ease of navigation of the website itself, the design factors that you have to consider for every page. That is why a lot of online businesses are opting to hire professionals for the job. However, the upside to personally building your own website is that you know exactly what you want, where you want it, and how you want everything to be done. That means, you basically have the best ability to concretize your ideas. Anyway, how’s your website now? Does it have the feature that you wanted it to have?

@Sage Aumick

Colleen Fisher said...

I agree with Sage that hiring a professional to do the job of creating the website has its pros and cons. However, if you don’t know how to build a website, it would be better to just specify what you want to see in your website and have a pro do it for you. Anyway, it is still impressive that you built your own website from scratch. You clearly know your way around web design.

@Colleen Fisher