For me, good user experience design is fundamental to good web design. You can cram in all the features and functionality you want, but unless the experience has been designed well, the user will look elsewhere.
Likewise, good aesthetics can only take you so far and if they’ve been used to paint over the cracks it will become obvious pretty quickly.
Designers shooting for usable is like a chef shooting for edible.
Meeting with the client and discovering business goals is how I like to kick things off. Doing a workshop with the team is the best way to get all the ideas out in the open. Once we have a good understanding of what everybody wants, then we can start to organise and prioritise the best ideas.
A little bit of user research goes a long way. I like to take a look at my client’s current website analytics. Observing users can often uncover gaping usability holes which aren’t immediately apparent and, where appropriate user questionnaires can help us understand what users want to achieve (and why). Creating rough personas are useful at this stage, so the team can start to think about who will be using the site.
Content, structure and journeys
Once the goals of the user (and the business) are understood, we can begin to structure the website by making a list of content and how it will be organised. I like to plan out important user journeys at the same time as a way to cross-reference the structure of the site.
Sketching, planning and wireframes
I try to keep my designs lo-fi for as long as possible, that way, nobody gets attached to time-consuming visual enhancements, and we can iterate quickly and cheaply. Once sketching has been exhausted, creating digital wireframes can be really useful to help gain a more solid understanding of how a design will look and feel, without getting bogged down with time-consuming aesthetics.
Whether walking a client through your sketches or using a framework to create html/css prototypes, nothing quite beats the feeling of experiencing a website. That’s why I think prototyping should happen before or at least alongside the visual design stage.