Start At Your Destination: A Backwards Method of Website Design

a garden maze

If you’re one of the rare people in the world that read my last post, you’ll know that I had the audacity to suggest designing the homepage of your website as the last page. So, what should the first page you design be?

Before we get to that, let’s start with what a website really is. Unless it’s an online browser-based application of some sort, your website is just a collection of pages linked together. That may seem overly obvious, but it’s worth considering a bit more. Those of us that design websites can get caught in the trap of believing everyone thinks of the site you’re building as a whole, like you do. Instead, your users really just think of it as the pages they happened to visit. This is likely far fewer pages than you hoped. And they definitely didn’t take the route you so carefully planned in your user journeys.

Think of a website like a restaurant. A chef may plan out the perfect menu, but a diner is probably only going to try two or three of the total dishes available, even upon multiple visits. The taco shop down the street from my office has a menu full of great tacos. At least, I assume they do; I just get the same type of taco every time I go. A website user is only going to experience a fraction of your site (and, again, the homepage isn’t the most important experience by far).

Start with the purpose of the site.

If you’ve developed proper user journeys and use-case scenarios then you have a page type that you’re trying to get users to. Consider designing that page experience first. It can keep the team focused on the true intent of the website rather than getting distracted by what photo should go at the top of the homepage.

Start with the page most likely to be entered.

Check your analytics. Consider the goals of your SEO. What type of page are users most likely to start the experience of your site with? This might be an article page for a site heavy on editorial publishing, a product or even category landing page for an ecommerce site. It could even be a service page or a press release page for a B2B website. Regardless, this is going to be the first impression to your users.

Start with the page with the most content or functions.

By planning around pages with stacks of written and visual content or one with a complicated set of functions, you make sure the heavy-lifting page gets the focus it deserves. An experience like that is going to be the strategic center of your website. Let the other pages orbit around it and start here.

Start with the most expensive page.

This might be a function-heavy page too, or maybe it’s got an expensive module or widget of some sort. It’s easy to drive up costs on less important pages by including extraneous features on them. But, if you start with the most expensive page to design and build, then you can make more economic decisions about how to spend your remaining budget on the rest of the website.

In short, by starting with an interior page that contains the strongest point of gravity for your site, you keep the design process focused on the strategic intent rather than the distraction of designing experiences that probably won’t be that important to users anyway.

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