Web Design 101: Know What You’re Getting

You’re about to invest your hard earned money into a new website. Having at least a basic understanding of the steps and components that go into a modern site will help you appreciate where your money is going. You don’t need to learn how to code, but a high level understanding of the process will be beneficial.

The Two Big Steps: Design and Development

The broadest way to divide up the website creation process is into two phases: design and development. During the design phase, web designers use software like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or a myriad other design tools to translate their ideas plus the requirements and desires of the law firm into a visual mockup that you, the client, can look at and review. Design variations for mobile devices, as well as mockups for the logo, are also created now. The design phase can last anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months depending on the complexity of the website.

Once the design is finalized, the development phase begins. This is where rubber meets the road. The web developer uses HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other web technologies to build out the website based on the final design. The coding itself is performed on a “development environment” on the developer’s local computer. As soon as the site (or a part of the site) is ready for the client to review, the code is uploaded to a staging server. Once the site is completely finished and ready to launch, it’s pushed to the production server and the site is live! Like the design phase, the development process varies in duration depending on the scope of the project.

A Bit about the Technologies

So how are websites actually built? At their most basic level all websites are written with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). This is the primary language that web browser like Chrome and Firefox understand. It uses special notation to rganize the content of a page and to explain to browsers and search engines what the various parts of the page mean. Well written, well organized HTML makes the difference between a website that’s confusing both to humans and to search engines, and one that makes life easier for visitors and allows the site to rank high in search engine results. Being the simplest of the web languages, most people can learn HTML in a few months.

The next major component of modern websites is CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). If HTML determines what the page is, then CSS determines how the page looks. Layout, colors, button styling, fonts, cursor hover actions, and a million other visual elements are created via CSS. Without CSS, websites would be nothing but black text on a white background. Being significantly more robust and complicated than HTML, CSS takes much longer to learn. One might get the basics down in a couple of months, but mastering it will take many years.

The third major component of website creation is JavaScript. It’s the primary force that determines how a page behaves. Ever seen revolving images on a home page? How about social media “like” buttons, real-time comment sections, interactive maps, or scrolling news feeds? That’s all JavaScript. Without JavaScript, every time something changed on the page your browser would have to refresh and the page would have to completely reload. The web wouldn’t be the same without it. While both HTML and CSS are relatively simple markup languages, JavaScript is a full blown programming language that most developers go to school to learn. But even with a degree, JavaScript is a constantly evolving language, so a dedication to continued learning is vital.

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