We live in a digital world, and so it’s tempting to do everything digitally. Maybe it’s ironic, but the best way to start designing a website is an old analog method: sketching it out on paper.
Many web designers use this trick, long before they open Photoshop or any other program on their computer. Their sketchpad is worn and full of layouts, hierarchies, etc. If you’re not a great artist, don’t worry. Even thumbnail sketches can help you go into a website design with a more cohesive plan. Remember that it doesn’t need to look pretty on paper, just on the screen, so don’t worry.
The first thing to figure out is what kind of feel you want the site to convey. This decision should be made after thinking about who will be the target users, and why they would visit the site. Every move you make should be with this target visitor in mind. Ultimately, you want each element to be inviting and compelling to them.
When creating a layout, you must first craft a top-level layout. Sites where different pages are laid out completely differently don’t feel professional, and they confuse visitors. Remember that in western society, we read from left to right. The first information you want people to see needs to be at the top-left portion of the page, including the title and/or logo.
Different navigation elements must be easy to spot. If a user can’t get around on your site easily, they’ll bounce to somewhere else.
If you choose to have sidebars, now is the time to sketch out how they might look. Remember to keep them simple, just like the rest of your site. Nothing is worse than sidebars that distract from everything else.
Don’t forget the bottom bars for your site. This can be a great place to put elements like contact info, legal disclaimers, etc. It’s often an overlooked design element, one that’s more like an afterthought. This is where you avoid that pitfall.
Once you have the top-level layout of your site down, you’re ready to dig into the rest. Knowing how many other pages you need to create is vital, as well as what should go on each. List out all the pages you’re considering, plus bullet points about each one. This will help you get all the information in one, easy-to-reference spot.
You can even start to establish a color scheme using your notepad. If you have some quality colored pencils or markers, they make a great way to start playing around with possible options.
Remember that like any skill, sketching out websites takes practice and time to perfect. If your first attempts seem feeble, figure out where you’re falling short and concentrate on improving.
Starting your website design on paper doesn’t mean everything will turn out exactly how you sketch it. Nothing is set in stone, but the sketches can be a good jumping-off point for when you get on your computer, where distractions can make it harder to focus and be creative.