What's the first thing you do when you decide to build a new website? Do you download and install Joomla!, do you go to a template supplier and select your template or do you do something else instead?
Whatever your process, it’s time to step back for a minute, grab a Pencil and Paper and start to Plan. You wouldn't dream of building a house without first drawing some plans and a website is no different.To build a successful website — and why would you want a failing website — then you need to follow these three Ps.
Whether you are designing your site in Photoshop or with a pre-built Joomla template, starting with a design first can be tempting but also very limiting. Until you have planned what you want on the site — what menu links there will be, the functions the site will perform, etc — you cannot truly know what will be a suitable design. There is no point in creating a stunningly beautiful parallax scrolling template if your final website will have hundreds of pages of content.
So what is my workflow process?
I begin with a clean sheet of paper and write down a list of all the menu links that my web site will need. Next to each menu link I write more details of what that page will contain. Will it be a single article? Perhaps a list of articles? A contact form or something completely different? It's important at this stage to also plan for the future. You may only have one product or one member of staff at this point in time but will that always be true?
When you plan your site this way you will find that you need quite a large sheet of paper and lots of erasers. If you have a flip chart handy then you will probably find it easier to use that than lots of smaller sheets of paper. Some people even find it easier to write each menu link on a post-it note and then stick that on the flip chart as they find it quicker and simpler to move a post-it note.
When you have completed this first stage in planning your website, it's time to make a permanent record of your plans. If you're anything like me then your sheet of paper is a complete mess and it's important to ensure that the scribblings you made today are just as understandable next week or next month. I usually start by taking a digital photograph or two for posterity and then sit down to consolidate and copy my plans onto a clean sheet of paper.
At this point I should say that I usually keep an individual notepad, such as a Moleskine notebook, for each website that I build. I find this way I never confuse notes taken for one website with another. Multitasking has never been my strong point.
Now that I have this site map on paper I can see what type of categories I need to create in order to structure my website in the most efficient way. Again, take care to remember to construct the site in a manner that is suitable not only for today but also tomorrow.
With my plan on a piece of paper I can also see what type of extensions I will need to add to my Joomla installation. Maybe I need a photo gallery or a form builder or even a module to display the local weather?
When you have built a few websites I am sure you will have your personal favourites but every web site is different and every site requires different features. So don't just blindly default to your previous choices as this web site might need something a little different. With over 9000 extensions available to choose from at the Joomla Extension Directory (http://extensions.joomla.org) there will always be a good range of options available.
Spending some time researching and selecting the most appropriate extension for a given task is very important. Don't just grab the first one you find that you think will do the job. From the description of an extension I can usually get a good idea if it is suitable for the task in hand but you can never beat trying it out for yourself. Usually I will download my shortlist of extensions and install them on a clean Joomla installation and put them through their paces. In the past I have wasted a lot of time with an extension installing and configuring it, adding data and customising the layout only to realise at the last step that it will not perform one essential task for the site. Throwing away hours, if not days, of work is not something you can afford to do often. Time spent now ensuring that you make the correct selection will save you plenty of time later.
I still haven't installed Joomla as there is one more thing I still need to plan. The design.
I now have a pretty good idea on paper of what I will need to display and the type of content that I will be displaying. So now is the time for me to start to sketch out the visual aspects of my website. Once again I use my trusty pencil and paper for the initial visualisations and I usually find it helpful to sketch out not only the homepage but some of the content pages as well. When I am happy with my sketches I will start to make more detailed version in my notebook.
Your notebook should now contain a detailed site map, a list of extensions to install, an ordered list of the categories that you will need to create and a detailed sketch of what the website will look like.
What you do next will really depend on your design skills. You may just visit your favourite template shop and look for design that most closely matches your sketches or open your favourite design program and start to create something truly unique.
Only now are you ready to install Joomla and begin to physically build the website.
Planning your site in this way might take a little time, especially when you are new to this process, but the more time that you spend Planning your website with a Pencil and Paper the more time you will save in the long run.
So remember, a successful Joomla website begins with a P not a J.
This article first appeared in Dutch in the special Joomla! edition of WebDesigner Magazine produced for Joomla!Dagen.