There is certainly a lot to consider when laying out your site design. There are so many tools to help you out, and so many methods to get the job done. You really have to consider what your needs are, and which method will help you accomplish them.
When I design a site from scratch, I tend to lean toward the method of HTML and CSS. For some, this is a no-brainer, but there are certainly other ways to “get the job done” but I like to use HTML and CSS to make sure that the site looks consistent across all browsers, and as close to my original concept as possible. I will admit this, and I hate doing it, but I used to use HTML and the dreaded “tables” method.
Granted that I was new to web design and merely just wanted to get the job done, but there is a difference between getting the job done, and getting it done right. The problem with tables is that depending on the browser, the look of your site may vary drastically. Another problem (ok nightmare) is control. With CSS, you can control the size and flow of content with ease. With tables, you are constantly struggling with alignment issues, and it takes forever to make things look the way you want to. Even then, it still may not look that way across Opera, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, iCab, or many of the other browsers out there.
Another method is to build your site in Flash. Flash is beautiful and really created a level of interactivity. Where HTML has CSS, Flash has Actionscript. I will openly admit that I have no idea what I am doing beyond the basics in actionscript. Sorry, it is sad but true- I just haven’t had the time to devote to learning this language. For the beginner, Actionscript can be very daunting to learn, but you can do literally anything with it. I have seen some incredible work done in Flash, such as a Mercedes promotional web site, where it was so interactive and well done that my jaw hit the floor. The drawback to Flash is that sometimes components won’t display properly for different reasons: Sometimes, functions don’t work properly if the newest version of Flash isn’t installed on the viewer’s browser. Another drawback is that sometimes they won’t display at all. If you create your entire site from Flash, this can be a major problem. The bottom line is this: people are naturally lazy. maybe not in life, but definitely on the web. if they have to download something to make your site work, there is a chance that they may not. Maybe they don’t feel like it, maybe they do. Do you want to take a gamble on someone’s state of mind? it is your choice, but I choose not to build my web sites completely from Flash, because there are just too many outside factors for me to be truly happy and confident in building one that way. If you are good enough to take all of these things into account and work around them, then that is fantastic and I can’t wait to see what you create. Personally, I love beautifully animated web sites: They are smooth, and really heighten the level of interactivity. If you really want someone’s attention, and want to keep it for a while, create a truly captivating and immersive Flash web design.
Another category of web site design is third party site builders. These are a means to an end, but they are usually turn-key programs with few options. Many of them create sites that look generic at best, and if you really want to delve into the world of web design and one day become a good web designer, then these aren’t really a viable option. Many hosting companies have a site builder program, and many third party companies have programs that create the code for you. These might be an option if you are good at the aesthetic part of design, but haven’t learned the coding part yet. There are programs out there that will take your photoshop design and create an entire web site from it. I have never used these, so I cannot fairly judge how well they work. I have no idea whether they will help you to achieve consistent results, or if they have a lot of built-in features. You will have to try these on your own.
If you are building an e-commerce site, there are different options out there, such as stand alone applications that will take a lot of the work out of it for you. Another option is that if you have Adobe Dreamweaver, there are plug-ins available, some free, some affordable, that will help you to set up a shopping cart system. That way, you can do it all, or at least most of it, inside of one program. If you have no experience at all in this area, then it might be a good idea to save yourself the headache and hire someone that is skilled and experienced with shopping carts. It may very well be worth the money to have someone create it for you, and do it right. Plus, you will have a custom shopping cart that works for your site and will help your products to sell easier, and won’t hinder them. The last thing that you want to do is to beat yourself out of money.
In the next part of this series, I will discuss how to lay out your site, and the different tools and web sites out there that are designed to help you get the results that you want, quickly and efficiently.