Streamlining Project Management for the Web Designer

    May 1, 2003

The project management of a web design job can make or break the project. If you are a web designer who has to perform your own project management, the following guidelines can help you to stay on budget and hit your deadline.

At one time or another, most web designers have to self-manage their own projects. The overhead in time alone can put you over budget (although ideally you want to devote about 20% of your time to project management).

If you follow all of these guidelines, your projects will become more organized and efficient. These guidelines are intended for smaller projects and are not meant to replace the role of a project manager; they are to help the designer who does not have a project manager.

Before you start, make sure the contract clearly states every aspect of the project. For example, if additional money is needed for purchasing stock photography, it should be stated in the contract. Break out the time and money so that the buyers know what they are paying for. Find out what their timetable is and, unless the deadline is not a deciding factor in the project, do not commit to a deadline until you have received enough information to create a solid schedule (see schedule below).

Once the contract is in order, you can begin to setup your project. The typical web design project can be broken up into five phases:

  1. Defining the Project
  2. Developing Site Structure
  3. Visual Design
  4. Coding
  5. Launch

Each phase requires a review and sign-off from the client before the next phase can begin. This ensures that you and your client are both on the same page and that any issues are worked out while the project is still in process.

Phase One

Gather as much information as possible from your client. Have your client complete a Client Survey that answers questions such as:

  • Why are you building a web site?
  • What kind of site are you building?
  • Who is the target audience for the site?
  • Who is the competition?
  • What is your competitive edge?
  • What other sites do you like, and why?

You should also request that your client sends you all current marketing material. Once you have gathered this information and have the completed Client Survey, write a Creative Brief that outlines the 5 W’s (above), and have your client review it and sign off on it. This will be the basis of the project.

Phase Two

Next, create a Flowchart of the proposed site and the Schedule. Both of these items should be submitted to the client for review and sign-off. The schedule should allow roughly two business days for each client review process. In these guidelines, there are total of six review processes. Include a disclaimer on the schedule stating that any review process taking longer than 2 business days will have a direct impact on the schedule and a revised schedule will be submitted. It might be a good idea to set up a project site at this point where the client can view the progress of the web site. This project site should also contain PDFs of all current documents that have been approved.

Phase Three

Unless you are writing all of the copy for the web site, create a content delivery plan outlining all of the copy needed for the site. Depending on the client, this can take one to two weeks to gather, so you can move on to other tasks while the client is accumulating this information. Ask the client to deliver it in a format that is digitally acceptable to your design process. This will speed up any unnecessary conversions.

Your next task is creating color selections. Create as many Color Palettes the contract allows and allow your client to select one. Typically, you will create 3 separate palettes and allow the client to make a round or two of revisions.

Once the color choice has been approved, you can begin the design studies. Again, based on how many Design Studies the contract allows, submit these to the client for review and approval. Typically, 3 design studies and 2 revisions are the norm.

The last item here is creating your Technical Specifications that outlines the technologies you are going to use and what technologies the target audience is using. Submit this to the client for review and sign-off. Once you have approval on a design you can move into Coding.

Phase Four

The Coding phase usually requires very little client interaction. A good rule of thumb is to create one template and have the client review and approve it one last time, as the design may change somewhat due to coding limitations. Once the template is approved, you can complete all coding per the Technical Specification. Once the templates are in place, import your content and review the site for errors, broken links and other discrepancies. Once you have reviewed the site, have the client review the beta site one more time for accuracy.

Phase Five

Move the site off of the staging server and on to the active server. Check the site again outside of the network where it is hosted on to ensure that it is live and available to the Internet. Compile all of the documentation you have accumulated throughout the development process and package it up for the client. Depending on the contract you may or may not hand off the source artwork to the client. The source artwork should always be available and scalable for future additions to the site. Be sure to have the client sign a final release form indicating that the site has been completed and launched to their satisfaction.

While there is no substitute for a project manager, these guidelines will help to minimize the amount of time spent getting a small web site completed when managing your own design project.

Eric Davis is the Director of Web Development for InterActive Network Systems, Inc and a freelancer web designer. He has been involved in web design and development since the Internet became commercially available to the public in the early 90s. For more information, please visit or