My primary goal as a web designer is to create a website that best displays your content. In other words, your content determines the design I create. To accomplish this goal, I use a process that has five stages. These stages are: preliminary meeting, brainstorming, test site, content, and maintenance.
The first stage is a preliminary meeting with a potential client. This meeting is akin to a job interview. During this meeting, I ask questions like: "Tell me about your business, in your own words;" or "What's the purpose or goal of the site?" If the potential client and I agree to work together, I then ask questions about the site's content: e.g., how many pages and what kind of content (graphics or text). Near the end of the meeting, I share with the client information about my fees, go over billing options, and explain my basic process and what the client can expect over the next weeks.
The second stage is brainstorming design ideas. Often, this involves drawing potential layout ideas on a piece of paper. Sometimes, it involves creating mock-ups with GIMP, especially if the site will use a lot of visual elements that may not be easy to imagine on a piece of paper. When I have a basic design idea, I contact the client to arrange another meeting.
During this meeting, I share my basic design idea with the client. I give the client an estimate for the design idea, with the understanding that this estimate is based on a general understanding of the content for the site. The client chooses either to accept the basic design idea or asks me to come up with another idea (at which point, this stage is repeated as many times as necessary). The client can also offer specific suggestions to the basic design, for example: "I like the layout, but not the color scheme." Specific suggestions can then be incorporated into the test site, which is the next stage.
During the third stage, I create a test site based on the design idea approved by the client in the previous stage. This test site consists of one page, usually a sample index page. When the page is first created, I email the client; so that he or she can follow my progress. The first purpose of the test site is to create the HTML and CSS that go along with the design idea. The second purpose of the test site is to tweak the design idea until it can function as a website. Once I have the test site design done, I then test the design with a variety of browsers and browser conditions. These tests often reveal aspects of the design or the HTML and CSS that need to be modified. This is one of the many challenges of web design: to create a site that is adaptable to many different browsers, screen resolutions, and accessibility requirements. Often, most of the cost for the website is accrued during this stage.
When I'm satisfied with the test site, I have another meeting with the client. At this point, the client can suggest any changes to the design (stage three is repeated) or approve it as is. If the client changes his mind completely, we go back to the second stage. If the client accepts the design, we discuss content and move on to the next stage.
In this stage, the client has the most responsibility, for it is the client's responsibility to provide me with the content for the website. Once I receive the content, I edit it as necessary and put the content on the test site. Once all the content has been put on the test site, the client and I have a final meeting. During this meeting, the client can approve the content and the design or offer small changes to either. After the client approves all the content and design on the test site, the test site is transferred to the client's real website—the site goes live.
Now that the website is created, maintenance work begins. For example, after a few months, content can become outdated and need to be changed. Another aspect of this stage is browser testing. For example, when a new version of Internet Explorer comes out, the design often needs to be tweaked to accomodate the changes.