Site Purpose: Clarify your reasons for building the site and list the site's goals, ranked by importance.
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I use the words Site Map when referring to the navigation a€?treea€™ which is drawn at the start of a website project. If the website is small (with only five or six pages) then a dropdown menu will be utterly surplus to requirement.
I always tended to use dropdown menus for large websites before the surge of smart phone useage because ita€™s a system which everyone's already familiar with. I prefer a top (horizontal) menu for main categories - and left (vertical) menu for contextually relevant subcategories.
Your sketch will undoubtably evolve as your project progresses, but ita€™s important to establish the basic content and structure of the website at this stage. I know then that I need to factor into the design the possibility of expansion - further down the line our menu system will have at least two new categories added at the top, and I dona€™t want to have to pull the site apart in order to shoehorn them in. I also deduce from the site map that there will be a large number of pages whicha€™ll be quite text-heavy. As youa€™ll also see from this site, the original sketch of the site map I made is not too far from the finished item. Once you're happy that youa€™ve factored in the right category headings and individual pages, youa€™ll be ready to move onto the design phase.


Each box (which represents a single page) is colour coded depending on its functionality and contains a brief explanation of its purpose. Also determine what functionality the pages will have and what kind of navigation system you'll be using.
Ita€™s exciting to start with a blank sheet - and a relief that we have the go-ahead on the project - but mostly, Ia€™m scared. The insecurity of a graphic designer or website designer is a powerful but necessary thing.
I use the words a€?Google Sitemapa€™ to describe the XML file which is submitted to that well-known search engine, and a€?Navigation Sitemapa€™ to describe the HTML page which displays a link to every page on the website. The purpose of this scribble (figure 1) is to make it clear how big the website will potentially be, how each section will be grouped and accessed, what functionality each page will have and what sort of navigational device will need to be employed.
However, on this site, therea€™ll be lots of pages and sub-categories, so a dropdown menu of some kind could be a good option. The vast majority of computer programs have a menu bar at the top of the page which users know how to use. By the time the menu has opened, the tap you just made has already sent you to another page. As youa€™ll see in my scrawl above (figure 1) a couple of entire sections are a€?greyed outa€™ with a€?FOR LATERa€™ written at the top. This is because if ever I felt I was losing my way, Ia€™d refer back to the sketch of the site map - and this would get me back on track. Before this, I usually turn the site map into a much nicer-looking piece of vector art (figure 2). This pleases the client, and it presents them with something much more professional-looking to approve than a rough sketch.


Consider usability as well as design, and get your client to approve a Site Map before starting the design work. Ia€™m scared that the client wona€™t like my design, pull the job and tell everyone they know never to use my graphic design studio again. It keeps you focused on the job in hand and scares you into going over-and-above to deliver the best looking visual you can. Why force a visitor to think about how your ambiguous, highly contemporary menu system works when you actually want them to be thinking about what you're offering through your website?
At best, a dropdown menu introduces an additional click - because there's no mouse to rollover anything.
If in doubt, ask yourself what you'd prefer to be confronted with as a site visitor - always put yourself in the visitor's shoes when making design and usability decisions. This was done because I wanted the website to go live this century - and if I held it back until every facet of website design information was laid, the planet would be a boiling bubble of lava before the project saw the light of day.
Ita€™s important that they do sign off on a (more or less) final version of the site map so that if they start changing the brief, you can charge them for the extra work involved. If I know that Ia€™ve done the best I can with a design, if it gets rejected then I'll know it's not because I didn't give it my best shot. You usually have to click once to open the menu, then click again on your preferred option.



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