What is web development?
When web professionals refer to development (or web development) they are generally talking about the technical aspects of creating a website that are not related to the creative design aspects of the project. This means writing mark-up language for front-end presentation and coding of back-end functionality to make the website. However, to the layman, web design and web development are often taken to mean the same thing. This is fine because when you approach a professional web development company, what you are after is a website that is going to achieve results for your business like generating enquiries and sales. But before your website can be developed it is important to plan and design how the website will look, how your content will be presented and how it should all work. Once this has been decided, and the required content (written text, images and other media) have been created then the site can be developed.
Some background about web development
Websites range from very simple (with just a few static pages) to very complex web applications that interface with others systems and provide advanced functionality. Web development is generally broken down into front-end and back-end development. Front-end development is the coding that controls all the exciting pretty stuff you can see as a user of the website. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, especially on more complex websites. Behind the scenes is the back-end consisting of code files and often databases of information and sometimes also interfaces to other in-house or 3rd party systems.
These days there are platforms and frameworks that can be used to create the back-end functionality more easily and speed up development time. Content Management Systems (CMS) are platforms that run the back-end and make it possible to make front-end edits without knowing how to write code. This is beneficial even for a simple website because it puts control into the hands of the website owner and also reduces the time and cost implications of changing and maintaining the website going forward. Platforms like this usually have libraries or marketplaces for modular plugins which can be used to extend the functionality of the platform in different ways to create more advanced website solutions.
For example, WordPress, which is the market leading CMS (with 60% market share, running over 30% of sites on the internet). Although WordPress historically started as a blogging engine, it’s “content is king” approach made it a good choice for anyone wanting to build up an organic online presence. The base platform which is open-source and free to download and install provides the basic functionality for a simple website that can grow to unlimited size. And there is a large community with a marketplace where software plugins can be purchased, usually at a nominal cost, to extend this base. Woocommerce is a plugin for WordPress that adds all the functionality required to run an online store, including simple and variable products, a range of payment gateways, coupons, different shipping systems, and even virtual or downloadable products. And there are plugins to add just about any type of functionality you can imagine. Provided you know how to set this all up without making a mess it is a very powerful solution, but it does require experience and some coding knowledge to setup initially.
Web development requirements of large enterprises vs. small and medium enterprises
Generally the web development requirements of small and medium enterprises and start-ups are pretty standard. The service offering and product range they sell may be unique and different. But what they need their website to do to generate enquiries and sales falls into some standard categories that thousands of other businesses also require. And as such there is a market for off-the-shelf software that can be used to build these websites. This is advantageous because the cost of custom web development from scratch is 5 to 10 times higher than web development using an existing platform or framework as a base.
Large enterprises (like banks, multinational organisations, and large corporates) and also Tech companies (whose product is some advanced or unique web application) will require custom web development to run their systems. But very often even these organisations have a need for a “marketing front-end” that does not need to interface with their other system, but needs to establish an effective online presence as part of their marketing plan. A marketing website like this is a good candidate for a CMS-based website which will often outperform a custom coded site at a fraction of the price tag from a marketing point of view.
How does the web development and design process work?
Web development is part of a process where your requirements are determined and the website that you need is specified and designed to fulfil it’s purpose for your business. On larger projects this design process is more in-depth and includes planning of the information architecture, pages, functionality and the journeys that various types of visitors take through the site to reach certain goals (like making an enquiry, or buying a product). This is called User Experience Design (UX) and it usually includes some level of user testing and iterative refinements of the interface design. This kind of design is usually delivered in the form of a Wireframe with a functional specification. This is a semi-functional prototype – it looks a lot like a real website, and you can navigate your way around it but there is no functionality or back-end with actual data. It only serves to communicate clearly what the website should look like and how it should work.
This design (wireframe and/or functional specification) then needs to be costed and then the website can be developed according to those specifications. It is quite inconvenient to start a website project not knowing what the final finished working product is going to cost you as the client. So generally web design is quoted based on packaged standard solutions for smaller projects. For example “Basic company brochure website” or “Standard Ecommerce store with up to 100 products and a single payment gateway”. On larger projects there will usually be a fixed cost for the planning and design phase and an estimated project cost range estimated within a certain degree of accuracy. What the total project ends up costing depends on the detailed functionality determined during planning and design and how complicated this is to develop. So it is usually only possible to determine an accurate project cost once the design wireframe has been finalised.
How it works at a small web development agency vs. large web development agency
The approach taken to web development depends on the type of service provider you choose to work with. If you are working with a small web development agency or freelance web developer then you will probably find that they come from one of two backgrounds. They either have a technical background (and they are more of a developer or software programmer) or they have a creative background (and they are more of a graphic designer sometimes with some front-end coding skills). The more technical developer type of individual will want you to specify what content you want on your pages and how you want them to look; but he will be more technically proficient and able to make more complicated custom functionality. The web designer type of individual will be comfortable to help you figure out what you want on your pages and how to present it; but he may hit technical limitations if your functionality becomes non-standard or very complex.
If you are working with a large web development agency, especially one with a few awards under it’s belt you can expect to pay a premium. A large agency will assign a team of people to contribute different skills as required on the project. The design and planning phase of your project will include a copywriter and a designer (maybe even a UX designer). Then their design, once you have approved it, will be handed over to the developers, which may include separate programmers for front-end and back-end depending on the complexity of your solution. You will also more than likely have an account manager and/or project manager to guide you through the process and communicate with the team.
It is also worth noting that creating your content (written text, artwork, photos) is a project on it’s own and not included in the web development or even design part of the job. User experience design is a specialised service and also not the same thing as web design. If you need help with content creation it is advisable to work with a web design company that can offer these services or include a marketing consultant or writer in the process that can help you to plan and create the content you want on your pages to achieve the best possible result.
Our approach to web development
We offer a packaged approach to web design and development that suits the budgets of most small and medium enterprises. Our approach is creative first. We will work through the content you have available and make suggestions about what needs to be created or improved. We will avoid custom development or keep it to a minimum. Our flexible framework and systematic approach allows us to take you through a streamlined design and live prototyping process to create the best possible presentation of your offering without adding unnecessary cost and overhead to the project. Your website or online store will be responsive for mobile devices, SEO-ready, expandable and CMS-enabled so it is as easy as possible to maintain and update going forward. After your new site goes live we can help with maintenance and establishing your online presence either on an adhoc or retainer basis as needed.