Getting the specification for your website correct is extremely important both from a functional viewpoint and from a cost viewpoint.
Once the design has been agreed and the specification finalised any changes as the design progresses can become very time consuming and expensive. Once the first page layout has been constructed and signed off, it becomes the template for the rest of your web pages; so small changes at a later stage can and often do affect all of the pages. It is worth spending time at the start to ensure the specification is clearly defined and is exactly what is required.
Think about the content you would like to include in your website and how you would like to present that content to your visitors. The easiest way to do this is by using a sitemap that will define the titles of the pages and the navigation path to those pages.
The figure on the left is a very simple example of this approach but it works equally well for more complex designs.
The 'index' page is the primary page of your website; it is also known as the 'home' page and is where your visitors are most likely to land. Ideally there is always a route back to the 'home' page wherever you are on the site to help ensure your visitors do not become completely lost.
Another useful tool which provides a fall back option, should the navigation system fail, is a search facility; this gives your visitors a last chance option to find the content they want without leaving your site.
The sitemap is combined with a story board or initial layout of the website design in order to finalise the design specification and provide the designer with the information required to start work. It should be clearly communicated via these tools what the structure and navigation routes are, and to get an idea what the look and feel of the website is going to be. These documents need to be generated in consultation then reviewed and agreed upon before starting work on the final design.
The figure on the right gives you an idea of how you can configure your website pages with horizontal or vertical menu elements. Sometimes it may actually be appropriate to use a combination of both or to include a second set at the bottom of the page to make the navigation easier. This is more important if the page is relatively deep and you lose sight of the main menu in the process of scrolling down.
There are a number of other factors to take into account when developing a website navigation system which I have gone into in greater detail on my blog for anyone who would like to know a little more about the design rules for navigation.
A good way of establishing a look and colour combination that you like, is to find websites on the Internet that are appealing, and in a style you may want to adopt in whole or part. It does not have to be a competitors site but you do need to take account of your target audience and what they may expect from your site.
Working out all the details for a specification is a joint effort between client and designer. There may be technical aspects that could prevent certain features being included in the design, perhaps because of cost implications or it just may not be possible. Likewise only the client can truly know what they want in terms of the image that is being presented and the required look of the website; so it is essential that this information is communicated.