Asking a web designer or digital agency to provide speculative designs upfront doesn’t always go down so well – but there’s a very good reason for it, and that reason is as much for the client’s benefit, not just the agency’s!

So why do designers balk at providing upfront examples? Well, put simply, because you can’t get the design right without first understanding and planning the way the website will work.

What do your users need? What pages do you want? Where do those pages live? What functionality do you require? Is it an e-commerce site?

A design and development team need time with the client to understand exactly what their objectives are, in order to find a way to deliver a design that works on all levels – and that doesn’t mean just making something look pretty. This process is how the web journey and user journey starts. And of course, something that happens after you’ve chosen which agency you want to work with!

Understanding information architecture

To the uninitiated, web design is assumed to be easy. After all, it’s just choosing some images and colouring a few boxes, right? Er, no: totally wrong! There’s a whole world behind the web design you see and use, and that front end won’t work if the back end hasn’t been developed properly.

Information architecture is the vital link that joins initial concepts and ideas to functional, easy to use websites. And being easy to use doesn’t just mean navigation, compelling calls to action and user guidance – it also means being easy for you to use too. If you want to change pages, add products, update content or insert images, you need to make sure that the management system is intuitive, and easy for you to make these changes in house.

Without first analysing your audience, understanding your business and identifying appropriate functions, a designer can’t even begin to produce anything like a workable design. It would be like asking a decorator to paint and wallpaper your house, when the windows, doors and radiators haven’t even been fitted yet!

Experience by design

Once your designer has all of the necessary information, they can start to put together a site map and page wireframes. These will show you how the site menus will work, how things link together, and provide a basis for a design template. From there, the different layers of the visual aesthetics can be added on – until there’s an approved design that’s been structured and developed to provide the best experience possible.

So you see, with all these elements needing to work in the right order, information architecture must come before any design work. And that’s why it’s unfair to request a design upfront: we won’t be able to deliver something we believe in, and from the colour to the structure and everything in between, it won’t look anything like what you imagined – or what a researched and organised end product should look like.

If you have any concerns over a designer, or if you’re looking for a specific style, just take a look at the agency’s design portfolio and choose a couple you like the look of to talk to. You’ll soon find out if you’re on the same page and whether or not they can deliver the goods.