Managing Complexity in the Web Design Process

Web Design Process

If you are a perfectly balanced business, technical, design and marketing bad ass – think Zuckerberg meets Jobs meets Bezos meets Paul Rand – then you shouldn’t read this. If you are like the rest of us and are good at 1 or 2 of these then read on.

Let’s start with the assumption that in order to thrive in the 21st Century you need to have equal parts business, design, technology and marketing skills as part of an initiative to have it succeed. Second let’s assume that a single person can’t be good at all of these things.

For example, I am great at design and marketing. Believe it or not I am not a great technical wiz nor do I hold an MBA and have facility with process and numbers. This means that both in my corporate and entrepreneurial career I have had to execute on my strengths and collaborate with others on the rest.

This does not hold truer than on digital projects. Whether you are working at or starting a digital agency, startup or just your own freelance practice by now you’ve likely had to collaborate on a web project. You also know how complex these collaborations can be.


What makes your projects complex? Is it communications? Is it the fact that you are learning the “tools” of the trade while you are also trying to service a client (e.g. learning how to code while building a website for a client)? Is it that you don’t know what steps you need to take?

There are many things that make projects complex. For me, when growing a boutique digital agency, it was figuring out how to deliver value to our clients, do great work and still make money at it.

I knew how to do great design work, but when it came to building the websites it was a mess. I perfected the art of losing money on projects. I was really, really good at it.

This is where my obsession with “Process” really started. It was the desire not to lose my shirt every time I quoted and executed a project.

Why Does Complexity Happen?

First let’s break down a web project. Whether you are building a site for a client, building a site for the corporation you work for or doing a startup, you will go through three distinct phases:

  1. The Idea Phase
  2. Building It
  3. Releasing It

Each of these phases has its own challenges:

In “The Idea” Phase:

  1. Shiny object syndrome
  2. Different interests
  3. Not knowing who the users are

During the “Building It” Phase:

  1. Different languages
  2. Lack of alignment on functionality
  3. Lack of adaptable process

During the “Releasing It” Phase:

  1. Lack of a launch plan
  2. Not knowing what to do next
  3. No system to get user feedback

With our understanding of the challenges in each of these phases, we set out to craft a system that responded to each of these in a simple, yet explicit way.

  1. Inception
  2. Execution
  3. Launch