Building a community: Design revisions and coding

by Martin Reed on 21 March 2008 in Articles

Designing and coding a new online community website

This is the sixth article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a brand new community from scratch. I am currently developing a brand new online community and will detail its development on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

My new community: Current status

It’s been a couple of months since my last update so I thought I would firstly fill you in with what I have been doing.

The logo was completed in January, and the design process for the website itself began in February. It has been quite a lengthy process, mainly due to the fact I regularly strive for perfection. When my designer emails across concepts, I can always spot minor errors such as an image being out of position by a pixel or two. Similarly, I will not accept a design until I think it is perfect.

Fortunately, I found a patient and professional designer – after providing a full brief they worked up an absolutely cracking design, based on my core needs:

1) An attractive, original design
2) A design that is intuitive and easy to use
3) A design with a strong community focus and call to action

It is no good designing a community website and then hiding away the community aspect. It sounds obvious, but I find many websites have their forums hidden away and the developer wonders why there is hardly any activity. It was imperative that my homepage made the visitor immediately understand that although the site publishes its own content by way of articles, there is still a strong community focus.

Initially, I was only going to have the designer draw up the homepage, then I would modify the design for the content pages myself. However, the quality of their work led me to commission them again for the additional pages. These are almost complete, then I will be onto the task of coding the website.

Understand your site’s concept before thinking about coding

First, let me make it clear that I am terrible at coding. Basic HTML with tables, I can do – anything else then I am lost. Therefore, I consider myself to be unskilled when it comes to coding websites. Before I find a coder, I need to understand how I want my new community to work – sure, I can give a coder the PSDs of the site design, but I still need to be sure exactly how I want the site to function in a live environment.

What’s next

Next week I explain the process I went through to choose the software that my new online community would run on. I looked at a blog/forum integration as well as a number of Content Management System (CMS) solutions.

Your thoughts

Are you finding these articles useful? Am I missing out on details that you would like to know more about? Share your opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Chris Guthrie March 22, 2008 at 1:25 am

Nice update and good point. I’ve seen numerous great websites that have forums with such little activity and it has to do with the fact that the forum isn’t highlighted enough.

That’s part of why I like vBadvanced. Although it’s core design is so “modular” every link on the home page goes into a thread on the forum so it’s hard for visitors to miss.

Amish Made Furniture March 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Yes, I am finding this very useful and look forward to your continuing with the theme.

Fly Fishing Gear March 22, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Nice post, I’ve been thinking of adding a forum to my site and your site should help quit a bit.

Domaining March 23, 2008 at 9:34 pm

I found this very useful for when I launch my forum.

One thing I would find useful is advice on how to find honest and capable designers. From what I have read they are really hard to find. Any suggestions about what to look for in a good designer and how to find good ones?

laser tv March 24, 2008 at 7:27 am

This was a really cool read for me.

You sure spend a lot of time on developing your sites. May I ask how much cash you have spent so far, and what your expected budget for the completion of the site itself is?

I also agree that many sites hide their forums. It’s almost treated as a b. step-child. I’m not sure why that is.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 24, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Chris – I am not a big fan of vBadvanced. It just looks so generic – every site looks the same, and that is a huge turnoff for me.

Very often I see vBadvanced being used when just putting the forum up on its own would be perfectly fine. A lot of people use the system to try to make their sites looks more advanced and modern. Unfortunately they often end up just looking more complicated, in my opinion.

Ramana – Thanks for the feedback!

Fly – This article may also help:

Should you add a forum to your blog?

Good luck, keep in touch and let us know how you get on.

Domaining – It depends what kind of work you want your designer to do. If you are looking for a new logo or page design, I don’t think you can go wrong with SitePoint Contests (now known as 99designs). You post a brief and your price, and receive a number of entries to choose from. Once you have found a good designer, you can commission them for further work in the future.

Laser – All this information will be revealed in a post closer to the launch date of my new community. I have never spent as much time or money on launching a new community before this one – I am putting maximum effort into getting everything just right prior to launch.

makimaki March 25, 2008 at 7:20 am

Through StumbleUpon, I found your site’s homepage some weeks ago and subscribed to your feed for some reason. I hardly do just by one visit to a site but maybe because I felt the site had potential.

Anyway, your early articles were decent but since then they’ve been meh (who needs adjectives?) and thought of unsubscribing until recently. Showing a real life example, namely yourself, of the process that you are going through made me change my mind.

What’s my point? uhm … Rock on!

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm

makimaki – Thanks for your feedback; I will certainly be making more articles like this in the future as I have received positive feedback on them.

As for the quality of recent articles – you mention you prefer many of the older ones; can you give me some examples so I can better gauge what articles you prefer in terms of content/length/subject/style etc?

Looking back at some of the older posts on this blog, I think that newer articles are of a much higher quality. However, if you can provide me with some examples of the older posts you prefer and the newer ones you feel are not as good, I will be able to ensure my writing standards don’t slip.