Once you’ve learned what you need to build, it’s time to start planning how you are going to make it happen. Before you can start designing a website, you need to know exactly what, and how, to design it in the first place — and it all starts with creating a design strategy.

Your design strategy for each website you make should be handcrafted to fit the client’s vision (if you are designing a site for yourself, then you would qualify as the client).

So what factors will shape your design strategy? The creative brief will act as the foundation of your plan by providing you with some basic information, such as what your timeframes are and who the target audience of the website is.

It’s especially important to know your audience because it will affect where and how the site gets viewed. For example, will you also need to create a mobile version or an iPad-specific version that works with touch?

Research and Note-Taking

Whatever gaps are left in the overall strategic picture will need to be filled by doing some research of your own. Now is the time to visit competing websites and see what types of designs are already out there in the target market so you will know how to differentiate your own design.

See who comes up first in a Google search and try to find out why. Within 10 minutes, you should be able to start piecing together the beginnings of your design plan.

While you are researching, you’ll also start brainstorming about what colors to use, where to place the call(s)-to-action, what kind of fonts you should use and other similar details.

At this point, you should also be taking notes, snapping screenshots and starting a mood board.

Sketching and Mock-Up

Next, it’s time to create a mock-up and start letting your ideas take on more of a tangible state. I like to start by sketching out my ideas on a regular old piece of paper, as do many other web designers.

Other people prefer to use a wireframing tool like OmniGraffle. During this phase, not only will you want to start thinking seriously about the layout of the site, but also the structure of your site and how the navigation will shape up.

This is your chance to see what works best and a good place to experiment with different ideas before actually hitting Photoshop or Illustrator to create something more concrete.

Pick Your Tools

This part of the process is also the perfect opportunity to assess which tools you will need to use. You absolutely should not fall into a pattern of using a predetermined set of tools for each site you create. It’s a potentially hazardous practice for everyone involved, including the site’s end users and the client (not to mention how monotonous your portfolio would look).

Put some real thought into what content management system would work the best considering the site’s goals, whether or not including Flash at all is a good idea, and so on.