Web Design for Non-Designers: What you need to know before starting a website design project


Websites are a great way to promote and share your gifts as a sustainable lifestyle brand creator, artist, or creative multi-hyphenate. It’s a central space where you can talk about your ethos, your process, your mission. It’s the digital equivalent to business cards and brochures, without wasted ink or paper in case the idea doesn’t work out.

Photographer: Igor Miske | Source: Unsplash

As another iteration of my business unfold, I’m about to redesign my website yet again.

I’ve lost count how many websites I’ve built across different platforms. (Quite thankful that learning this skill has allowed me to not only build my websites every time my business evolved, but it also helped me design websites for clients to create a stronger online presence.)

Thankfully, it’s much easier and faster to build websites these days. The bad news? That doesn’t make it less daunting, even for me. There’s so much to think about: domains, templates, platforms, palettes, typography, logo, DNS, etc.

Where should one begin building a website — without the overwhelm?

Let me introduce you to what I like to call the “Sample Sale Site”.

It’s basically a starter website stripped to its bare minimum, so it’s not too overwhelming. Just like how a sample sale would usually be in a bare warehouse. It’s all about the goods, not the ambience. You could always spice it up later.

Like any skill, such as learning to drive, we want to start at an empty parking lot before we take on the more scenic routes!

What are the bare minimum elements that you need to create a new website?

I like to start with the following:

1. About Page or Bio

A short bio (for personal brands) or about page can also serve as your home page, if you don’t have a specific headline in mind yet. One of my favourite examples is Morgan Harper Nichol’s site at https://morganharpernichols.com

Write about your gifts and background, and how they’re shaping what you’re doing now. (Optional: nownownow.com suggests having a /now page as well to list the areas you’re focused on. I like this as a reminder of my mission. The same way logos can remind us of what we’re here to do.)

2. Call To Action

Have links to your social media accounts or newsletter. Choose one of your favourite and/or most effective marketing channels and have that as your main call-to-action. Your call to action can be also be as simple as “Contact Me”.

3. Contact Form

Make sure you have a contact form on there so anyone landing on your site can reach you.

As Roxane Gay advises in her Masterclass: Don’t block your blessings!

That’s it, really. Each part can be just a paragraph or a sentence. The important thing is to have these elements ready.

Pro Tip: If I get stuck at this stage, I like to get inspired by browsing websites. I take screenshots and/or note ideas, and then create mockups in Figma, Google Slides, or Canva. Sometimes, it helps to move to the next stage and write the words to fit the template, straight onto the website editor.

Next Steps

Once you have the above elements, it’s easier to do the next steps:

Choose a platform.

I built my first website on GeoCities as a hobbyist. I remember reserving a site address in “Soho” and building a Mariah Carey fan page on it. When I looked at starting a business, I started with WordPress. It’s now the one platform I avoid, because it’s too flexible. Creativity needs constraints, and I found this was true for me. With WordPress, I’d spend hours installing plugins instead of creating. I also didn’t enjoy installing updates — it reminded me of my corporate job in my past life as an IT engineer. So with choosing website platforms, I like to keep things simple. Squarespace is my favourite, though I’m currently using Brizy because it has some templates I like. Truth is, it doesn’t really matter what platform you choose — what matters more is whether it’s conducive to creativity.

Select a template.

Consider what you’re using it for. Will you write a blog? Do you want to sell one product? Choose a template based on the elements and aesthetics. It helps to look in other categories, especially ones you’re interested in, and then look at how you could tweak it for your project. For example, I love to travel, so I would often look at templates in the Travel category first, then I’d tweak it for my branding design business.

Tweak the template.

If you don’t have a brand identity or palette for your brand or project yet, sometimes it helps to start with built-in ones that come with the template or platform. These are already professionally designed, so I recommend doing as little tweaks as possible, especially if you don’t love the design process. The fewer tweaks, the fewer frustrations about why the site doesn’t look as good as the template. It’s always best to work with the template, not against it.

Once you have your Sample Sale Site, you can then layer in more options:

  • Home Page (with a headline, subhead, and call to action)
  • Blog (or just link to Medium)
  • Custom Domain
  • Google Tag Manager
  • Google Analytics

The list goes on. But for now, just get your starter “Sample Sale Site” out there!

And don’t worry, you don’t even have to tell anyone that it’s live…not until you’re ready.

websites web design wordpress squarespace