IT ALL STARTS WITH THE CONCEPT
A great meal starts with a concept. And as with all good concepts it should relate to the target audience. Want to cook a valentine's day dinner for someone special? Base it on a love story like hero & leander. Prepare each course to represent an aspect of the narrative. Start with the fire (spicy pineapple carpaccio), then incorporate something from the sea (scallops on a bed of roasted yellow pepper grits?) and end it with darkness (dark chocolate truffles coated with creme anglais). Make it cohesive and have it build-up to a climax.
But, know your audience. If you're target audience is your fiancee's parents -- then leave behind the fancy food and go for comfort. Don't scare them. Make them comfortable, make it memorable and make it tasty. Go for homemade mac & cheese, hamburgers that ground with foie gras for extra richness and a simple broccoli saute or maybe smashed potatoes.
A website should work the same way. Start with the concept. Take the EarthLink DSL & Phone microsite. The audience skewed a bit older, so it had to be approachable. The product was a bundle of two completely disparate products with different value propositions (speed & savings). So how could we communicate the positive nature of a bundled product. How do you communicate that they are better together than apart? We decided that the phone and the modem had fallen in love. It wasn't a bundle; it was a marriage that saved you money. And the creative execution worked.
PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL
The french refer to proper pre-cooking prep and planning as mise en place. It ensures that everything you need is set in place and at your finger tips. This means when it comes time to start cooking you don't waste valuable time chopping, measuring and washing. You can focus on the goal at hand -- cooking an ingredient to perfection.
The web world is very similar. Before we start a project we develop creative briefs that outline the project's target audience,their goals, the business objectives and the website requirements. Then we develop site architectures that show navigation flow. After that we develop wireframes that outline content and navigation on a per page basis. Only once all this planning is set in place do we start the design process. This means the designer can focus on creating an effective design without tons of back and forth on content requirement etc.
Does this process mean that it takes longer to come up with the initial concept? Possibly. Does this process mean that we're more efficient with our designer's time and can nail down a viable design concept on the first try? Definitely.
THE EXECUTION SHOULD BE SOLID
All the planning in the world can't save a badly cooked dish. Cook your pork chops to burnt and no amount of prep will make them tender. The same goes with web design and development. An ill-conceived concept can't be saved with planning. A confusing and ugly layout can't be salvaged through multitudes of documentation. It may cover your ass and show you're reasoning, but it won't help the end product.
If you're a professional in this industry there is no excuse for bad execution. It either means you didn't focus properly, you didn't allocate the proper amount of time, or you're not really a professional.
YOUR GUEST'S HAPPINESS MATTERS THE MOST
At the end of the meal only one thing truly matters. Are your guest's happy? Did they asks for seconds? Did they brag to their friends about what they experienced. The same thing goes for the web. People always talk about viral in regards to the web, but at the end of the day the most viral thing in the world is a great experience. Did it make you smile, did it make you laugh or cry? Was it memorable in positive manner? Would you send it to a friend?