Hello, I have been tasked with creating a website for my company.
I have no problem creating the markup and CSS and getting everything to behave how it should by the design (except for maybe in IE6 :) ) but my big problem is I don't know where to start in the design of this website. I have a simple page list and I know what kind of content will go on the site. I just don't know how to lay it out well or to make it look good by-design.
Can someone give me some advice on how to actually design a website from scratch? The only thing I've found on google is "how to write HTML code" type tutorials..
While Richard is right that great design requires both talent and skill (which takes time to learn), you can learn a few basics. There are two main aspects to web design: artistic and usability.
The former is an artistic thing - having a feel for simplicity, balance, and other stuff it's hard to quantify. "Principles of Beautiful Web Design" is a decent book to give some ideas, but my experience is that I'm not an artist - I don't sketch things for fun, for example, and can't draw anything realistic to save my life - so I can only get so far with this.
The other part is usability - a site that's easy and intuitive to use. "Don't Make Me Think" is a good book to teach you that. I think you CAN learn this part, if you can code - it's mostly critical thinking + imagining yourself in the user's shoes. (Of course, experts recommend usability testing, too, but for small projects you just do what you can.)
If your company isn't willing to spend money on a web designer, you can still make a site where information is easy to find, it's easy to contact someone, etc. Make a list of all the things that people may want to know or do on your site, and think about how to organize those choices intuitively. Then prioritize.
Remember that a web site is a means to an end. For example, if the business were a restaurant, the main goal is for people to show up and eat. So your phone number, hours of operation, menu, address and a map link should all be on the front page, along with yummy food photos. Company history and such can be a little more buried.
Finally, as far as a process, I'd recommend using pencil and paper first, precisely because it will look crappy. You won't be obsessed with code details or shape or texture; just focus on what your users will be trying to do and where stuff should generally go on the page. Do you want a menu across the top or down the side? Draw a big box for that and label it. Will the buttons go next to each item, or will you check items off and push one button to change them all? That sort of thing.
A site can be ugly but easy to use (think Craigslist) or beautiful but confusing. You'd like to achieve beautiful and easy. Take stock of your skills, learn what you can, and do your best. And hire help if you can.
You say "have been tasked" so I'll assume you are an employee rather than it being your company - and I'll also assume that (unless HR have made a mistake) the website is not your primary task.
Design is not something that you can "just pick up". Aptitude and Instinct for design are things you tend to be born with. Most entrants to design schools have at least instinct for good design, but usually aptitude as well.
So, I think that turning you into a visual designer:
- may not be possible
- would take too long
- is outside your company's core business
Two solutions suggest themelves: 1) search for pre-made templates which suit your company. It will probably cost between $1000 and $2000 to buy the exclusive rights to a template. The problem is that you are having to live within limitations that were set in ignorance of your company's needs.
2) Hire a professional designer. It's what they exist for, and it should be clear by now that the alternatives can be equally expensive for lesser results. I would require the designer to develop the design to the point of a HTML template and stylesheets - this weeds out those designers who are still very print oriented and lack enough understanding of the web as a flexible medium.
As a last thought: What is the state and consistency of your company's visual branding? If it has been well done, there should be a strong starting point for a design - and if the brand was produced by a design company, that same company should be able to produce a web template at a reduced cost. But if it is a mess that has grown higgledy-piggledy, the company should not worsen that by considering a website in isolation. There is a strong case for developing a unified branding.