Incremental web design

Searching for online perfection? Incremental web design is the answer

There’s that expression I keep hearing these days, ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’. And there’s something to it. In our studio we strive for a superb, creative outcome on every piece of work. But sometimes inevitably constraints mean that the ideal project they wanted is impossible because… maybe the photos aren’t ready (or these days, the shoot is delayed). Perhaps budget is tight. Or a major new product doesn’t launch for a few months, but that can’t delay the finished website. Whatever the reason, I try to find the positive in the situation. We try and encourage our clients to press ahead with what they have now, then build on that work. It’s an approach I call ‘incremental web design’: where money isn’t wasted, but seen as an initial investment built upon over time, defining an easy-does-it approach to a fantastic website.

Here’s how it might work for your business – over three notional (but very familiar) steps…

Incremental web design

Our work for corporate finance firm Harrier Partners launched in two phases: single page within days of commissioning the project, then full launch a few weeks later.

1. Forget ‘coming soon’ – arrive now

In our studio, I’ve officially banned the term ‘holding page’. Rather, I prefer one-page website. You can launch it pretty much right away and it’s a better thought of as a bookmark on the web, or an online business card. In any case, as you launch, most visitors go onto the site to get contact details – and so long as it does that, the page showcases the brand and is useful.

However, in many cases a single-page site can do a whole lot more. For instance, it’s easy to include a large background image or video, a broader expression of your new branding, a central business proposition, perhaps catalogue download link, a map with more detailed contact information – even an e-mail newsletter sign up form. By that point, what you have is no mere holding page, it’s something genuinely impressive.

And how soon can this be done? We’ve often turned around a pretty sophisticated single page site quickly, then built the full website ‘behind’ it, launching when the company is ready and everything is in place. Even at speed, the first part of the project can be really impactful. A great example is our work for Harrier Partners, where a one-page site to launch their new branding was created within days of project completion.

Maybe it’s just my experience of working on these projects, but a massive bonus to working on ‘one page first’ is that when it comes to the inevitably more trying technical details – particularly resolving the ownership of the domain and hosting, the admin can be addressed at this point. This sounds mundane, but I’ve known these fiddly matters delay a large website launch unnecessarily for days and days while a detective hunt is conducted and domain changes resolved. With these matters ticked off, the process of creating a full site is set fair.

Incremental web design

Oxford Investment Consultants review their website every 6-12 months, looking at ways they can expand the project and improve their offering to their investors. We've been with them since day one, rolling out the brand we designed.

2. Concise, elegant and on time wins the day

Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither was any major website project I’ve ever been involved in. Custom-built sites require process and preparation. Beautiful branding, it’s creative manifestation in copy and photography and framing that around who the site needs to appeal to… these are vital components of our work. And that quick list barely scratches the surface.

But – while the three-phase process of design / programming / content creation takes its time, it’s funny how quickly everything can assemble with all the parts of the team working together, client centrally involved.  When I think what we’ve achieved before in a week, a fortnight, a month – or up against a specific deadline – I sometimes wonder how we did it.

With a one page site in place, that usually means that colours, often startup business logo design and use of typography are already agreed. We then run through a familiar, efficient process, beginning with two or three of the most involved pages designed and reviewed with the client. If the site is going to be evolved over time, this initial stage may cover just six to eight pages overall. This might sound modest, but can be a really decent introduction and creatively sets the style for everything we do, going forward. Incremental web design at its best can achieve all this.

Then with a concise, great-looking site in place, you can launch, run tests, see what works, expand and look to the future.

Incremental web design

Business change management consultancy MovePlan are constantly adapting to find the best possible way of looking after their global client base. We recently helped them launch their ‘return to work’ service, developed swiftly during lockdown to anticipate business needs as restrictions ease. 

3. Build on your solid foundations

… financial

There are many reasons to expand your site gradually, but the most familiar one is the gradual launch of new services over time. A great example of this is the many financial services website design projects we undertake. Invariably, if a business is collating investment for a major fund, putting that together takes time. The process of creating web pages and in particular building custom secure client logins can take its time too, meaning both processes can run run in tandem.

We often try and demystify the design process, pointing out that it’s us creating and delivering the work (rather than our client) and a secure client portal is a classic example. When the fund is complete, the investors in place and all the data collated, the section of the site, whether public or private, will be ready for all the data – which is a by-product of the process of building the fund in the first place. Incremental web design happens here in real-time tandem with the growth of the business. Our work for Oxford Investment Consultants is a great case study of this sort of approach.

… retail

A major project we’re most of the way through at the moment is a retail site. It’s quite fascinating how this has taken shape – and I look forward to tell the story of this project in a couple of months when it’s complete. To date, we’ve developed a launch brand identity, a colour palette and a single page site, then behind that, completed the full, custom-design retail site (using Shopify as the e-commerce engine) – but so far without any content.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed the final phase, so while we wait for the products to arrive from the artisan manufacturer, then the resulting imagery, the site is ‘frozen’. to use our client’s phrase. But we’re ready – and so is she, writing a marketing plan and refining copy – and the entire project has been created step by step, embracing incremental web design: in this case from a single page to a full e-commerce website.

… adaptive

Back in April we launched the new MovePlan website. The product of months of work, including three photo shoots and a rebranding exercise, the start of the pandemic was a strange moment to present a vibrant, new piece of work we were so incredibly proud of. In the event the dramatic launch we had planned was scaled back to something simpler. But on reflection a few months later, I can’t help feeling that for a business that offers change management consultancy, mid-pandemic was perhaps the best way of setting out their stall anew.

A few weeks later, we added a series of sections to the site which address what many companies really need at this moment in time. In particular a new offering, setting up offices safely for the ‘return to work’. For instance, moving locations for companies that need to downsize or expand, and helping companies that want to embrace the work from home movement so their systems are best placed to do just that.

It’s a steady, healthy growth, adapting to changing times but using incremental web design as a tool to put their best foot forward.

How to embrace our concept of incremental web design

If you’re planning new wave of marketing this summer, why not get in touch to discuss a wide range of different approaches? We can work on designs from the simple to the sensational, depending on your brief and budget.

Call us on 020 7351 4083 or email us direct.

Our relevant work

Take a look at the websites we’ve worked at using this approach:

Visit the Harrier Partners website
Visit the Oxford Investment Consultants website
Visit the MovePlan website


Photo: Marten Bjork