Why I never design the home page first (and which page I design before anything else)

I’m in the middle of a huge redesign for a web site that gets hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of monthly visits.

It’s a big deal. And it’s pretty stressful.

But if you’ve ever done any sort of redesign (maybe you’ve redesigned your online portfolio?), you know that it’s also exhilarating.

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And the best projects seem to be just that: exhilarating, yet exhausting. That’s how I know I’m doing work that matters and work that I love.

As I go through this huge redesign, I’d like to share my thoughts on web site design processes and today I’d like to discuss what comes first in terms of design.

Once you’ve really nailed your audience and superniche, once you’ve determined what “jobs” your site visitors are hiring your for, and once you know exactly who you’re talking to and how, it’s time to jump into the design.

And I almost never start with the home page design anymore.

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Why you shouldn’t start with the home page

It seems natural for some designers.

Everything’s going to stem from the home page, so of course it should be designed first.

Makes sense, right?

Maybe not….let’s dig in a little more.

Take a step back for a moment and answer the following question for me:

Which  page do my visitors come to first?

That’s the page to design before anything else.

ANYTHING else. Seriously. Here’s why:

If you’re truly designing with your audience in mind (as any decent designer will tell you to do), you’re imagining not only how much margin they’ll like around their text, which fonts will really please them, and which color schemes will speak to them, but you’re also thinking about how a visitor will use the web site.

At the end of the day, a well-designed web-site is a tool people use to access information. Your design should focus around building a tool that does the job right.

So think about the first place a visitor comes to your site.

On many sites, the home page is rarely the first place your visitors come.

On ecommerce sites, it’s usually a product sales page.

On a blog, it’s usually a post getting traffic from social or search results.

On a news site, it’s a news story.

So if your visitor gets their first impression from a page other than the home page, why would you want to design your home page first and retro fit the other pages into a similar template.

You’re painting yourself into a corner.

Which page you should design first

So if not the home page, which page should you design first?

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

First, design the first page your visitors will see.

Take your web site goals and make sure every single one of them can be achieved from this “first” page. If you’re trying to get more email subscribers, make it easy to subscribe from your “first” page. If you’re trying to get more clients, make it extremely easy to hire you from your “first” page. If you’re looking for more traffic, make it easy to navigate the site from the “first” page.

Death of the “homepage”

It’s not the “homepage” that wields the power any more. It’s the “first page.”

So make sure you’ve got the “first page” perfect in terms of appearance and function before you move on to anything else.

You’ll be amazed how easy the rest of the design comes when you’ve done that first step right.

What do you think? Comments here.

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  1. Interesting thought.

    But, if, for instance, I design an e-commerce site, I don’t know where people will land. Some will land on the home page, some in the category page and some in the product page.
    Besides, the “home page” has many elements from other pages. Again, looking at an e-commerce site, it will have some products, some categories, etc.

    I think, and I might be wrong here, that the answer is: whatever works for you. At the end, you need to design a coherent site, where all pages have the same look and feel. For some, starting at the home is easier, for others it will be a different page.

  2. This is such interesting point of view. I never thought about it but you’re absolutely right! It’s something to keep in mind for the next blog design.

    While reading your post it got me thinking, how many people even see the homepage? I know for myself that I often skim trough suggested posts or popular categories rather than clicking that home button.

    Thanks for bringing this up, it changes website design point of view quite much!

  3. Hey Preston,

    Sorry if this is a silly question because I’ve recently just started going into web design, but not starting with the homepage also relates to one paged website? If so, how?

  4. So true, I came on this site through this page here 😉 I appreciate the resoning behind this post, thank you for it!

    Now that I registered to your newsletter, I’ll go and check out your homepage 😉

  5. Surely the purpose of a home page is that it actually IS the intended first page. If the first page is not the home page then why not make it the home page. Surely home is the master starting point from which everything navigates out from.

    It is the page with the standard domain name, where most of your marketing points to???

    besides, links to other pages from google searches and the like could come from anywhere too so all the pages could be a first page depending on where the visitor links from so they all have to look good.

    the other thing, should you not consider the content for all the pages and then design with that in mind, so you are allowing for not “retro fitting” ANY pages. Retro fitting does not seem like a good term for a professional designer to be using, (although I know what you mean – and if the client is amending their content mid-design then it may become unavoidable I guess)

  6. Preston,

    Great post. This made me think some about past designs and perhaps where they may have fallen apart. Now I generally like to think about web design as creating a “system” so this idea of starting with the page the visitor will first see, fits into this style of thinking. I appreciate the post!

    1. Dennis, thanks for reading. And I’m glad this works well with the system you’re using to get site design done. Best in all!

  7. Sure thanx for addressing the myth before it settles as a norm. One can’t prescribe the same medicine for all symptoms. So as a designer the fist job is to diagnose/identify the client’s purpose and the desired response.

    1. Pradeep, a good point. Too often (as designers), we care more about the color of the bandaid than the function it performs. I’m guilty of it myself.

  8. Why do you say “web site” instead of website, but say “homepage” instead of home page? “Web site” is so 90s! HA 😉

    1. Hmm. I guess because I learned to spell in the 90’s. 🙂 I’ll try to be more hip.

  9. Wow, I never would’ve thought about it like thst, and it is so simple!! Thanks!!!

    1. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. Try it out, Renae. Thanks for reading!

  10. Great post! I absolutely agree. I believe with the clutter on the internet nowadays you need to grab the user on the first page (the information they want). It’s sort of like how we’ve moved on from having fun “splash” pages. It was fun back in the 90s when everyone wanted to see more graphics on websites, but now there’s too much of it, and we need to showcase what’s important.

  11. I really don’t design any “page” first. I’ll take into consideration every important page, information distribution-wise (sites vary, there could be three or four key page layouts) and start sketching across those. Once I’m satisfied that I’ve met the information display needs of those pages, a design solution is arrived at that works site-wde can be arrived at. Conversely, if the latest concepts of a “purpose driven”: site are what the client wants to do then I will start with the optimized landing page that will be presenting and measuring content/visits downstream.

    1. Interesting strategy, Steve. Sounds like it’s working for you. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Preston,

    Great post! I find the home page design the hardest of all of them, because while for many of the sites I’ve designed, it’s the conduit to the rest of the site, it’s function is simply a placeholder to get you to what you really are there for.

    So, like you, the home page is one of the last pages on my t0-do list. By finishing the other pages first, I usually have a better grasp of what to highlight on the home page.

    Thanks for the insight!


    1. Great addition, April. It’s easier to know how the home page will be used once you have all the other content/design in place.

  13. This is great Preston! I One of the sites I’m in charge of designing is also going under a complete redesign/redevelopment and the last pages I designed were the group homepages and the site root homepage. As you mentioned, our main focus is engaging customers from the pages they land on from a search, for our site that means a forum or blog post.

    PS: Love the blog and the variety of topics covered!

    1. Paige, thanks so much for the kind words! We’re glad you’re liking the blog. Hope that redesign goes well for you!

  14. I do like the thinking of going against the norm and focusing on the first page a visitor see’s. BUT I still think that’s the landing page (home page) still should be considered your master template. I know design aesthetics seems to be the first thing a designer focuses on but you UI Design is a big priority.

    Large companies do have e commerce sites/pages but a lot of sites are smaller and more informative based. Does that mean the “About Us” page should be the first? In any google search for anything “unless it’s product specific it should be the homepage. Not sure If I make sense. Just trying to join the conversation. 🙂

    1. Jeremy, I agree with you that you should design the “landing” page first. But my whole theory is that the location of the landing page is NOT the home page any longer for many businesses. In the case of companies where the home page IS the primary landing page, I think the home page should be designed first. And if the “about us” page is the most visited page on the web site then, yes, I would say design it first. Lots of sites could benefit from designing an about page around conversion. Thoughts? Thanks for the discussion.

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