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Dan Rose | 08.13.19

Homepage Last

I have no data or proof to support this claim, but I trust it’s true: most designers design the homepage first because it seems like the most logical starting point.

It’s kind of like putting cheese on the top of a burger instead of the bottom. To challenge convention is to avoid the obvious, embrace the nuance, and potentially overthink your approach.

Most audiences and roles appear to benefit from a homepage-first approach to designing a site. For stakeholders, the homepage often presents an organization’s highest level messaging or value proposition. For users, the homepage is a trustworthy starting point for completing a task. For designers, the homepage establishes a brand’s visual language and expression.

However, we’ve seen a shift at Adjacent since we’ve been tackling components before pages, disregarding the notion that web design has to be linear. We’ve intentionally de-prioritized designing homepages and—get this—we actually prefer to tackle them last (a method some have referred to as “Homepage Last”). While one can argue that social and search have made “every page a homepage”, I’ve landed on three specific reasons that underscore why we save homepages for end of our process:

*Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, it’s safe to assume I’m not talking about one-pagers, web apps, or sites that greatly hinge on visiting pages in a specific order*

1. We Enhance Components Instead of Distilling Them

Some designers choose to start with a homepage design, extrapolate patterns, and build out a library of components. In our experience, this approach works best if your mindset is to distill emphasized versions of components into more basic ones. For example, you might use a tall “hero” component to lead off a homepage, and be able to reuse the hero for landing pages if you modify it to be shallower, since it’s likely not as important on interior pages but it has similar content needs.

However, a common challenge we find when going from a “major” version to a “minor” version is having enough meaningful elements available to de-emphasize the minor. At times, attempting to do so muddies the distinction of the two, if there’s not enough differentiation. Lack of differentiation—even in variations of the same component—can be detrimental to a design system and confusing for its implementers. For us, it’s often easier to create additional elements than to subtract them. If the minor hero has a static photo for a background, can we enhance it with a video for the major one? Assuming the minor has less space available, can we unearth meta information in the major?

Here’s where this lands: the most basic versions of components we design aren’t often employed on homepages. In fact, even when we think we’ve maximized the components we use on interior pages, there’s usually another level we can take them for homepage use. Think of it as progressive enhancement instead of graceful degradation.

2. Most Homepages We Design Are Portals

We’ve also noticed a convention for organizations who publish content regularly: their homepages are heavily comprised with links to,—or feeds of—interior content, sometimes exclusively. Even so, sites relying on in-page, static content can sometimes share a similar strategy of using the homepage as a signpost to the major sections or themes of their site.

From a content standpoint, we prefer establishing sub-page content prior to making homepage decisions. This allows us to know as much as we can about where we’re leading someone. For example, if we’re hoping to promote Jobs on a homepage, it’s helpful—and necessary—to understand the extent of content and function on the Jobs page first. Can we support a Job finder/search thingamajig? Will each job entry have a photo? Knowing these things helps inform what we can leverage and what’s even possible when we eventually design the Jobs portal/teaser/preview on the homepage.

3. Homepages Can Be Roadblocks to Progress

Our typical process finds its groove through separate, focused efforts of content, layout, and style. Homepages tend to be the hardest applications to apply these to. Maybe it’s because everything in an organization is fighting for significance here. Maybe it’s because homepages tend to bring out the strongest of opinions. Any way you look at it, homepage design can be an exciting sprint, but more often than not it’s a grueling marathon, one that can eat up precious hours and budget.

Beyond avoiding this potential roadblock, the time spent developing lower-level content and design makes homepage exploration much quicker. We’re not starting from a place of “anything’s possible”, but rather a place of “what’s a natural evolution or unearthing of X?”. It’s been downright refreshing to spend time knocking out interior sections first

However enticing, we’ve found it best to delay designing homepages in favor of exploring more common, interior elements first.

Establishing the hardworking, basic presentations of components and the interior pages they reside on helps us imagine more intentional ways we can surface content to the homepage. While it’s the page where stakeholder and designer dreams are often most realized, like dessert, the homepage is best saved for last.

More About Our Process