How do you turn a website design into a functioning website?

Websites are written in a type of computer code called a ‘markup language‘.

Markup languages are codes interpreted by your web browser to present web pages on your computer screen as regular text and graphics. The most common of these are the hypertext markup language (HTML) and extensible hypertext markup language (XHTML).

The good news is that you do not necessarily need to know markup language to build a website.

In this section we will look at the different ways in which you can build a website. We will discuss the following:

If you are not familiar with markup language, and do not require a custom website.
  • Having a design for your website means that you have decided on the visual appearance and layout of the site.
  • Having a CMS means that you have a way of updating and editing the content that appears on your website.

For more information on template web design, see  ‘Template sites vs. custom sites‘.

CMS functionality

For organisations with large websites

Using a CMS comes with a number of advantages:

  • Staff in your organisation with no web development experience can create, edit, update and contribute to your content.
  • You can change the formatting and presentation (e.g. colours, fonts and layouts) of your website without touching your content.
  • You can allow staff to access and edit content relevant to their own particular area of responsibility but not touch other content items.
  • You can provide links to a single content item on several pages, which means that when that item is updated, the changes are carried across the site.

Choosing a CMS

Some of the key questions to consider when choosing a CMS are:

  • Does it support multiple contributors and allow you to control the specific areas of content individuals can access?
  • Does it support entirely customisable style sheets and templates and conform to your design requirements, with no restrictions on layouts?
  • Does it support all the content types that you could conceivably use, like text, images and video?
  • Does it support social media?
  • What kind of training is necessary and available for your staff who might contribute to your content?
  • What kind of support is available?
  • What database/s does it support?
  • What technical platform does it use? Is your website developer familiar with the technical architecture?
  • What server infrastructure is required for it to run reliably?

CMS products also vary according to the size of an organisation’s web presence. Large-scale enterprise CMS solutions can support multiple websites and multiple internal intranets. This degree of complexity (or cost) is rarely required for small-to-medium-size businesses or community organisations.

Benefits of custom CMS products

There are a number of benefits to having a custom CMS, including:

  • You could be safer from security breaches. Hackers are less likely to go to the effort of targeting a custom CMS than a commonly available, open-source CMS.
  • Note: Using an open-source CMS does not necessarily create any real security vulnerabilities in itself. Many large organisations with sensitive information use open-source CMS software.
  • You have exactly the right set of content management function. No more, no less.
  • Your CMS can evolve alongside your website.


If your developer has written you a custom CMS, you might lose access to this CMS if you change developer, or the developer goes out of business.



If you are familiar with markup language, or you would like to learn.

If you would like to develop your website yourself, there are software packages available for HTML code editing and website creation. These include:

Adobe Dreamweaver 
Microsoft WebMatrix 

If you are not familiar with markup language, but you do have graphic design skills.
If this sounds like you, then you may want to investigate software like:
Adobe Muse
CoffeeCup Virtual Site Designer
If you are not familiar with markup language, and do require a custom website.

If you do not know markup language and want a design that is not limited by the constraints of a pre-created template, you will generally need to work with a website designer and a website developer.

To achieve exactly what you want, it is important to specify your requirements prior to development. Usually, this incorporates a process of design. You may wish to review some of the functionality discussed in this section and the section to identify the features you would like in your website.

Giving careful thought to website design is important because it will define how you want the website to look, how you want users to navigate, and how you want your content displayed.

For more information on website design, see ‘Graphic design and branding’.

Although some designers have web coding capability and some developers have design abilities, these are different skill sets. Web designers and web developers often work together to create a high quality website, and they often have preferred partners or associates. Make sure you are happy with both the designer and developer before you commit.