The single most important part of the success of any web site or project you design is the pre-planning stage. This is where you interpret the assignment needs, make sure you have the skills and resources, estimate an accurate timeline, and set this scope so you (and a client) know what your project will include.
All of that can/should be considered, planned, and documented in several steps. However, just to get started, you need to think about and plan on some simple things. Here are 5 core questions you need to have answered before you go any further:
What is the primary purpose of the project - what does the client need it to accomplish?
Who is going to be the primary end user of the project - est. demographics, anticipated customer needs, etc.?
What are the 2-3 main tasks the end user is expected to accomplish from this project?
What minimum information must the project provide that will allow the end user to easily and successfully handle these tasks?
What limitations are being placed on this project - by the client, your timeline or resources, end user demographics, etc.?
Meeting with your client is the best way to discuss these things. Here is a Client Survey I use that might give you some ideas for your own preparation.
Equally important will be your emphasis not only on a creative and usable solution to the client's task/project, but also in providing a polished final result. For this class that means:
File separation for work organization. It's tempting to put all your html, css, image, and notes files, or your starter images and finished work in the same directory, but for this class DON'T! Always have a separate subfolder, in your project folder, for images, styles (css), includes, and content you are keeping notes on.
Clean, efficient workflow and coding or building. For instance, for coding, you should chunk areas together that make something happen, and give visual breaks in the code between these areas.
Clear, frequent, and obvious commenting, whether for web or print. Assume someone who knows nothing about your project will be interpreting your work both through clean code AND detailed comments.
Streamlined graphics are key. All graphics used should be the final, web-ready jpgs, pngs, and gifs for the web and optimized tifs/eps for print. You should also try to size the saved image as close to the style you expect to use it in the web page, rather than grabbing a 5x5 inch image and using code to shrink it visually to 2x2 in. In creating graphics, focus on creating a master file you can adjust later, then saving for web.
Backing up. Your client never ever cares that your dog ate the pen drive, the laptop fell off the top of your car, or that your server crashed. Need I say more? Just do it in more than one place.
Extra hint: I like to create reusable items I can plug into my projects - snippets, comments, code, outlines, etc. If you make it work, find a way to save and reuse!