You’ve seen them, all those beautiful and animated websites we’d all like to have for our business. They seem so flawless, well organized and full of fascinating information that often don’t seem to end. And they look complicated, and I won’t lie, they ARE complicated but no more than your product or service. That’s where hiring a web designer with true talent comes in; I’ll explain as we go along…..
Web design and Graphic Design
During the years as marketing director for a career college chain I designed and managed all the school’s advertising, including its print advertising, promotional items, school catalogues, forms, brochures, and everything except the school’s web page. Web design was something new and a mystery to all at the school except the instructors who taught it.
I also oversaw the graphic design program as well as the web design program on all campuses including the instructors. I even did a weekly ‘lecture circuit’ on graphic design. Even though I already spent 30 years running an advertising firm before coming to the school, I never learned how to design a web page. My dutiful web instructors followed my instructions and the curriculums that I developed, unaware of how complicated web design really is.
Our great frustration was when some of our graphic design students tried web design but failed miserably at an alarming rate. Not until the school closed and I took the best web design course (at a local competitor) did I realize why. You see, we had Graphic Design instructors and Web Design instructors who knew little of each other’s discipline. It turns out web design is a very different animal which brings me to my point; Web design IS a very different animal. Odd that it took years for me to figure it out, but figuring it out I did. I then realized clients of web designers would be just as confused, and from my own personal experience selling web design, confused the clients were. “Overwhelmed” is the correct word for it. But back to the school…..
The professional web design programs we taught (programs such as the Micromedia web design suite costing over $3000!) are really neat when it comes to designing graphics; they anticipate your move and do a lot of the alignment work for you. However, web design takes a more mechanical, structured and computer literate mindset, unlike graphic design, which is associated with a lot of design freedom, web design is relatively rigid, as you must conform to the restrictions imposed by the medium itself; the internet.
Website design and the business world
What this means to you, the businessperson, is apart from working with often unpredictable graphic types you now have to deal with Internet nerds who know a little bit about design and who can be just as unpredictable. In other words, your business/creative approach is going to be very different!
There’s one thing graphic design and web design have in common that makes it very difficult for both disciplines for you; they both sell ideas and concepts that don’t exist. You have NO clue what you’re buying. That’s where this article comes in to help.
10 points to consider when hiring a web designer
1. What do you want your website to do? Show off your company’s products? Services? Sell something? Give information? It’s unlimited what your website can do for you. Don’t expect your site to sell anything anymore than a brochure. Yes, you can sell on your site, but as with your brochures, think in terms of getting you potential customer interested in your product or service. If you want to sell on your website there’s no better place in the world to do it as you’ll have a ‘storefront’ in every country on earth!
2. What kind of website do you need? Websites can be divided into 3 basic categories; information only; sell directly or do both. Options are endless depending upon what you want to do. Some sites will have a lot of data such as catalogues where you’ll need a designer who can or has access to a programmer. You may want a lot of information on your site to bring customers back, or you may want custom animation such as a Flash movie that help attract customers. Your designer can build the Flash movie or engage a specialist. Special effects and animated .gif’s and more will make your site more interesting. One rule of thumb is to keep your site fresh by being up-to-date and interesting.
3. What does it take to design a website? You need a web designer to start with but keep in mind you may have to hire a writer, photographer and graphic designer IN ADDITION to your web designer. Some web designers do it all. Also budget for the cost of the URL (Universal Resource Locator) or your website address and hosting the site; that means an Internet company that keeps your website on file so people can see it on the Internet. Your designer will help you with this but a little research on your own won’t hurt. If you already have a company brochure and its contents is part of what you want on your website you’re already ahead of the game. The brochure will serve a good start, but your website can hold a thousand times more information!
4. Got a budget in mind? Keep in mind, whatever you pay for your website it’s an investment that will keep your business up front and center for years to come. I’ve designed websites that paid for themselves in their first week on the Internet. No emphasis needed as this happens all the time. So there’s not such thing as “too expensive.” Just match up your needs to the web designer you’ve chosen. A custom website can cost as little as a $1000 and the sky is the limit, depending how aggressive you want to be in your marketing. I strongly suggest talking to other businesses you know and ask what they paid for producing their website and who they used to produce it. If you like their site, perhaps their web designer is someone you should talk to.
5. How is your website to be organized? Structure is everything when it comes to the web. Think of content such as –Logo, – Company Name, -Page Links, -Special Offers, etc. you see this all of the time on websites. Let your web designer work on organizing based on the information you give him. It may not “flow” as you expect as the Internet, unlike a book which is linear, is promiscuous as the reader can go anywhere on your website, anytime, and will not conform to any reading model.
6. Plan what you want on your website. This is what you do: Write down, as you would in planning a brochure, what you want to tell about your product/company. Think of your website as a gigantic, endless brochure that has a cover (home page), table of contents (internal page links), chapters (topics), etc. A good exercise that will help your web designer is to get a dozen sheets of paper, paper clip them together. The first page is your website’s Home Page. Don’t try to design anything! On the top of each page write what the page will be about; product information (could be dozens of pages), company profile, contact information, pricing/schedules, etc. Don’t write everything out, just general information that would appear on that page. Now the paper clip is for ‘flexibility of thought’ as you can now re-arrangement to suit your taste. This, when completed, will be your guide for your web designer to follow on what we call ‘content.’ One trick that helps is to Google your company’s product or service where you’ll get a list of competitors. Go look at their websites to see what they’ve done, how they look; do they have animations? How are they organized? Save your searches in your Favorites for your web designer….you can email them later.
7. Who’s going to design your site? Web designers or developers come one of three different ways: One, an individual who will write, photograph, design/layout, purchase your URL, the hosting and post your site; the whole caboodle. Two, you can use a design firm who has all of the above in house and more. And third, a designer who will subcontract services as needed, a Freelancer, which is often the least expensive way to go. All are good as you can choose the arrangement that best meets your needs and budget. As with any potential employee or contractor, look at their work. Get a list, via email, of sites they’ve produced and talk to his clients.
8. Create a list of websites you like. Also note ‘why’ you like the sites; Color? Layout? Style? Navigation? You web designer has to know….the more information the better. It’ll make the project not only go faster but more to your satisfaction. There has to be at least 3 reasons you like a certain website, maybe only one reason, but write it down. Now, don’t expect your designer to copy another person’s website….that’s a no-no, but there are elements you can certainly borrow.
9. How’s your logo and company colors? Will it work well on a website? Some logos and colors look horrible as they do not reproduce well on the Internet medium of jpg’s, pdf’s, gif’s and bmp’s . Be ready to compromise to get the quality you want on your site. Graphics are important also. If you have images for designs, schematics, diagrams, ensure through your web designer that all graphics are scannable or in a format computer compatible. Sometimes they have to be redrawn or modified for the web. Nothing unusual so don’t be surprised when a problem comes up. A good web designer or graphic designer will help solve them. In today’s school and in the world of design there is lot of crossover work where both fields learn how to help each other.
10. Be honest with your web designer. Too often business people want the designer try to guess what is wanted. He’s working for you, you have to tell him what you want. If you don’t know then be prepared to pay him or someone else to think for you. This is too often a problem where the client says “I have no idea, come up with something.” That’s fine if that’s the best you can do for your company, but be prepared to pay the price to have someone else do your thinking. This is a sticking point with me as clients will throw their hands in the air expressing no clue…..but they really know, but want the designer to do all the experimenting at no extra charge for time. So tell the designer what you want, just as in a board meeting, be specific, show samples, sites you like, colors and moods that appeal to you and your product/service.
Having a website produced for you is an exciting and most exhilarating experience! It’s like your company’s first logo, everyone eventually gets caught up in the excitement. With the introduction of your company’s website, you should have a ‘coming out party’ of sorts. A mailed announcement to current and potential clients is a good start. Bang the drum, this is new and exciting. A great way to increase business, expose your company to new and potential customers and boost company moral all at the same time. In short, have a good time and SHOW OFF!
Definitions related to the world of website design
1. URL: Universal Resource Locator, also known as your website address. Paid for annually or longer periods of time and is yours forever until you sell it. Often the site name will not always be available so your designer will have to research it for you. DON’T DO THIS ON YOUR OWN! I’ve had clients do this only to get a letter in the mail from some shmuck who wants a $1000.00 for your favorite URL….yes, people know what you are doing on the Internet and will take advantage of you! Web designers have a special way of researching for you, let him do it and yes, you’ll have to compensate for his time, but it will be worth it.
2. Hosting: A company that keeps your site on file so as to be seen on the Internet. Paid for monthly, annually or over longer periods of time. This is something you don’t go switching around. Some web designers host on their own. If your web designer is a ‘brick and mortar’ company then let them host your site if you like. However, if your web designer works out of his garage then use a legitimate company to do the hosting as they have backup computers around the country to ensure your site does not go down because your designer is behind in his electric bill.
3. Posting: Sending your files to your URL on the Internet, a precise operation that does not allow for errors. Web designers are experts at this as there are various programs they use. This is not something where you can have your website on a disk and have your secretary send it up to the Internet like an email. This is way different!
4. Navigation: Ease at which to move around the website. Ideally, you should be able to return to the Home Page from any page on the site. Are the links titles easy to understand? Do they go where you want? Is the navigation intuitive? A good web designer will answer all these questions often very creatively.
5. jpg, pdf, gif and bmp’s: These are what are called ‘image files’ or pictures. Photographs for the Internet come in all sorts of forms, types and content. Some have unique qualities to them such as gif (Graphic Interchange Format) images often used for simple animation. Others such as jpg or jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group) carry a lot of detail (resolution) and can be compressed. Others are small files that don’t make your website too large making is slow to load up on the viewer’s computer, etc.
By Bertrand R. Trottier, Jr. : email@example.com