Choosing a Web Designer

Many small business owners struggle with deciding on how to make the right choice for designing their website. They search the web for help with their website and find that the choice is harder than they thought. Currently there are (literally) millions of websites who claim to be professional web designers. However, one must be careful in choosing the right person or people in which to trust their company image. In this article, I will attempt to categorize web designers into manageable groups, and teach the reader the difference between the types.

Web designers fall into four general categories: freelance amateur, freelance professional, Web Design Company, Web Development Firm.

Freelance Amateur

The majority of web designers you will come across, especially searching the Internet, are freelancers. That is, individuals who do web design but are not employed by a web design company. Some are self-employed professionals but most of these freelancers are amateur-hobbyist types. They find a copy of FrontPage™ came with their MS Office™ Suite. They discovered how fun it could be to make web pages so they started telling their friends that they could “design” web pages.

The “pros” of using an amateur is that they are very cheap. The “cons” are too numerous to mention, but I’ll point out a few. They have no training; they have little knowledge of what makes a good website work; they do not understand HTML code or CSS but only FrontPage point and click; they do not understand general design and layout concepts and they have little real experience. The biggest reason they should be avoided for the serious businessperson, is that their work looks amateurish, which makes your company look amateurish. Who wants that?

Freelance Professional

A professional is often defined by simply being paid. People think that if you are paid for something, then you are professional. Maybe that’s true in the Olympics, but for the business services world, you are not a professional until you are established and respected as one by your clients and peers. Freelancer professional web designers are a giant leap from the amateur in that they have established a portfolio of respectable work. They have some sort of qualified training and experience and they have credentials that can be verified by contacting references. They have a good reputation with their clients and other professionals. In general, a good freelance professional web designer can be good person to have doing your site. But they are hard to distinguish from the amateur when you are just searching the web.

The upside is, if you find a good one they are significantly cheaper than a web design company. But that is usually the only upside. If the budget limits you, then a freelancer will do for a small project. But anything seriously important should be left to a professional company.

Some downsides to using a freelance pro are that they are usually part-time, meaning they are limited in how much time they can devote to your project. They are also limited in what they can do for you. Most freelancers are specialists in one area and generalists in everything else. Some have no skills in anything except their one specialty and often you will have to find others to fill roles. In addition, freelancers are not always cheap although many of them are aspiring to create their own company; some are highly sought after and charge $100 per hour or more for their work. My advice here is, if you have that much to spend, go with a company that has a team of professionals to get the job done in a timelier manner.

Web Design Company

This is the next step beyond a freelance professional. The web design company offers the “whole show”. They provide real project management and have pulled together a team of web experts to get a wider range of jobs done. A company can provide a much higher level of expertise in web design, programming, content development and more.

Such a company is usually very small, yet large enough to handle larger scale projects. Compared to the most highly qualified freelancer, a company has a diversity of talent and collaboration working for them. The end-result is usually a much higher quality product.

The only real drawbacks are on the one hand, the web design company is more expensive than a freelancer because there are many more people on the job. However, you get what you pay for rings true. On the other hand, for very large projects or long term development, web design companies may be too small and usually do not have the human recourses to accommodate that $500,000 contract. In the end, for serious business people looking for quality and professionalism and who can’t afford the big firm, this is the way to go.

Web Development Firm

As the title implies, a web development firm is like any traditional company. They have a staff of office workers, they have owners and officers, and they have a team of talented professionals who are paid a good salary for their work. They often have a sales force that do inside and outside sales. The quality of their work goes without saying, as you could not be so well-established by doing shoddy work. These firms offer teams of very talented professionals who work on your project and get the job done in a timely and extremely efficient manner. Additionally, they usually cover all aspects of website development including marketing and advertising. They may have teams of specialists that they can deploy to your location and work in-house under a temporary contract. The possibilities are endless.

If price is not an issue and the highest quality work is necessary, then this is who you want to do the job. For smaller budget businesses, a quote from an established web development firm might knock you off your chair, but know that companies who have project requirements that reach hundreds of thousands of dollars know the score. Thus, the only real drawback for a web development firm is that they are usually very expensive. Then again, cost is relative and bigger companies like to work with bigger companies.

In summary, the choice is yours. I would recommend for the serious businessperson, that you budget a decent amount of dollars to properly design and execute a professional website. I would avoid the amateur and outsource to an individual or company with good experience and reasonable rates to create my web presence. If money were no object, then I would only deal with established firms and pay the big bucks to get the job done right and done well.

There is an excessive amount of traffic coming from your Region.

Good Web Design – Why There’s So Little

Most small website owners rely almost entirely on themselves or their web developer to create a good website design without them actually knowing what good web design is. Based on my 8 years experience in website design and optimization for visitors and search engines, I can say with a good deal of assurance, many web developers don’t know what good web design is either.

My views are based on the detailed evaluation of hundreds of websites which in many cases look good on the surface to the untrained eye, but when evaluated more closely, are either average to poorly designed websites, bad websites, or just simply suck.

After all, anyone can call themselves a website designer after just creating one website, either their own or for a friend or relative. Most website designers are self-taught and have no qualifications of any kind that relate to the job. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being self-taught, but a lot depends on where and from whom you learn and what length of apprenticeship you serve in web design.

Bestwebgallery.com a showcase website typical of many showcase sites for good website designs has defined what quality design is to them (according to the statement on their site):

Quality web design = Visual + Technical + Creativity.

The problem with a definition like this is it focuses on the creative and visual aspects of design which is really only of interest to other website designers aspiring to create something that pushes the boundaries even further in the same direction. It also completely ignores whether the website is fit for the purpose for which it should have been designed. Most websites don’t need to be stunningly beautiful to serve a purpose and they don’t need to be “technical” either.

Many web developers think they have to be “creative” and set out to design a website never seen before, or one that behaves in an entirely new and original way. This often leads to an overly graphical and sometimes technically complex website design with an unconventional layout and navigation, that actually creates more problems than it solves.

All these “quality web design” features may impress another designer, but it generally wins no prizes or favours from the public website visitors who generally don’t come to a website to admire the design. Many web developers seem intent on re-inventing the wheel instead of observing the established design conventions that visitors to a website are familiar with. They also seem to have forgotten the basic K.I.S.S. rule of design which is Keep It Simple Stupid.

So, having said quality or good website design is not about Visual, Technical or Creativity just what should it be?

Good Web Design = Satisfying Visitors

There are two distinct groups of visitors to a website that a good website design needs to satisfy and they are people and search engines. Some website designers will argue that designing a website for the search engines is not necessary, or a waste of time. Although I prefer to design websites with search engines in mind, I don’t have a problem if other web designers don’t, providing they have an alternative plan.

If a web designer doesn’t design for the search engines, then they need to have an alternative plan to get traffic to the website and they should explain this plan to the site owner. There is no point in designing the greatest website ever, if there are no means for attracting visitors to the site.

A good web design also needs to satisfy the people who visit the site. If a web designer creates a website that attracts visitors through search engine optimization ( SEO ) or other methods, this will be wasted if the site fails to satisfy enough of those visitors when they arrive.

By satisfying visitors, I mean providing visitors with the information, products or services they came to the website looking for and doing it in way that is satisfying to the visitor. If the website is meant to sell products and/or services the design should also be designed to convert enough visitors into sales or leads to satisfy the site owner.

If it doesn’t do all this then it’s NOT good website design!

When deciding what is, or is not good web design, I use two checklists. One checklist is for evaluating a web page and the other checklist is for evaluating the whole website. The web page evaluation checklist examines over 150 aspects of good page design and the website checklist examines over 120 aspects of good website design.

In an effort to find some good quality website designs in 2011, that meet my standards for good web design, I launched a good web design award with a $500 prize for the winning entry.