Web Design: The Good, The Bad, & The Downright Frustrating.
Ok, you know you need a website. Where to begin?
Undertaking a website design project can be frustrating, but it doesn't have to be. We know first-hand here at makespace! media + design lab, because approximately half of the projects we're hired for involve recreating or redesigning a website that was poorly designed in the first place. This is unfortunate on many levels, as the client has now had to pay for a website at least twice, and has lost untold business due to a bad website. Like most things in life, if it's important, the best way to begin is to hire a professional. The trick is to distinguish the true professionals from the one's just claiming to be, and to find one that offers value and an solid return on your investment. Easy, right? If you know what to look for, and what to avoid.
AVOID: Web design firms that are not local.
Why: Your website will be a direct extension of your business, so it's important that the design firm that creates it knows your business first-hand. They need to know your products and services, your long- and short-term goals, as well as be able to recommend features and content that will help you achieve those goals. If you do business locally or regionally, it's important that your web design firm be familiar with the specifics of your local market and target demographic. Also, your relationship with your web designer will ideally last the lifetime of your business, so you'll want to maintain it's a relationship built on face-to-face contact rather than just phone calls and emails. As well, you want to make sure that your design firm is accessible, accountable, and trustworthy before you give them any money. Plus, don't you want to make sure your money stays in your city or state, at the very least in the United States?
AVOID: Web designers that farm out programming to other countries.
Why: Many website design companies that do business in the US are actually owned by foreign nationals, and many are located in Mumbai, India. While you may have an American sales rep, the design work and/or programming will be done overseas because they are willing to do it for pennies on the dollar. While initially cheaper, this may end up costing you much more in the long term. Moreover, foreign designers and programmers have absolutely no idea of your local market or demographics, and are unaccountable as they are literally a world away. What happens when your site goes down suddenly or you want to make quick changes? Make sure your designer is accountable and local, not just a voice at the end of a phone line.
AVOID: One-man shops that 'do it all'.
Why: The vast majority of existing websites on the Internet right now could use some improvement, and most could use an overhaul in more than one category. This is the direct result of designers who are incompetent in one or more required fields in designing a website that has all the elements in needs to reach maximum performance. Your project, regardless of size, requires several skill sets to accomplish the needed goals. You need a Graphic Designer, a Content Manager, and a Programmer at the very least. To get a better idea, it's important to be at least a bit familiar with these different elements.
AVOID: Doing it yourself.
Why: Because you are a specialist in a different field and with different skill sets. As stated above, it takes several people to design a site that has all the elements for success, each of which needs years of training and experience. You are in business because you do what you do better than 99% of the population and you know that you can accomplish your job more efficiently and more professionally than someone not in your field. So it goes with web design. It's also important to remember that a great graphic artist is indeed an artist, and an art talent, while it can be refined, cannot be taught. Even most self-described “Web Designers” should be in another field. If you want a website done right, leave it to the experts.
AVOID: Design firms that only offer web design.
Why: Odds are you'll need more design work at some point in your professional career. You'll need business cards, stationery, advertisements, brochures, etc., and it's important to be able to get these things from one source if at all possible. Not only is it convenient and efficient, it allows for consistency, a very important element in branding. What often happens after a business gets a new and spectacular website, it injects a refreshing surge into the business image, and the owner(s) often take their business image to the next level, so it's important to retain a design firm that can handle your needs as you grow.
AVOID: Templates, or "Instant" Websites.
Why: A template is a prefabricated website design “frame” into which your own content is placed. Because a template is a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter solution, odds are your business' needs won't be adequately addressed. Your business is unique, and therefore needs a website that is created specifically to deliver the results you need. Plus, how many other businesses have the same template? This is the online equivalent of walking into a party where someone is wearing the exact same outfit as you. Again, most web designers don't fully satisfy a business' needs with a custom design, so using a templated website will prove even worse. Many companies, both local and national, try to pass themselves off as 'custom' design, then have you choose from a template and then slap your logo and copy into it. That's not true custom design and I can guarantee you it will not bring the results you need from the web.
AVOID: Amateurs, your cousin, students and IT guys.
Why: The same reason you don't hire your neighbor, a medical student, or veterinarian to operate on you. Unfortunately in this business, we don't have a Bar exam to pass before we're considered “Web Designers” and we don't get a cute little 'WD' next to our name. Basically, any hack with a computer and a design program can pass themselves off as web designers, and the Internet is full of their [un]handy work. Also, many people lump all computer related professions into one, and therefore assume that the guys that installed their network can also design a good website. The trick to avoiding those self-described web designers is simple: Look at their portfolio. Are the sites contemporary without being trendy? Do they look like every other website of their kind? Are they easy to navigate? Are they attractive? And the ultimate test: Are they still online? Don't be afraid to ask for references. Remember that most web designers are right-brained, and therefore probably not the most responsible people in the world. Did they complete their projects quickly and efficiently, or did it take a year of pulling teeth? Finally, look at the price. If it seems too cheap, there's a reason. If you are trading your website design for a gift certificate to Applebee's, how good is it going to be? In web design, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Usually...
AVOID: Big, high profile firms.
Why: They command big, high profile rates. And the people getting the bulk of those rates are sitting in a boardroom, not in front of a computer screen designing your site. The person actually designing your site is making $12.00 an hour churning out your site and 20 others. We call then Code Monkeys. You'll never actually talk to this person, as he gets his or her orders from their Project Manager. Our bet: Neither of their hearts is in their work, because if they were, they would quit and start their own company, just like you did. At the end of the day, you paid not only for your website, you also paid for their billboard.
AVOID: Designers that work from their mom's basement.
Why: Because you want to know that you're going to get something for your deposit and where to find them if they don't return your call. You also want the very best website design for your money. Like any other specialty, if they offer value, professional results, and are experts at what they do, they'll be successful enough to invest back into their business. Look for web design firms that are members of associations like local Chambers of Commerce, professional guilds, and the Better Business Bureau. If they have a studio or office that is open to customers, you know they'll be accessible when you need them.
AVOID: Web designers whose own sites are lacking or are not ranked on the first page of Google for their key terms, such as "best web design Louisville".
Why: You can expect yours won't be much better. You wouldn't want to hire a company that talks the talk, but rather than one that takes their own advice. If that can't rank themselves on the major search engines, you can be sure that they won't be able to rank you either. Hiring them, regardless of price, would be like taking marriage counseling from Liz Taylor.
Ok, now that you are frozen with fear and have given up on getting a website...
What Should You Look For?
Well, if you've gotten this far, stay here!
Makespace! media + design lab is a locally-owned and operated design firm that is small enough to care, but large enough to handle all of your creative design needs, from web to print and more. We have a staff of cross-trained, professional, and creative web designers, graphic designers, programmers, SEO experts, and project managers. Our studio office was created just for our clients. We're accessible, accountable, and we'll answer your phone call or email promptly. We're experienced, professional and friendly. We offer value and results that speak for themselves.
Call us today or click here to schedule a free consultation to create an effective and professional website that your business deserves.