Archive for October, 2008

Web Design is more than just design…

Friday, October 24th, 2008

I often read on forums I frequent many requests for designers with specific skill sets that are mainly related to the design side of web design, I guess that is why they call it Web ‘Design’.  The problem I have with this is that there are many web designers out there that can whip you up a quick design but lack skills in how to manage the web design process from proposal, concept and all the way through to completion.

I also often read many posts where a company or even an individual has chosen a free lance designer or even a company to design their web site and the end result has been very poor, not so much in the design side but in the functionality, the methodology of the web design project and of course communication misunderstandings… to name a few.

A good designer for anything be that web, print or anything else needs a skill set beyond design or at least have a partner or supervisor that has these skill sets for them to follow, these skills sets consist of, but not limited to;

Project Management: Any web site design project needs to be managed as a project and it needs to follow certain steps from concept through to completion.  This will include development of time lines, reporting on progress, detailed scope of the project, time management, expected outcomes, project modifications (that are agreed to or provided by the client) just to name a few.

Communication: Clients love to be involved and kept in the loop of their project, it is their money so they want to be involved in the decision process so you need to keep up contact, it might just be a quick update report every few days or a phone call or online chat to show them progress, whatever it is keep the contact with the client, keep them interested in the project and let them get involved.  This obviously means that a web designer needs good communication skills, both in writing and verbally.

User Interface Methods: A good design is only as good as the user functionality of a web site.  There is no point having the best looking website if no one can use it or find it difficult to find what they are after.  Most users of the web have a short instant desire to find what they want, if they cannot find it quickly they move on.  So A good designer will need to know how a site will be used, who will be using it and will test the user interface over and over again with the client and also a group of unrelated people (peers etc) that can test for you.

Knowing what to charge: It would be an interesting exercise to see how many web ‘designers’ have any idea of time management and billing as it is quite amusing to see some of the guess work charges you see on various forums where there is a request for quotes.  There are many examples where a project request has gone out and there are prices that will range from $1k to to 20K (or more) for a simple online store.  There is suggestion that the $1k quotes are from monkeys and that anything decent will cost the higher end.  Buyer beware is what I say as the higher priced ones are usually well over quoted and things can be done far cheaper still with great quality results.  The Web ‘Designer’ needs to know what they charge per hour and keep that clear in their mind, whether that is $15 or $150 per hour (or more) will depend on their market and skill sets.  Then be realistic and quote with what you are comfortable with getting for your time and effort.

Marketing: A good designer knows about marketing, not marketing themselves but for their clients as this will need to be incorporated into the design of the site and how it functions, this will include Search Engine Optimisation.

Know your limits: A good designer will not take on a project they are not comfortable with or not have the skills to complete. I have taken on quite a number of projects where a previous designer has tried (very hard) to get the client the results they wanted but they lacked the specific skill sets required to get it to work.  Know what you know, keep learning and by all means develop some non client websites to test and learn from but don’t take on a project that has work required that you cannot fulfill as this will kill your reputation.

What to out source: Out sourcing some of the project is fine, but you need to project manage that very well and keep that contractor to time lines and ensure they know their work also.  Be mindful of other contractor costs and better yet develop a contact list of developers that have skills sets you may require (that you do not have) and use them where needed and ensure your quote if you need them covers that cost as well.

Have an open mind: We all know the expression of ‘Work outside of the box’ but often many designers are not sure how to achieve that.  It is not as difficult s it may seem, it is a case of keep your mind open, listen to the client and NEVER say something cannot be done as sure enough they will find someone that can do it.  By all means suggest, make comment and provide guidance to the client but keep an open mind about the possibilities of what they are suggesting, is it really not achievable, if you are creative and keep that mind open more times than not you identify a solution that suits the client and along the way the designer will learn.

Be Versatile: This one really bugs me, where a designer uses one or two, or maybe three different platforms or open source solutions to build everyones website…. While this can work well for basic template sites most websites need specific elements that one solution for all cannot really fulfill effectively.  Too often I see a simple site being created with a significant Content Management System (CMS) like Joomla, or Drupal etc and the site is small and does not need to be as complex as those CMS systems.  Stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, develop a solution for the client not the client for the solution.

Ok so the above is a few skill sets I feel a good designer needs, there are others and I will do up a part 2 of this post next chance I get, so if you have comments you think might be useful in a part 2 please suggest away as I am always learning too 🙂