After reading Jeff Croft’s post on ‘professional web designers’, I thought it was time to put down on virtual paper some of the thoughts that I have shared with some people over the last 12-18 months. This will be a long’un, sorry
Why I’m not a Web Designer
This is probably the easiest thing. I’m not a web designer, because I have no talent In terms of graphical design, my actual skills are limited. Although I know my way around HTML and CSS more than most, it doesn’t really help. That’s probably why both Jedimoose and my Django blog are using templates that have been designed by other people. I do have, I like to think, some talent in terms of layout and usability, but probably my main strengths lie in programming, and thus more the back end work that goes into a website. Working on both WordPress and Django have underlined this to me.
Why the customer isn’t always right
Website designers/developers are also consultants, but sometimes I wonder whether or not they act like it. Some websites smack of an attitude that seems to place customer requests above design principles. Yes, a customer should be listened to, and their ideas and designs noted. But they’ve hired a web designer to design a website, because, in theory at least, you have experience in such matters, and can provide sensible recommendations. And sometimes that experience needs to say “No, actually I think you’ll find that blinking text is not a good attention grabber”.
Probably my biggest bugbear with website design, particularly with small businesses (and, in particular, church websites) is where the customer has obviously given in to the smokes and mirrors of their chosen website developer. A website should reflect what the customer needs. This is not necessarily what they want (at least initially), and it is most definitely not what he designer wants to sell them, whether because it is a new technology they like, or a financial bonus for selling on a particular package.
Your average small business needs a simple, clear website that displays their company information, products and contact details, and gets them a reasonable ranking on search engines. They _don’t_ need a forum, or a fault-logging system, or instant messaging built into their site. They _barely_ need a Content Management System (see below for more on CMSs).
OK – so I am a bit of an Open Source zealot at times. But, regardless of that, a customer should not be put in a position where they have to pay license fees on design elements of their webpage, particularly if there are free alternatives. They may pay for a CMS (again, more on these later), but they should have to pay for, say, a flash-based drop down menu, or a fancy gallery system. These are design choices, and a customer should not be penalised for a choice that they aren’t making. (This probably also applies when it comes to hosting choices)
What’s mine is mine
When I pay for a design of a website, I own it. I should own the domain, the content, the design and the copyright (except in circumstances where a stock, open design has been provided). If I happen to pay 1 person for design, domain registration and hosting, I should still own my domain name, and be able to move that design to an alternative host as simply as if it were always hosted seperately. In an ideal world, the web designer should offer me both options so that I have a proper price comparison.
Content Management is a subject of great interest to me, as you may be able to tell. And I believe, on the whole, that CM is a great thing, in particular in a business relationship seperates design from content. But I think that sometimes customers are lumbered with a CMS far beyond what they would ever need. Likewise, some CMSs seem to give so much control back to the end user that they gain the ability to infringe on design, which is equally problematic. Lastly, I believe that all good web developers should be proficient in more than one CMS, and offer customers a choice of systems based on their individual requirements. (Or, better still, use something like Ruby on Rails or Django to custom-build the CMS specifically for the customer)
So, there you go – in summary, “professional” web design is about understanding the customers needs, and then providing for those needs, utilising your design knowledge and skills, and avoiding the pitfalls of feature creep and unnecessary burdens.
Footnote: This was all written in a oner, and is probably not at all coherent. Plus, I suspect that some of the stuff I have said may be complete bollocks. But hey – that’s what comments are for