Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Web Design Basics

Professional web design has become vital during recent years. A few years ago, it was estimated that a visitor to a web site took about 8 seconds to decide to stay on that web site or click the "Back" button. That was then, this is now: Your web site has only about 4 seconds to make an impression on the visitor. That is not much time at all! Today, people want instant results. Few people even wait to see the entire web design before making their decision. If your web design does not grab their attention immediately, they won't stick around. And if your web site does not offer something of benefit, they won't bookmark it and they won't come back (more on that later).
So, with that in mind, let's discuss some practical ways to grab the attention of web site visitors. Then, in a future article, we will talk a little about keeping their attention with good web site content. Remember, people spend most of their time on the Internet reading. They read search results, news items, how-to articles and forums. A professional web design company will take this into account. But that is for later. First, we have to keep visitors attention (remember the 4 second rule).
Get to the Point. 
We live in a fast-paced society and we are used to instant results: Microwave meals in 5 minutes, lose 5 pounds in 5 days, 30 minute oil changes, see results from fitness equipment in 20 minutes a day, and on and on.

The Internet is no different and it actually may be less forgiving of web sites that don't deliver results quickly.
The 4 second rule that we spoke of earlier does not mean that your entire web page must load in 4 seconds. Rather, it means that a visitor to your web site has to at least see something interesting within that 4 second window. So, to test your site, while it is loading, ask yourself: 
  • How much time passes before I see anything?
  • What is the first thing I see on the web page?
  • How much time passes before H can read some text?
  • How long would it take a visitor to determine what the web site is about?
Try this suggestion yourself and then try to enlist the help of some of your friends. The more people you have to test your web site, the more thorough your results will be.
Ideally, the site should load top to bottom and left to right. However, your design should adhere to the reading habits of your target audience. Some countries read from right to left so, make sure you know your audience. Also, the most eye-catching elements should load first. Once these load, they will grab the visitor's attention. Then, the rest of the page can finish loading.
What Graphics Format Should I Use? 
This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of web design. How many times have you visited a web site and cringed at the slow loading pictures. I'll bet you did not stick around to see everything load.

Friday, 23 December 2011

What is a Web Designer, Anyway?

As a web designer, I get all kinds of requests for information other than web design, and as a web designer I'm not really suppose to be able to do things outside of the web design area. I believe there are a few misconceptions about what exactly a web designer does. In this article I am going to nail down exactly what a web designer is and what they should be able to do. First I'll touch of the differences between a web designer and a web developer. A web designer is someone who creates the visual design and layout of a web page. A web developer is someone who does the behind-the-scenes programming of a website. For example a web developer creates the code for database websites.
Web designer's definition:
They give business/organizations a web presence by building them a website. Web designers are professionals who organize information, create page layouts, while communicating the business's information/opinions in a website. Web designers create another medium for the business to expand into. Creating a website enables the business to attract new customers, showcase its services/products, and to*do business across countries (as opposed to one location).
What things do web designer's do?
That's a really good question. It is definitely hard to nail down what every designer must do in order to call themselves a web designer. A good web designer should be able to do both the design and the development, unfortunately for you the consumer, it doesn't always work that way.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Finding a Professional Web Designer or Web Design Company

Your web site is your storefront window on the World Wide Web. It must grab the viewer's attention and be clear, all in a matter of seconds. Otherwise, it's onto the next site listed on the search engine.
Choosing the best person to create your new web site is one of the most important tasks a business must undertake. It is also one of the most difficult because of the amount of freelance designers, advertising agencies, public relation firms and web development consultants flooding the market. Following are a few helpful hints to make sure you select the right web designer.
Why Hire a Professional Web Designer?
Let me phrase the question another way, 'Why post your billboard in woods'? Most reputable web designers know a thing or two about search engines ... but that's not enough to put your business on the map when it comes to search engine results. What you want is a professional designer who knows how to build a 'search engine friendly' web site.
The key between the two professionals is one will build you a web site with pretty pictures, text links and a welcome page that leaves you invisible to search engines, while the other will do the same thing but with the coding and programming that makes your web site irresistible to search engines. The difference between selling and not selling on the web, and being found or buried on page 15 of the search engine results, is knowledge in building a search engine friendly site.
Create a Web Site Requirements List
If you're looking for a 'one-stop-shop-solution' you should have a solid project plan in place. This will save you money, time and effort in the long run. Browse the Internet and create a list of web sites that have the general look and feel of how you envision your own web site. Note the things you like about each of the sites. You are essentially compiling a list of the 'best of the best' features you want to incorporate into your new web site. 
If you are shopping for web design quotes, don't forget to ask the web design vendor some basic questions:

* Do you provide client references?
* Will I be able to edit my own web pages?
* Are the web sites you design search engine friendly?
* Is logo design included in the web quote?
* How many design concepts and revisions will you provide?
Avoid the Template Trap
The problem with Web templates is that they are "closed systems." Usually navigation placement is hard coded so that custom programming or effects are not allowed or easily configured. Every month someone will call us to complain that their 'template based web site' looks horrible, or the web template system is too hard to use or understand. A great example of cookie-cutter, web template web sites abound in the field of real estate. All these sites look the same. Why on earth would a real estate agent not want to stand out from the crowd in such a highly competitive online field? The bottom line is, stay away from templates. They're cheap in cost and cheap in delivery.
Establish a Web Production Budget
The web design process ranges from the novice who spends a few hours putting together sites of amateur quality, to high-end quality web projects that result in a world-class web presence. If you plan on spending $400 on your web site, don't waste your time or money. Your site will most likely look cheap, be an embarrassment and actually hurt your business and image. Better off to stay as you were.
However, when you're serious about launching a Web site to grow your business, you can do it without mortgaging your house. Here are some facts and figures from across the U.S. to consider when putting together the budget for your web site.
Small business Web sites - $2800 to $3900
Small business e-commerce Web sites - $3600 to $4200
Medium business Web sites - $3800 to $5200
Medium business e-commerce Web sites - $4200 to $7200
Large business Web sites - $7200 to $10,000
Large business e-commerce Web sites - $9200 to $15,000
A well-crafted web site can bring you new or additional online traffic resulting in new clients and customers. First impressions matter, so work with your web designer to capture the image or branding that you want to convey to your Internet visitors.
Now that you understand the basic principles of finding a professional web site design company, submit your request for design quotes online and compare what you are getting for the cost.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Choosing a Web Designer - What to Look For and What to Avoid

Owning and operating your own business from day to day is a huge task in itself. Tack on the chore of choosing a professional web designer and well it can get overwhelming.
Choosing a web designer or developer should not be taken lightly; a web designer is responsible for creating and establishing your corporate identity and online presence. Your business web site speaks for you when you cannot. What does your current web site design say about your business? Does it portray a professional, reliable business? If not here's a few tips for finding and selecting a web designer.
What to look for
Portfolio Samples
A good web designer or design company will have an online presence. Ask to see the designer's portfolio and links to some of their current web site designs. Beware of designers that are offering web design or graphic design services with no online presence. Take the time to navigate the designer's web site and some of their client's sites to get a feel for their skills and also to make sure all links, navigational features, etc. function properly. Often unskilled web designer's sites will have dead links, misspelled words and other errors.
Most reputable web designers and companies will post client testimonials on their web site. These are a good indication that the designer is experienced and that past clients have been satisfied with their work. Beware of a long list of testimonials with no client information such as company name or a link to the web site. Most web designers will link their client's testimonials to their sites so you can verify that they are in fact a happy customer.
If the designer's testimonials aren't readily available ask, and verify them. Call or email the references and ask how their experience was with the designer and if they were satisfied with the work. This may seem like a lot of work but having a web site professionally designed is a financial investment and an important one to your business. It's wise to do your homework before jumping into anything.
Contact Information
Now this might seem like common sense but check the designer's web site for clear contact information such as a physical address and telephone number. A designer displaying only their email address and website address as contact information is not very credible and you should request and confirm the designers contact information prior to paying for or putting a deposit down on your design services.
Look for Familiar Logos/Affiliations
Displaying familiar logos such as credit card logos (Visa, MasterCard and so on), PayPal verified logos and other affiliation logos such as groups and organizations lends credibility to the web site and the company.
Who Is
No that's not an incomplete statement it's the name of a directory that you should familiarize yourself with. Using the WHOIS database you can search and find out information about an existing domain name such as the owner, how long it's been registered and other useful information. The WHOIS database will provide you with the contact information of the person or organization that registered the domain name you're inquiring about.
Check out your prospective designer if you have doubts and*verify that the information listed matches the contact information they are giving you. Beware of designers that have blocked or privately registered their domains to prevent consumers from accessing their information. With that being said we must also state that legitimate companies sometimes block their domains, usually in an attempt to prevent spam but it's not something we suggest.
Compliance with W3C and CSS Standards
This is often the most overlooked detail but the most critical. Most Web documents are written using markup languages, such as HTML or XHTML. These languages are defined by technical specifications, which usually include a machine-readable formal grammar (and vocabulary). The act of checking a document against these constraints is called validation, and this is what the Markup Validator does. Validating Web documents is an important step in web design. (Read more on why validating matters).
Unfortunately there are unscrupulous web designers out there that don't code to or even know the standards and their clients pay dearly for it. Check your designers site against the standards, if there site doesn't validate there's a good chance yours won't either.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Finding the Perfect Web Designer 101

So, you've decided that your company needs a web site. Now what? Since we are ultimately talking about your "online business image", unless you yourself have web design experience, finding that perfect web designer to create your company site is a very important next step. If you've never had a web site created before, you will find that there is quite a lot to consider if you want your site to be successful, and you may have to do a bit of homework to find the right person for you.
Regardless of the type of site you want, to be successful, your site will need to do, at least, these 3 things:
  • Look professional
  • Function properly
  • Get good positioning on the search engines
In achieving this goal, there's good news and bad news.
The bad news is that there are all kinds of designers out there, offering all kinds of services, and prices are pretty much across the board. The good news is that there are some simple points you can follow to help make this process easier.
So, how do you go about finding a designer?
Since there are so many different companies offering web design, you might start by making a list of what your specific needs are. Every site is unique so it's a good idea to know what you need before you start calling around or sending in estimate forms. Some things you might need to know are:
  • Will you be selling a product online?
  • Does your site require a database?
  • Do you also need web hosting? or a domain name?
  • Do you want to have your clients contact you through a form?
  • How many pages do you think the site will be?
  • Are there any pages or features specific to your business that you would like to have on your site?
Also, write down a couple of URLs of sites that you like. Or maybe you've seen a specific feature on another site that you would like to incorporate into your own site. Having a rough idea of the kind of site you're looking for will help you find the right designer for your project.
One of the best ways I've found to find the right designer is to get a referral from someone you know personally who has already had their site designed and they are happy with the site, and their experience with the designer. So let your friends and family know that you are shopping around for someone to help you create your online business image. People who have had a good experience with their web design company will be more than happy to pass the information along.
If you do get a referral from someone, go and look at the designer's site and see what else they've done. If you're interested, you can fill out a free quote form on their site, or email the designer with the specs of your project.
Job sites
There are a number of online sites that will help you match your project with a number of designers who will then bid on your project. The one thing to be aware of is that these sites have all types of designers listed with their service from those with years of experience, to those who just bought themselves the latest version of Front Page and have now labeled themselves "web designer".
Although these job sites do make it harder for less experienced people to be listed as a serious prospect, when they ask for your project description, you can include on there that "only serious professionals need apply". You can sometimes eliminate the amount of riff-raff that will send in proposals for your project.
The biggest problem people have with using these job sites is that potential clients are usually overwhelmed with the number of quotes they receive for their project. Be aware that you may have to rifle through a lot of proposals that are not what you are looking for.
These sites usually offer a Designer's Profile and some kind of a rating system, which can help you learn a bit about a potential designer. Reading the reviews listed from previous clients can also help shed some light on your choice of designers.