You can make many choices of what type of professional to hire to design and code your website. There are certainly some pros and cons to each approach.
- A graphic designer: There are actually 2 major categories of graphic design: print design and web design.
While some of the underlying design principles are the same, there are others that differ depending on the use and the media that the design is being developed for. For example, color works differently online than it does in print. Another difference is that you have to take the coding of a website into consideration during the design phase, so that you make sure that the site will be easy to code and will read well across all browsers and computers.
Many design programs focus on print design in their graphic design majors. So, if you’re talking to a graphic designer about creating your website, ask about their level of technical involvement with the coding of the websites in their portfolio.
Many graphic designers do know how to design for the web, and even how to use a program such as Dreamweaver to put a site together. But, that may be where their knowledge ends. Coding a website should not be the end of the process – there should also be some work on the site’s function, like making sure that it ranks well in the Search Engines. Make sure that you can get that from your designer, along with a beautiful design. And, even Dreamweaver doesn’t create code that’s as clean and seamless as hand-coding.
Another thing to watch out for with graphic designers is the tendency for them to want to create Flash-based websites. It’s true that Flash does offer more flexibility in the design choices for the website – you can use more fonts, having hard edges isn’t as important, and you can create motion and animation effects easily, all of which definitely look cool. But, Flash has some major “cons” as well, like the fact that it doesn’t make a lot of your content available for Search Engines to read, and it can be difficult and time-consuming to make even small changes to the site. I’ll be writing more about Flash vs. HTML websites in a later post in this section, but suffice it to say for now that I highly recommend HTML websites.
The thing to watch out for when you hire a web programmer is the overall look and feel of the site. Since many web programmers don’t have a lot of design training, the design of your site can suffer. They may just have training in how to use the various design programs, so they might make their sites all look largely the same, and just stick your logo in the site that they tend to make and go from there. This results in a site that’s little more than a template.
Even if they do customize the design, they may not be experienced enough in design to create a site that’s timeless and will be able to last many years – they may just design something that reflects current trends. Or, even worse, they may design something that reflects past trends, so your site will look behind the times from the moment it’s launched.
You also want to make sure that they are well informed about your brand and Visual Vocabulary, and that they take your brand strategy into account when designing your site.
Programmers are typically quite good at coding websites, but you do have to make sure that they don’t code your site in a way that will make it hard for you to maintain. Unless your site’s going to have some really advanced functionality, you want your website to be coded in nice, simple HTML with some CSS controlling the font sizes and styles. This will enable pretty much anyone to maintain it – including enabling you to maintain it yourself. If your web programmer codes the site in PHP or uses Active X or even XHTML instead of regular old HTML, or creates CSS that controls the design and layout as well as the fonts, it can make it more difficult to go in and update the code and change your text in the site.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If a designer creates the site sketches and then passes them on to a programmer, there’s a chance that something will be “lost in translation” – maybe the designer sketches at a particular scale, or intends for certain aspects of the design to be prepared as images, and others to be coded in HTML. Or, the web programmer could have a particular way of coding things which could actually require that the design take those into account.
But, whatever the case, it takes either a lot of communication between both parties, which can add hours to the project, or an already-existing understanding of these requirements. Or, your site could wind up needing to be redesigned, or it could be mis-coded and then need to be re-coded – all of which are very time consuming and expensive.
The one situation where this can work well is when the designer and programmer already work together often. If they’ve teamed together on projects in the past, then they should have all their communications and procedures worked out before beginning to work with you.
And, this may be necessary if you need to create a site that’s both very well-designed and highly technical. For instance, I’ve teamed up with a web programmer in a couple of instances where the clients needed to develop custom shopping carts for their online stores.
But, what I don’t recommend is requiring a designer and a programmer who have never worked together in the past to work on your project – the results probably won’t be very good, and this could add a lot of frustration to your project.
But, this is becoming an easier combination to find. More design programs are teaching both print and web, and designers who have been in the field for a while, have seen the trend towards web design and picked up coding HTML to better serve their clients.
I recommend that, if you’re planning to hire someone to design your website, you should look for a graphic designer with branding and strategy experience who can also hand-code your website. And, yes, I’m one of these! ☺
With all the information in these past few posts, I hope that you have enough information to make this big decision about who will design your website. Next, I'll be talking about all the design decisions and elements that go into designing your website.