A large chunk of the world population has stampeded into cyberspace, virtually lounging in social media sites, searching for answers and solutions to their questions and problems, opening up virtual stores and offices for their businesses, or boldly sharing their stories in their own blogs and personal websites while making money by allowing other companies and products to advertise on their site. For this reason, the long-established techniques on how to promote a business have been dramatically revamped. Whether the business you are dealing with is a financial firm, a popular fashion model agency, a church group, a boutique hotel, an island resort, a medical magazine, portfolios for photography pros, a restaurant, real estate firm of realtor, a law firm of a mortgage attorney, a blog earning through affiliate marketing, or an online shop selling packaging materials, the website has become an important marketing tool for businesses paving the way for e-commerce, making it the portal for their customers to reach their businesses and vice-versa. Every business card now do not just indicate the address of the physical shop of the business, but the email address and website, as well. A good deal of businesses are even based online with no brick-and-mortar shop or office.
More and more people are creating websites faster than an average spider can spin its web. The Internet and website design have come a long way. From the drab, black-and-white pioneer website developed by Tim Berners-Lee to dynamic, interactive, multilayered websites of today that flaunt stylish patterns and attractive color schemes. Flash animation, photos, videos, GUI icons and countless other interactive and awesome features add a salmagundi of flavors to what used to be plain vanilla.
Do not confuse web design with web development. To avoid mistaking one for another, think of the two as beauty and the geek. Web design deals with artsy graphics or visuals and the front end of the site, while web development deals with geeky codes and the back end of the site. Strictly speaking, web design is concerned with designing a web site or web page layout and the visual components on a page. This undertaking entails so much, much more than designing business cards which graphic artists also do. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, GIMP, CSS3 are some of the graphics programs that are used to come up with the design which must give structure to the look and feel of the web page. Don’t think that website design is simpler than development because web design includes laying out the master plan or wireframe of the entire site.
In comparison, web development deals with codes and programming to build the “back end” of a website. It involves database-driven web designs that use dynamic scripting languages, such as PHP, ASP.NET, ASP, Java and Coldfusion. Database design and development is also covered under web development. If you are already served with hard-to-digest terms like Joomla, API, CSS, Flash, Magento or Drupal CMS on your plate, then you are already dealing with web development. The web developer uses the graphical representation or mockup created by the web designer as basis for the code. The web designer and developer could be one person or different persons in one team or different teams. Because it can be done as one huge project (may even be difficult to separate the two), it is often collectively referred to as web design since it is the more known term in the market. However, web design & development would be the more accurate term. You may find web developers and companies that use the term web design to include web development. Don’t assume though. Before signing that project agreement with a web designer, make sure to ask for the specifics of the “web design” services you should be expecting, whether it is purely for the laying out of the design of the site, or already includes site construction, promotion and maintenance in the package. Because both disciplines are very much interlaced, my discussion will include both web design and development.
With over 500,000,000 websites created all over the world competing for the limited attention and time of Internet visitors, you cannot take web design for granted. The goal of web design is not to make your website merely an eye candy. Sure, it must make your website visually appealing, but more than that, it should create an ambiance that can enmesh your visitor’s attention. It is a “web” site after all. As much as you would like to make your office, display window or brick-and-mortar shop to look clean, professional and inviting, so must your website be. After all, it is your virtual shop or office. People will leave your site in 7 seconds when they find it boring, difficult to navigate, has poor alignment, poor color combinations, slow load times, interstitials and many other issues that concern web design.
What Makes a Great Web Page Design
Evaluating a web page or site involves cutting across the thin line dividing web design and web development. What is a beautiful site if it is frustratingly difficult to navigate; and what is a very functional site if it is visually hideous. So here are some tips on the basic things you must not forget when setting up your website.
This is largely the web designer’s metier. It encompasses the overall look and ambiance of your website and covers the following:
A website cluttered with so many things going on in one page can be distracting, and confusing and may cause your site visitor to leave. So arrange the different elements, such as images, text, banner ads, navigation bar, header, etc. and smartly use white space. Minimalist designs liberally using “white space” are considered elegant and easy on the eye. What’s more, it allows your site to load much faster, something that your visitors will love. Layouts do not merely concern with the appearance of the site, they also impact functionality. The layout will also depend on what your site is about and how visitors tend to navigate sites.
You need more than artistic savvy when choosing colors for your site. As this could also need a little bit of marketing and psychology. Colors do not just breathe life into your site, they also play a big role in branding. Colors also have certain psychological effects that can affect your visitor. So paint your site smartly with your target audience in mind. Simple and cool color combinations involving two to three colors, where you can work within the shades of each color to vary them, are all the rage these days. Dark backgrounds may also be used for appropriate sites to give personality and impact, but make it a point to complement it with minimalist design to make it work well. This is because these backgrounds tend to appear heavy already and cluttering them with more stuff will give them an even heavier feel.
As a rule of thumb in online publishing, serif fonts are recommended for larger texts, such as headlines and headers to give an elegant feel, while sans serif fonts are recommended for the text in the body to give it a clean look and better readability on computer monitors and mobile devices. Limit your choices to two different fonts for consistency.
Functionality and User Interface
Here is where the web designer steps in to make the beautiful functional, thus, giving the visitor a better browsing experience. The web design also affects the functionality of the site as you will see in the brief discussion of its various elements below:
Ease of Use and Navigation.
By taking out the clutter, a minimalist design and a smart layout helps the visitor browse through the site with ease and efficiency. As already mentioned, a minimalist design also allows the site to load much faster. From signup/login to sign out/log out, good user interfaces facilitate the completion of the task while on the site. The visual components of the design can match the theme or style of the interface without jeopardizing usability.
With more and more people using iPhone and other mobile phones and devices to browse the Internet, you may want to consider a liquid design that allows the visitor to adjust the orientation he wants to use when browsing your site on his mobile device. This kind of design is also called responsive design because the site makes a response and adjusts based on what device the user is using to browse the site. Additionally, also consider what programs to include on your site as there are those that are not ideal for the mobile phone or device. The popularity of Adobe Flash is waning because of its incompatibility with Mac OSX and because it causes overheating, drains laptop batteries and causes touchscreen issues. It also requires the Flash Player for a Flash file to run. These issues were the inspiration in the development of HTML5, the latest in web design.
To Outsource or Not to Outsource a Web Design Company
Nowadays, most of the businesses, large or small, are faced with this quandary. It’s already apparent that a business must somehow establish an online presence with a website as its nerve center of this online endeavor. However, not all companies have people who know how to use social media and Internet marketing, let alone design a website. So the options would be to outsource the task to a web designer (or web design and development company) vs to set up an online marketing or social media marketing department where a web designer or designers who receive salary from the company work under. (Actually, a third option would be to buy ready-made web designs for sale, but if a professional site is what you are looking for, then this is not for you). For many small businesses, this is quite a big leap, which makes outsourcing a freelancer a better alternative. Imagine the hassles of recruitment where you have to put aside your main tasks and deal with job posting and resume scrutiny, not to mention the other benefits that you have to give to the new employee.
There are scores of free lance web designers offering web design & development packages. The great thing about outsourcing is you can tap great but cheap freelancers from anywhere in the world. Even if your office is based in Washington DC, Toronto, Dubai, London, UK, Melbourne, Australia, or somewhere near San Francisco Bay, you can outsource web design projects to freelance webmasters based in Los Angeles, Boston, Maryland, New Jersey or Delhi, India (offering some of the cheapest rates). All they do is telecommute. You simply correspond and coordinate via email and video conference.
Whether you hire an in-house web designer or outsource the work to a web design agency, you have to know how to choose the right candidate. Read on to learn some tips.
What to Look For in a Web Designer
The Right Package.
Remember what I told you about being careful on how you treat the term “web design”? Make sure that the web designer or web design agency shares your definition of the term. It would be great to get the entire web design and development package as the two are so interlaced, it is difficult to split them up. Shop around to compare different packages that include the components that suit your needs. Decide on whether they build from scratch, starting from brainstorming of ideas and drafting a storyboard up to the maintenance and handling of SEO and promotion of the site. Of course, an essential part of the package is the quote. You can find various quotes from the most affordable to the most expensive. Choose the price range which would not cause you to suffer a nervous breakdown when you receive the web designer’s invoice. The steep price of a well designed site may be well worth it, as its benefits can be long-term. Ask for a project proposal outlining a description of what is to be expected, the web design companys responsibilities and a project cost estimate.
If you are looking to get the web designer running the whole shebang, make sure he has a great team because it would be very difficult for a one-man band to run the show. Besides, the web designer and web developer, one member may be the PHP guy, the Flash, HTML5 or Ajax dude, the SEO expert, the copywriter, graphic designer, content strategist, user interface (UI) designer, back end and front end web developers, and so on. A member may have more than one of these job titles, but it would call for Superman or Wonder Woman to do the job all alone, unless the site is overly simplistic.
Make sure to ask for samples of the designer’s previous work to give you an idea of what he or she is capable of. Don’t just take a peek at the site the candidate has designed, take a tour on your computer to find out about its usability and other features.
After Sales Service.
Most people hire a web designer because they don’t know anything about designing websites. That’s why you should look for a designer or web design company who can be your partner in not just building your site, but also in providing hands-on training on how to use, manage and maintain your new site, or at least train someone from your company to do these new tasks. Once the site is up, it does not mean that work is over. It needs to be maintained and promoted.
If available, take time to read up on unbiased customer reviews, such as those in Complaints Board to find out how satisfied the previous customers of the web design agency were and if there were any valid complaints. You cannot just bank on the review or reviews that the candidate has provided in their site. Of course, they would feature only positive reviews about their services. Check if it has been embroiled in a lawsuit or legal battle.
Web Design Client Questionnaire.
A checklist and questionnaire is a great tool for a web designer to uncover your needs, making them more effective in providing a solution or solutions. Actually, there are forms and templates for this available online, some in portable document format (PDF) files available for download, which your designer can use.
If you are looking for a web designer and developer who will not just build your site, but also maintain it, then this would be a long-term relationship so make sure that you choose an organization that is stable and would not likely to close down. Also keep this in mind when looking for a hosting company to host your site. One example of a web design company that closed down is HIT/Heritage Web Design. Besides building websites, they are also a reseller of Nethosting Corp.’s hosting services. When they closed down, the customers that got the hosting services from them were affected, although Nethosting was there to take care of those that were left by the closed firm and continued to sell their services.
Consulting people you know who may have been satisfied with the services of a web design company and asking them about their experience would also be a great idea to find a good designer.
It would be a wise idea to discuss your need to different web design agencies and ask them to bid for the project. Award the contract to the agency with the best mix of pricing, package, portfolio and professional reputation. You don’t have to go for big names, as this may also mean big costs.
Some of the Organizations Offering Web Design and Development Services
Web Design Central - offers full service custom web design from basic informational pages to the more intricate ecommerce stores and blogs.
Provo Web Design - offers web design and development, pay-per-click campaign management, e-commerce development, website maintenance, among others.
FusionDub Design Studios - a one-man co. who is a graphic designer and front end developer based in Singapore.
IQ Computing - based in St. Louis, Missouri and provides graphic design, hosting solutions, SEO and other IT services on top of web design.
To find more web design and development companies, the easiest way is to search Google for a directory of web site designers, which can direct you to the company of your choice. An example would be the AWD Web Designers and Business Directory. In your online search, you may also have encountered the term “web design broker”. Yes, it means what it says. A web design broker is the middle man to go to who can provide you with details of the various packages and pricing of different web design firms (1 to 5 quotes); all you have to do is request for an estimate for your web design project online and they’ll generate results for you.
Web Design Software
Hiring a web designer or developer can require a king’s ransom especially for small businesses, something that your accounting department may not be happy about it. Thankfully, there are inexpensive web design software (some are freeware) which you can use to design your own site even if HTML is all Greek to you (well, Geek is the more appropriate word)! Or you can opt to turn to online blogging tools and open source content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress for an even easier way to build your site and settle for free web design template downloads. However, since “custom made” translates to “professional”, you may want to get a customized site, and a web design app or application may be what is needed.
Web design applications are software programs that make web designing a less overwhelming task for beginners because they can design a website without having to directly manipulate a shred of code. They call them WYSIWYG web design applications in tech jargon. About.com has come up with a list of top ten of these web design applications for Windows last Novemer 7, 2010 and here are the finest that made it to the list, with the highly-rated Dreamweaver, the industry standard, still leading the pack:
1. Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 (with free trial version)
2. Adobe Creative Suite
3. Microsoft Expression Web Pro
4. Microsoft Expression Ultimate
5. NetObjects Fusion
6. Coffeecup HTML Editor (bagged the Best HTML Editor in the 2010 About.com Reader's Choice Awards)
10. Evrsoft First Page
For Mac, the following are some of the top Web Design Softwares for 2012:
2. RapidWeaver 5
3. Freeway Express
4. Goldfish 3
5. Apple’s iWeb
Other examples of these beginner-friendly, drop-and-drag applications that can be more affordable than hiring a web designer:
Dreamweaver CS4 and CS3 (used to be owned by Macromedia)
Xara Web Designer MX 8 Premium
Namo WebEditor 8 & Professional
Sothink DHTML Menu 9 & Tree Menu 2
Antenna Web Design Studio 3
AllWebMenus PRO 5
PhotonFX Easy Website Pro 4
Coffeecup’s Visual Site Designer
If you want to know the 2009 or 2011 recommended web design apps for Linux (Ubuntu), simply Google it!.
They say that web page design is a new form of art. Unlike the old forms of art where inspirations are sparked only by sheer passion of artists, web design inspire many artists not just because they can express their art, but the trade is also lucrative. What’s inspiring about this modern form of art is that the artists don’t have to struggle and and bear the “starving artists” outlook as did the artists of old because this career path pays well, with a 2011 average annual salary ranging between $32,000 to $73,000, excluding bonuses that can boost basic salaries to $80,000 for senior web design professionals. The range include jobs related to general web design and development from junior professionals to specialists in their respective niche, like user interface design and product management by senior professionals. Entry level position annual salary may start as low as $27,000.
Employed web designers and developers also enjoy dental, medical and optical insurance coverage in their compensation package. If you are contemplating on freelancing, you have to know that freelancers may enjoy higher per hour rates, they are their own boss, and they can just telecommute, but they do not enjoy these other perks. As a freelancer though, you can open your own web design and development business where you can recruit other freelancers as business associates and partners.
Wondering which area offers the best employment opportunities and compensation? Consider Los Angeles and San Francisco in the West Coast and Boston and Miami in the East Coast.
With so many businesses opening up shop online, there is an astronomical demand for web designers and developers with countless job openings. Try visiting a job board for listings of job openings to find out for yourself. That is why, it has swelled into a lucrative industry winning over more individuals who are bent on becoming professionals of the field and make a big name. Hence, an increasing number of schools are offering various web design programs, which include Certificate, Associate’s, Bachelors, and even Masters degrees. A simple search through Yahoo! or Google can prove this fact.
The Art Institutes is one particular school offering web design courses to over 40 locations all over the US. They have schools in:
Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona
Sacramento, Orange County, Santa Monica, and San Francisco
Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Novi and Troy, Michigan
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York, NY
Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
Austin, Dallas and Houston, and San Antonio, Texas
Salt Lake City, Utah
Washington, Dulles (northern) Virginia
With all these local branches available, there’s no reason for you not to be able to enrol in any of these schools and colleges offering these classes and get a certification to start your web design career. You can choose the one nearest you. Distance is even not an issue. You don’t have to travel to these schools as you can also opt to get a degree or training in this field by enrolling through their online division, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh - Online Division, or in any online course offered by some programs, for that matter. So regardless where you are in the USA, be it in NJ, NY, NYC, MN, MA, TN, AL, AZ, IL, TX, CA, FL, GA, you can take these online courses without leaving the comforts of your home.
Finishing a degree program does not necessarily guarantee you of a good career or high salary, but in the competitive world of web design, job opportunities for degree holders are expected to be better than those with informal education. There are even graduate programs for web design already. Nonetheless, if your portfolio is a gallery of solid experience and awesome work, even if you only learned the principles and techniques of web design by just reading the book Web Design for Dummies or through a free online tutorial, then there’s no reason for a corporate client or an association needing to build their site not to hire your services.
If the prices of web design classes are too much for your budget, you may be inspired to follow the footsteps of other web designers who learned the craft through self-study yet still met the industry standards. Many designers and developers indeed have started their careers as webmasters by learning the discipline by themselves with some research and help from fellow webmasters through boards and forums. You may also just want to invest in web design books, choose from various online tutorials and other learning resources which cost less than enrolling in a class to learn the basics and best practices. To help you get ideas and jumpstart your first project, you can look for an inspirational web design sample done by a pro designer.
By learning web design online, you also won’t have to worry about preparing the requirements to be able to enrol in these colleges. If ever there are, the required documents will be minimal.
California College San Diego
University of South Florida
Southern New Hampshire University
University of North Florida in Jacksonville Florida
Full Sail University in Orlando Florida
North Carolina State University in Raleigh
Southwest Florida College
Some Courses and Programs in Web Site Design
Bachelor of Science in Web Design
Certificate in Graphic Technology - Web Design
Master in Science in Information Technology - Web Design Concentration
To sum up, web design & development has become a fixture in this age of information and interaction, making marketing and promotion a two-way street: giving businesses a new and more personal way of reaching out to prospects and customers on the one hand, and allowing customers or any individual to react, respond, and be in contact with the involved company on another. The outcome is a full-blown industry that opened up new and plenty of business and job opportunities which are seen to continue to stay wide open in the years to come.