Website Design - Identifying Your Goals
It's time for your company to go live. Live on the Internet, that is. The first step to building your presence on the Internet is to design a website that customers will want to visit - and come back to. Getting customers to stay long enough to explore your website is like getting them to stay at a store. Like a store, your website should be attractive and professional looking.
Most important: Whatever your business offers - whether it's a product, a service, or information - it should be easy to access on your site.
Whether you're building a site from scratch or updating your existing site, you've got a few options. Your goals for the site determine the options you should go with, so make sure you've got those nailed down first. Ask yourself: What do you want to achieve with the site?
Will you use the site to dispense information?
Do you merely want a Web presence so customers can find you online?
What sections do you want in your site? (e.g. About your company, company history, product pages, executive bios)
Do you want your site to act as a virtual salesperson, performing online transactions?
Will you need to develop any special tools for users to interact with your site?
Do you already have a logo that your site designer must incorporate in their design?
About how many pages are you looking to have designed?
Do you want your site to be structured to help gather data for marketing purposes?
Depending on your answers to these questions, you may be looking for a one-stop shop or separate contractors to address each part of your site. Designing your site can be as simple - or as complex - as your imagination and/or budget allows. And before you can decide the approach you want to take to accomplish all of your goals, you should know the difference between web designers and web developers.
Design vs. Development
You'll probably find the titles "web designer" and "web developer" used interchangeably, but this isn't accurate. Designing a website is actually very different from developing one.
There are two major components to designing a website: the "front end" and the "back end." While there can be quite a bit of crossover, for the most part design refers to the front end, development to the back end.
Front end and design
The front end is what your customers see: the "pages" that display the graphics, the images, and the text on your site.
Web designers concentrate on the front end, choosing appropriate images and fonts and determining how images and text should be arranged. A web designer's strength is his or her appreciation for aesthetics. A designer doesn't have to be a technical whiz. But one should at least have a strong understanding of what will work visually on a computer screen and what the technical limitations are in designing for the Web. A good web designer will also have experience in collaborating with a web developer.
Back end and development
Developers are part of a new breed of Internet professionals who can help you build your website. Web developers work on the back end, making a site work. This side of the process is not visible to visitors, but it is essential to enhancing the visitor's experience.
Back end functions include making images change or move, allowing visitors to view different pages or enter data about themselves, or performing sales transactions. If you're hiring a web developer, learn to speak the language. Make sure the resumes of those you are considering include the following skills:
HTML for the text and layout framework of a web page
Web Imaging to create and compress images for the Web
ASP to customize a web page for a particular user on the server before it is sent down to the user
Java/C++ to write programs that are embedded within a web page - to do things that web pages alone cannot do, such as playing a game within a web page
Whom to use?
Can an individual be both a web designer and a web developer? You bet! There are plenty of talented individuals who are adept at both. And for the sake of convenience, not to mention your budget, you may prefer to work with these hybrids.
If your heart is set on a snazzy design that puts your competitors to visual shame, however, your best bet is to hire a separate designer with strong graphic experience.
Or say you want to include complex e-commerce transactions that require special programming skills. In this case, you may want to go with a top-notch web developer - even if they have no interest or experience in graphic design.