Web Site Development – The Roles of Web Designers and Web Programmers

A web site is a software package. By definition, a package is a ready-made program that is available to users for use to perform some tasks. These users include non-IT professionals. Thus, a web site qualifies to be a package like Microsoft Office, Peachtree Accounting packages.

Before the revolution of The Web (WWW), development of software package was the exclusive preserve of skillful programmers. Programmers or software developers develop the logic of programs which a package will eventually use to function. This logic building aspect of software development requires high level of intellect. This together with the intricacies of mastering programming languages made the development of packages uninteresting and unattractive to a large spectrum of people.

Following the revolution of The Web, it became possible for non-programmers to develop packages right from the inception. These are web-based packages and of course, web sites, requiring no programming skills. The result was the creation of a new type of profession called Web Design. A web designer is someone who organizes a web page by arranging texts, pictures, animations, forms etc on a page and formats them to produce good presentation. All he needs do is to make use of any of the appropriate web development tools like Macromedia Visual Studio and Microsoft FrontPage. Through the Design section of Macromedia Dreamweaver, for example, you can design a whole web page without using HTML codes. What you have is a web site. A web site is one or more web pages. These web development tools are the equivalent of what the popular package Adobe PageMaker does which is to organize and format pages of books, magazines, newspapers etc. No programming is required.

The limitation of web designing is the creation of static web sites which may be suitable for some applications but not all. They produce non-interactive and non-dynamic web sites that are unsuitable for certain applications and needs. For example, online registration. The role of a web designer stops at this point and that of a web programmer begins. As a result of the limitation of static web sites, the need to move further arose. People wanted sites where they could post forms for tasks like creating accounts online and authentication of passwords. This led to the development of web programming languages otherwise known as scripts. Examples are JavaScript, ASP, ASP.NET, JSP, PHP, ColdFusion etc. The result was the creation of the profession of web programming. A web programmer is someone who develops programs for the purpose of performing automated tasks on a web site. Some prefer to call them software developers. Example of such tasks are:

  1. Data validation.
  2. Form submission.
  3. Sign Up.
  4. Database search.

Thus, it became possible to develop dynamic and interactive web sites capable of doing what conventional software could do on stand-alone computer and network using non-internet technologies. Online banking, stock broking are examples. These functions can now be carried out entirely on internet. To develop functional scripts for such automated tasks, logic building and mastery of the programming language to use in terms of syntax are required. Most of the programs are written from scratch.

Can you be a web designer and a web programmer? Yes, you can. There are people who double as web designer and web programmer but specialists are noted for doing better in their respective fields of specialization than non-specialists. Some sites do not require more than web designing but many sites nowadays require both web designing and web programming like the multi-tier applications that have presentation layer, the logic layer that interfaces the presentation layer with the database, and the data layer that contains the database. There are even database specialists who design database and write what is called stored procedures and triggers right inside the database. The use of stored procedures increases the overall efficiency of site execution as it minimizes the number of times SQL statements are parsed, compiled, and optimized during execution. You can see that site development is quite deep.

The roles of web designers and web programmers are complementary in the development of web site. You need to identify where your ability lies and allow that to inform your choice of area of specialization. If you know you have the ability to write programs, you can go beyond web designing and become a web programmer but if it is otherwise, stick to web designing and continue to grow and sharpen your skills. The truth of the matter is that programming is not for everybody.

If you are a conventional graphic artist, you will find it easy to crossover to web designing and if you are a conventional programmer, you can readily crossover to web programming. What I mean by conventional graphic artists are those who have the expertise in the use of tools like CorelDraw, Photoshop, and PageMaker to perform Desktop Publishing tasks. By conventional programmers, I mean the experts in programming languages like C++, FoxPro, COBOL, and Dbase.

As long as you can determine where your ability lies, you will surely overcome frustrations in your tasks of developing web sites and you will continue to enjoy what you are doing. If you are a web designer and you have a job that involves programming which you cannot handle, look for assistance from a web programmer. If you are a web programmer and you are having issues with web designing in your task, seek the assistance of a web designer. If you can handle both areas to a very large extent, well and good.

10 Steps to Hiring the Best Web Designer Or Web Design Company For Your Business Website

You have been planning forever to get a website designer to work on your site. Your plans are clear and you have prepared your content. What next? How do you go about choosing the best web designer or web design company?

Step 1. Ask around. Ask friends, or similar companies who have hired a web designer in the past. Besides getting the contact numbers of the web designers, ask how it is to work with that person. Find out what happened during the design process and what they think of the designs submitted.

Step 2. Do your research for contact information. Use the internet or your phonebook to get the names and contact information of web design companies in your area. If you use the internet, have a peek of their past work. Then contact each and ask for a quotation.

Step 3. Look through the portfolio of the web design company you are choosing from. See if the designs are professional-looking, clean and easy to use.

Step 4. Look at the experience of the web designer or Web Design Company. How long has the person or company been in business? How many companies have they designed for?

Step 5. See if the designer or web design company is up to date with the newest trends in web marketing. Useful, profitable websites attract the correct traffic with search engine optimization and usability and by employing web 2.0 strategies such as social media marketing. Effective web sites take SEO and usability into serious consideration. See if your web designer has at least a basic knowledge of both. In order for your website to be successful you need to be able to implement a successful internet marketing campaign.

Step 6. Look at the web designer or web design company proposed turnaround time. Does it match the schedule of your company’s plans?

Step 7. Examine the web designer or web design company terms of service and website files ownership. See if you agree with the conditions set by the designer to work with you. See also the rights as to who owns the final output and what sizes. If this is not clear from the start, you just may be surprised to find that the work you commissioned is not yours and you may have to pay extra to get it.

Step 8. See what the web designer offers for after-design services. Will the designer help maintain your site or is the designer only expected to do the initial design?

Step 9. Talk to the designer. Is s/he easy to communicate with? You should be able to communicate with your web designer easily. You should be comfortable presenting problems that you want solved. Your web designer should be respectful and prompt. You should both be able to compromise on what will work best for the viewers, not necessarily your personal taste.

Step 10. Look for previous, happy clients. You may look through the designer’s website or blog and see if there are client testimonials. Note what they have to say about the designer. You may also try to call them (you may ask the contact number from the web designer) and ask for comments regarding the design process and final output.

What to Look for in a Web Designer or Design Agency

Google for web designers or web design firms and you will get millions of results for companies all promising very similar things: timely delivery, budget-friendly, search engine optimization and cross-browser compatibility, etc. Now if they were all so great, why are there so many crappy websites you may ask. Here are some qualifications that will help you to weed out the good web designers from the bad ones.

Great Portfolio

A great portfolio displays creativity, style variety and most importantly has examples of real client work and not just spec work from school. Ensure that the web designer’s overall style in their portfolio matches what you are looking for. Test out their previously launched websites to ensure that they are user-friendly, error-free, suitable for their target market and fast-loading.

A great portfolio always trumps design experience or education. Web designers with too much experience could be set in their ways and less open to new ideas or trends. And just because someone took a few classes for design does not mean that they have an eye for it. We have encountered many websites offering web design services with hideous websites.

Customer Service

No matter how stellar your designer or agency is, if they cannot respond to your calls or emails in a timely manner during business hours, they most likely cannot meet your deadline. This can mean death to your business if your project is time sensitive due to something like a product launch. Some freelance web designers are moonlighters meaning that they have full-time jobs and they pick up the odd project here and there for extra cash. Be wary of those folks because they will likely not be around when your project goes awry forcing you to forfeit your deposit.

Required Skills

Whoever you select should be proficient with the web technologies your project requires. If you need Flash for an animated clip, ensure that your web developer is proficient in Flash Actionscripting 3.0. If you want to convert your website into a CMS, ensure that they are well versed in your chosen CMS and the web technologies that support it. Most open-source CMS’ are controlled by PHP. It is always better to hire an expert who can excel at the things you need rather than a jack of all trades who is just mediocre in everything. Usually, you should be able to evaluate this based on their online portfolio.

Their Timeline Fits your Timeline

All projects have a deadline or some preferred time range in which you would like it to be completed. Inexperienced web designers often quote overly optimistic timelines. No matter how simple your website design or redesign is, it is almost impossible for the design process (from concept to completion) to take less than two weeks because there will always be revisions. I always laugh when a potential client emails me and estimates that their new website is very basic and should take no more than 2 days. It is much more professional to quote a longer timeline and deliver earlier than expected. However, if your web designer says it will take much longer than their competitors, they may be moonlighting.

Full-Service

Full-service is usually offered by design firms because it requires a team of developers, designers and marketing experts. Full-service means that they offer all-encompassing web solutions like SEO, ecommerce, branding, mobile compatibility and social media marketing all in one place. Rarely will you find a web designer who is an expert in all of these categories, which is why some companies hire design firms if they have the budget.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are just as important as design and programming skills because if your web designer communicates with bad grammar or spelling mistakes so will your website. Do they articulate issues well? Can they translate complicated technical jargon into laymen terms? You can easily evaluate their communication skills through your initial calls, emails and project proposal.

Marketing / SEO Experience

What good is your website if your target market cannot find it? Your web designer or design firm must understand how to promote it. If you found your web designer by via Google with industry-specific keywords then they must know something about SEO. Here are other simple SEO techniques your web designer should implement to build your web presence:

  • Generate fresh content relevant to your target market with a blog
  • Write a meta title and description tags
  • Include your keyword search terms in your headings and subheadings (H1 and H2 tags respectively)
  • Sprinkle your keyword search terms throughout your content
  • Create a sitemap for search engines to crawl
  • Add your website to online business directories
  • For more SEO strategies, refer to my blog post about Driving High Quality Web Traffic.

Customer References

Ask for client references and make a point about calling them. Ask their clients whether they were responsive, on time and within budget. Some web design firms look for work through freelance websites such as Guru where you can find reviews.

Social Media Presence

Social Media helps you respond to people talking about your brand and understand how they perceive your company. There are so many social media networks but the ones to monitor are Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. A good practice is to post a status update whenever you publish a blog post or new web content.

Cost / Budget

It is key to consider all of the above and then consider cost or budget if everything else falls into place. The cheapest quote is rarely the best.

Web Design – Five Simple Steps to Follow

1. Flashy Pages: unwanted Distractions

Most of web designers feel the need to create stylish splash pages that do nothing but create a barrier which stops web users in their tracks and forces them to make the unnecessary decision of whether to push forward to the home page or to leave your website forever. These “website introductions” are typically short Flash-based movies that showcase the web designer’s flash design skill set, yet offer the web user nothing but a distraction. Flash animations are so common these days that it’s almost impossible to actually impress a web user with a Flashy page. The main goal of any website design should be to either deliver the web user what they want or to get the web user to perform an action. a flashy page only slows down this process and should be avoided at all time.

2. Banner Advertisements: Less Is More

When it comes to the strategic placement of banner advertising, the old proverb “less is more” needs to be applied to web design. A single successful banner advertisement is more profitable and valuable then a whole bunch of banner advertisements that get minimal click-through. The harder it is to secure a single banner advertisement space, the more appealing it becomes to advertisers. it’s best to try and fill space with useful content. Another tip is to surround your banner advertisements with as much useful content as possible; this will also make the space more appealing to potential advertisers.

3. Navigation: Is The Important Key

The fastest Bike in the world is useless if no-one knows to drive it. The same goes for websites. Website owners can choose to invest thousands in web design, logo design, flash design, splash pages, funky animations and a whole host of other aesthetic goodies to make the site look fantastic, but if web users cannot navigate around the site to consume the content or purchase products, then the whole website fails to achieve its goals. In web design when it comes to designing effective navigation it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. Once again, web designers will often go overboard and design navigation menus that include flash animations, multi-tiered dropdowns and a whole host of other unnecessary additions that only work to distract the user, instead of helping them navigate around the website. Navigation is the key that unlocks good website design

4. Coding: Never Copy & Paste

Amateur web designers will often copy and paste code from various websites and compile their website like its Frankenstein. When an error occurs, the web designer doesn’t know how to fix it because they didn’t write the code. Web designers must then sit down and waste time working out what each piece of code does, before discovering the error and then rectifying it. During this time it’s the web users who suffer, as they sit through error after error. Although writing the code from scratch causes longer initial development stages and may cost more in the short term, it will save you a lot of time in the long run if any errors do happen to occur. As mentioned above, errors need to be avoided, whatever the cost. Before seeking professionals to do your website design or flash design, always run double-checks to see how much of the code they are actually writing. If the web design agency is copying code from within their own web design / flash design team, then there is nothing to worry about because someone in the agency will know what to do if a problem arises or they typically have an FAQ that can be easily referenced. The only time you should worry is if the code is copied from an external website.

5. Consistency: Way To Success

Regardless of size, every website should remain consistent to ensure the web user knows exactly where they are and where to look at all times. This applies to everything from simple navigation links to the location of help menus. The goal should be to make the web user familiar with all aspects of your website, from the colours used in the design to the overall layout. Some web designers, who are often pressured by management to create a variety of web designs, feel the need to experiment with different colour schemes and website layouts within a single website, but this does nothing but confuse the web user by causing disorientation. Only break consistency when the website is receiving a complete overhaul.