The Sad State Of Design – How To Find A Good Web Designer
There really isn’t a gentle way to say this. Design is possibly the most convoluted profession in the world today. Anyone with a computer can be a “designer”. I am all for the hobbyist or anyone making a little money on the side or following their dream to design, but not at your expense. I’ve heard and seen just about it all when it comes to web designers. I’ve seen the designer that are so out of touch, they present a simple square as a logo and charge thousands for their particular “powerful square”. I’ve seen the designer that throws in every special effect in a design, making their work extremely gaudy and problematic. I’ve watched designers that don’t understand complementary colors and the list goes on and on and on.
The problem gets a little more convoluted. A business owner without a design sense may approve a design with all the loud, obnoxious design elements thrown at them. This type of business owner sees a lot going on and feel he’s getting more bang for his buck.
In essence, getting “a design” is easy. Even the most non-creative technical person can pirate a design or use a template. One needs to look no further than the tired, old recycled concepts on television or other media to see that good ideas and creativity is rare.
Let’s face it. Design is fun. I’ve been Adobe Certified and I’ve been a published illustrator under a private label. It’s adding sizzle to the steak and everyone likes doing it. We are made to be creative. Some of us just aren’t very good at it, but don’t realize it. Others need a good design, but don’t know how to gauge if they have one. Some are good at it, but like a child with a gun, don’t know the tried and true “rules of design” that are still extremely relevant today.
When I think of unqualified designers, I think of a previous employer. At a certain point in the business development, she decided to involve herself in design because it was fun. She would color children’s books and inject her input into other aspects of design. The result was a poor product and the art department was too young and apprehensive to proactively help her find a more proactive outlet. The problem is there are thousands of “designers” out there that are less qualified than my old employer. The number of mistakes is so vast, its virtually impossible to list them all.
Traditional concepts that still hold true today are scrapped by many because of ignorant designers. It’s that cheap software and armchair designers flood the market without an understanding of the profession and they are guiding small businesses’ branding decisions.
So you will have to institute some standards along the design process to make sure it meets your needs. You can’t rely on choosing a “designer” on face value. Design is important. It will or will not speak to your target audience in ways words can’t.
Here is the most difficult aspect to design for small business owners.
It doesn’t matter what you or your loved ones personally think. If a design doesn’t speak directly to the people you are trying to reach, then you’ve failed.
So the residual question throughout the design process is, “does it speak to your target customers”. Obviously the best way to find out is to ask trusted customers throughout the process. They are a free focus group and can offer valuable insight. Of course, personnel that deals with your customers directly are the next best thing. This doesn’t mean accounting, but usually the sales staff or customer service personnel. Of course, their personal bias will be injected and will need to be accounted for in some way.
Questions 4, 5 (Internal Business Section) and the Customer Surveys will help set a proper course for design. Question 4 can be important to your business. With national and international companies offering a polished system, having a hometown feel to your site can be a strategic advantage. Not everyone wants to be a “number” or getting in touch with a different person each time they call. Some people like knowing they are working with local businesses that understand the dynamics and needs of the local market. Is there something within your service region that can accent your site to give it a local flavor? Is it important?
Question 5 is critical. I remember talking to a client years ago and I asked him who his typical customers were. He said what most everyone says, “We service anyone”. So I prodded a little and we discovered his primary customers are older, retired Caucasian couples. His services required that he actually work inside their home, so security and trustworthiness was important to his primary clients. The young couples on the home page alienated his target audience. The fonts on his site needed to be a larger and his site needed an overall conservative feel. Colors needed to be inviting and not dark. Expressing he’s a family business with traditional values embraced his market.
It didn’t matter if this client personally liked smaller fonts, a black and red color scheme, or a cutting edge design. It didn’t matter what “he felt his business was”: What mattered was “what it actually is”. After making a few modest changes to his site, this client started to experience more success. Who are your typical customers? What do they expect? How can you visually appeal to their needs? Everything matters.
Keep in mind, we are talking design without talking about actual image specifics, slide shows, where the logo goes on the page or what type of pattern background the site will have. It’s largely irrelevant at this time. The most important aspect is to understand your typical customers and make sure their visual expectations are understood before the first pixel is decided.
This is in stark contrast with how most startup and small business sites are created. The design is usually first, followed by content, then SEO. I’ve worked with many businesses that are so entrenched in the philosophy of design before content, I often have to acclimate them into this process over time. It’s unfortunate, but its still a hurdle.