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What to Expect From a Web Designer


Many professionals and small business owners usually have an important question in mind while considering to have an Internet presence. The question is, what to expect from a web designer? To publish a professionally designed website shouldn't be too expensive, depending on the site's complexity, but it is not a shopping journey into a 99 cents store either. It's a way to build a marketing machine that helps a business make the client adquisition process easier and less expensive. It's also a way to keep existing clients informed of what a company is doing.

There is no TV or radio commercial, outside billboard, full page newspaper ad or multiple page spread magazine ad that can show the amount of information that a website can offer to the public. And as most experts say, consumers are using Internet today not only to buy online but also to compare prices, services, special offers, and companies' reputation to buy at brick and mortar stores, to make an appointment with a doctor, to buy a tour to France or to make a restaurant reservation.

Web design is a relatively new business. The first website was created by Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, in August 1991. Therefore, many designers and design shops are seen as hard working professionals instead of being experienced business people. In fact they are both, professionals and business people, so they are supposed to behave as such. I've seen many designers missing business opportunities because their techie jargon is not easy to understand. Or because they tried to impose their supposedly brilliant ideas to a business owner who doesn't need what designers are trying to sell. Business, as any other human activity, is a two-way road. Commercial designers are out there to meet the client's needs first, not to win an award. If the award comes after meeting the client's needs, congratulations!

I designed my first website in December 1998. It was a sweet nightmare. Over a decade later, I understand much better what a client expect from a web designer who will be paid for the job. I'd like to share my experience with you both, the professional or small business owner, and the designer.

1 - A web designer should arrange a face-to-face first meeting with a client in order to listen carefully to what the client needs. If the client is geek enough to accept a computer-to-computer meeting, let's say via Skype, great! The point is that the designer should know who the client is. A medical doctor, an attorney, a travel agent, a restauranteur or a manufacturer? On the other hand, the client should know who the designer is. A professional designer should have a portfolio available for the client to review. It may be online, in a laptop or even in print materials. In that meeting, the client should clearly explain what type of site is needed and why. A brand site containing basic information on products and services or an e-commerce site to sell items directly to consumers?

2 - The designer is supposed to ask questions, in order to better understand what the client has in mind. But first in all, both the client and the designer must identify the site's audience. Who's the client's client? Age, gender, buying power, education level, ethnic, racial and cultural roots are basic characteristics to know. Only after identifying such characteristics both the client and the designer will agree upon the site's elements that will rule such as eye-catching look, contents, wording, types, images, colors, usability and interactivity. It's paramount that both parties also agree on what business-related keywords and keyphrases will be the best ones to use in order to attract Internet users searching for products and services on Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL and other search engines. A law office's site usually contains keywords and keyphrases like "criminal defense," "bankruptcy," "personal injury," "felony," and others. These are some words users type on search engines while seeking legal services. In web design, the proper use of keywords is part of a new business: SEO, search engine optimization. SEO has also evolved into SEM, search engine marketing.

3 - Once the designer knows what type of site he is about to design, he is ready to offer a quotation. At this point, he and the client have agreed on how many pages, images, animations, databases, electronic forms, and texts the site will contain. One more important point, will the client provide the designer with company's photos, logo and information? Or should the designer create the logo, write the information and take photos or buy stock images outside? For small businesses and professional offices the standard is that the client provides the designer with all these elements. If the client doesn't, the cost will be higher, sometimes much higher.

4 - The client should understand that web design is a service sometimes separated from domain name registration and hosting services. Domain name registration is the process of registering the site's name, Hosting is the service of renting a web space to post the site. Some designers offer the three services as part of just one package. Others simply assist the client in buying both registration and hosting services for a fee or at no additional charge. In the latter case, the client should pay directly to these other services, which is usually a very easy and unexpensive process if compared to web design.

5 - The project will take several days to complete, depending on its size and complexity. The designer will let the client know how many days it will take and when the job will be completed. If the client should provide the designer with the information, logo and images needed, the client should understand that the process will last longer if he/she doesn't provide those elements on time.

6 - After reaching a deal, a service agreement or a contract containing all the project's terms and conditions will be written. Then both parties should sign it. Most designers don't move a finger if the client doesn't make a down payment, usually 50% of the total cost. The other 50% must be paid after the project is completed.

Today, as of May 2010, the point is not whether a website is needed. The point is that customers expect companies to have one as in 1950 they expected companies to have a phone line.

(Hernandez Cuellar is Publisher of and Chief Designer at Contacto Graphic and Web Designs in Glendale, California)

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