If you want a new website, the first call is normally to a web designer. Why? Do you actually need a web designer or is there a different approach that might be more effective? There are 3 distinct elements required if you want a new website:
- A design/layout
- Coding of the site pages/content/functionality
- Ongoing updates and development as the site works in your business
Note: I am quietly ignoring the importance of also having a solid and well thought out business growth and marketing communications plan as a framework for building your site!
Many businesses tend to lump the first 2 elements together; while 3 is left as an afterthought until the site is published – read more about this here My focus in this is to explore 1 and 2.
Web Design and Web Coding are distinct skills
Even though design and coding are seen as 2 parts of a single thing, there are, in fact, few designers who are good coders and vice versa. In practice, many so-called web designers are really coders who do a bit of design on the side. Alternatively, a web designer may be a graphic designer who has contact with one or more coders who can turn their design layout into a website. The bottom line is that to build a website you need to understand HTML, PHP, ASP or one of the other web development languages. OK, there are ‘Drag & Drop‘ systems out there which purport to allow you to build a website with no coding and if you are on a really tight budget and want to DIY, some of these are actually quite good but I would be concerned if your web developer only worked with these tools! Interestingly, although you regularly get coders who do some design, you rarely come across professional graphic designers who also code. Maybe this tells us something…
Coding is at the heart of website development
Do I need a designer?
We are half way to answering the question I posed. Professional coders and professional designers are (normally) different people with different skills and you need a coder if you want a website. So do you need a designer as well? No definite answer here: It depends! Using a graphic designer to create a bespoke layout for your new website can have a significant cost adding £100s, if not £1000s to the overall project cost. If having a bespoke layout will really benefit your business then maybe the additional cost is well worth it. Thls is more likely to be true for businesses where brand and style are particularly important – more common in the B2C arena where brand can be a critical differentiator. If your offer is Business to Business, it is likely that your customers are more bothered about performance than looks. This is not to say that a professional-looking site isn’t important – it is! – but do you need a designer to create this?
Template is not a dirty word!
Until fairly recently using a website template was anathema. Over the past few years we have seen the growth of websites offering a huge range of professionally designed, high quality website templates which you can have for a few pounds. On several occasions we have pointed skeptical clients at template libraries and they have been positively surprised at what is on offer. If you buy a template, you normally get all the images that are shown but it is possible that although the layout looks great, you will need different images to properly reflect your business. These days, imagery in a website is often critical but if you don’t have your own graphics and photos, again you can call on stock image libraries – though often image fees can be higher than the cost of the template! Here’s a thought: Maybe engaging a professional photographer to produce your own, high quality, relevant images to be used in a template website may be a better investment than spending money on a bespoke graphic design (which still needs images!) I know of ‘web designers’ who regularly use templates and stock images do deliver websites to clients. Do any of them claim the design is their own work? I couldn’t possibly comment… Maybe you don’t even need to buy a template? If the layout and images in a template fit with your needs then buying the template is normally the way to go but if you are planning to use the layout but replace all the images then do you need to buy the template at all? A good coder should be able to create a site from scratch, using the look of a template as a design – though bear in mind there may be IP issues in taking this approach so I couldn’t advocate it.
So, do I need a web designer?
There is no question that you need a web coder, and a good coder is invaluable in delivering a functional site that works for your site visitors and is easy to maintain and develop – important if you are to get best value from your site over time. If your business is brand/image-centred then a bespoke design may well be a worthwhile investment but for the rest of us, there are alternatives.