Look at that introduction title. Confused? That's web design jargon. Thankfully, as a freelance web designer I am well aware of the 'computer speak' I blurt out on a regular basis, and do my best to keep a lid on it. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain to a client the inherent limitations of web design, and the time scales required to complete projects to the necessary standards.
I have compiled this article for anyone who is thinking about engaging the services of a web designer in the near future, to design a site for them. There are many issues that have arisen between my clients and myself over the past few years, and hopefully these experiences can be passed on to you now in a useful way.
First of all, before you even ring that web design firm with your site proposal, ask yourself: "Is my product/service suitable for the Internet"? Can it be transported overseas, for example, or if you provide a service, are you prepared to travel abroad to supply that service? Never forget that the Internet is truly international, and that people from all over the world will be looking at your site. Unless you tell them what country you are from, they will never know. Don't assume the majority of visitors to your site will be from the country in which your company operates.
Another issue that arises from the international audience for your site is that of language, have you ever considered having your site translated? This is an added cost of course but may open up a far larger market place for you product. Translation again depends upon the nature of your business, and the decision rests with you.
All successful companies thrive on understanding the ever-changing wants of their potential customers. The Internet is no different, you must figure out what approach will most appeal to them, on a stylistic and content basis. Your web designer will design the look and style of your site, but will largely operate to your preferences. The key is to develop a style for your site that has the most similarities with everything else that relates to your company image, to give coherency to your overall image, from your site to your business cards (which would contain your site address, naturally!).
Content for your site must be provided by you, the client. Obviously you would not expect your web designer to produce content (text, logos etc.) on a subject he/she may know nothing about! Furthermore, web design firms will charge extra money for having to work on content like typing text or editing photographs. They are entitled to do so, as this is a laborious and time-consuming process.
If I had a cent for every client that stated "I want a site with video and music and...". There are inherent limitations to the Internet, most of which revolve around download speed. The average Internet user still only uses a 56K dial-up modem, which is pretty slow. It is quite possible to pack your site full of animation, video and music files, but to somebody with a 56K modem it would take an eternity for your site to download! In such a situation, the frustrated visitor would hit the back button and never come back to your site again.
Ask your web designer about what he/she is doing to ensure speedy download times for your visitors, and ask them to optimize (make smaller) all of the photos and graphics on your site. In general a visitor will not want to wait any more than 30secs for a page to download.
Just like crazy demands for multimedia monsters, clients also have a habit of imposing unrealistic deadlines. "I want a fifty page web site done by next Tuesday!" they cry down the telephone line. Web design is a long and VERY time consuming process, from concept sketches to completed live sites.
I am not looking for sympathy here, I just wish to point out the workload involved in web projects. In general for a small to medium sized site (and depending on the size of the team working on it), tend to take two or three months to complete. For larger sites, this may extend up to six to nine months.
As I mentioned above, you will have to pay an additional charge for web space for your site. This fee goes to an ISP (Internet Service Provider), not your web designer, and needs to be renewed annually. The price of having your site hosted for a year varies greatly from ISP to ISP, and you may need to shop around to get the best deal. It is also important to find out whether your ISP charges an extra fee for your site receiving a large amount of visitors, many do and you will have to ask about their rates for this.
Marketing and promotion of your site is a completely separate issue from the design of the site, and once your web design firm has completed your site, they are under no obligation to do anything after it is launched in regards to promoting the site. It is very important for you to formulate some sort of plan for marketing, after all there is no point in spending a small fortune on a new site if nobody visits it!
Ask your web design firm if they offer a marketing and promotion package, and if they do sit down with them to decide how you will coordinate you're online and 'real-world' approach. This is a detailed area that I have discussed further in another article found on this site.
The most important factors in deciding to commission a web site are clarity of vision and decisiveness. You must be clear and focused about what you want from your designer, and you must be decisive enough to make decisions regarding your site and to stick by them. The more you change your mind and want something changed, the longer your site will take to be finished, and ultimately you will by charged a bigger fee. Listen to your designer who has more experience in the field, but don't be afraid to ask awkward questions and request information on your site's progress.
Updated 2020 : note that the above post is out-of-date, given this post was originally published in 2001, but is left here for archival purposes.