“You see, expecting great design is no longer the preserve of a picky design-obsessed urban elite… Instead, there’s a new, mass expectation of good design: that products and services will be better thought through, simplified, made more intuitive, elegant and more enjoyable to use.”
I’ve had this same discussion twice this week, making the point that good design should be everywhere in our highly-visual world but often is not. The graphic designer’s profession is all about communicating, simply and clearly, a given idea or message… hopefully with beauty and poetic imagery that enhances it and gives it power in the viewer’s mind. This is needed everywhere from a small business that wants a professional image, to a virtual classroom lesson plan that needs to engage, interest and inspire.
“Perhaps Apple’s global dominance has elevated our design expectations, or Ikea’s vision to bring great design at affordable prices to everyone on the planet has finally taken effect, or perhaps the Internet has taught us what well-designed user experiences and good design really are. Likely, it is a combination of all.”
“What is certain is that the design bar has been raised and design-oriented businesses are winning.
Think how swiftly and strongly a design experience shapes our opinion of that brand, company or store, for good or bad. For instance, we know quickly when a website is bad. And we associate that feeling of frustration, or worse, disappointment with that brand.
Design-oriented organizations invest in thinking this stuff through. They put design at the heart of their company to guide innovation and to continually improve products, service and marketing. They recognize that a great design leads to differentiation, customer loyalty and higher profits.”
“The impact on brand is that customers see these brands as both progressive and customer-centric. Thoughtful and innovative design makes us feel good. It is no surprise that we are happy to advocate them, talk about them in social media and can be fiercely brand loyal.”
A good designer can work with a client with no sense of design and give their company a professional appearance. If pressed to make an analogy that most small business people can understand, “You don’t have to know how to tailor a nice suit, or know why it looks good on you, to know that you need one and that it enhances your professional image.” Just like you wouldn’t try to impress a client by wearing a suit made by your 14 year-old nephew, you shouldn’t have him build your website for the same reasons, no matter how much he likes Comic Sans.
If you’ve never gone through it before, the process of having a website can seem daunting and needlessly complicated. On top of that, some companies spend lots of money on marketing without really giving out information that would help the customer, dangling pretty race car drivers in front of you, while offering a low level of services for a high price and keeping you in the dark about how it all works. Here is what you need to know to have a professional website:
But first, a word of warning. Never ever enter into a relationship with an internet agency or service who promises an “all-in-one” solution. Yes, they will take care of it but they will own your domain name, they will control your hosting account, they ultimately will own your web traffic. If that relationship ever goes sour, or that company goes out of business you risk losing everything. Make sure your domain ownership especially is under your name, this is an asset of your business that you don’t want to risk.
Pick a domain name. Brainstorm… but all the good words really are already taken! I go to www.fatcow.com and test some names to see if they are available. If you’re seeking a unique word, there are lots of brand name generators on the web, sometimes these deliver silly results but can help get your brain in gear.
You must purchase your domain name, once you find one that’s available. Here you should know that there’s a difference between owning a domain name, and having a hosted website. As an example, you may want to own 40 domain names related to your business, covering all the variations and keywords. You have to purchase all 40 domains, but you probably only need one website. One of your domains will have a hosting account associated with it, 39 of your domains will be “pointed” to that one url that hosts your website. All hits to all 40 of your urls will funnel to the one website.
The good news is that most domain registration sellers will also sell you hosting, sometimes in a nice price package. Do the research, compare what the companies offer… you want to have a relationship with them for a long time. Yes, you can transfer registrations and move websites, but this is fraught with down-time and potential loss of web rankings and web presence.
If you like dedicated personal service, you may want a local re-seller at a slightly higher rate. Often these folks live in your community and have a wealth of knowledge and experience in technical areas and programming that can come in handy. Very rarely are they professional designers, however.
At this point you have a domain name, and hosting space reserved. Your url is active, but when you go there it says “Under construction, please check back later.” This construction analogy is helpful: You’ve bought the land (domain name), you have an address (url), you have a builder’s permit (hosting account), but there’s no house (website).
Building the website: often your hosting control panel will offer SiteBuilder services, or you saw an ad for a do-it-yourself solution. As a professional designer, I encourage you to try those things! Go for it! You’ll either be happy with your result and won’t need me, or you’ll realize why you want to hire me to do it right. Back to the analogy: you can build your house yourself, but should you? Is that the best use of your time? Is the learning curve worth it to you? Have you built a house before?
So you’ve poked around with SiteBuilder and at first you’re proud, but in six months you’re humbled and embarrassed by your home-brewed website. Someone tells you his nephew is a computer geek and will build you a site. You pay this kid $80 and you get a flaming logo and your site launches to the sound of a dragster racing down the strip. Having the skills to make cool things is not the point.
Let me be very clear: the internet is for everyone and all levels of use and communication. The internet should be fun. But, if you take your business seriously, you’ll want your website built buy a professional designer, not someone’s nephew, not by the programmer your sister knows. Using our analogy once again: you’d want your house professionally designed by an architect and not by the electrician. Yes, I’m sure the electrician has seen a lot of houses, and has some interesting ideas, but your professional electrician will give you amateur design.
- purchase domain name
- add hosting services
- hire a professional designer
We lived in Ohio when I was little, so I can remember trips to South Fork, PA, and return visits from my father’s parents. I remember clearly sitting with Grandpa with a “How to draw Disney characters” book that he brought me, drawing the ovals that make up Donald Duck. He also sat me down without the book, and taught me to draw trees with the side of a pencil and how to shade the sides of houses with smoke coming out of the chimney. He showed me that drawing had no edges, that it was only light and shadow, despite Donald’s ovals. Ray was an educator, artist, sign painter/letterer and collector. He was very much like a 19th century gentleman… well read, opinionated, loud, firm, with a wide open fearlessly inquisitive mind and varied interests.
On visits to PA I’d hide among his books and read all kinds of diverse and esoteric things… geology, exploration, various religions. Every year he renewed my subscription to National Geographic Magazine. He and Grandma and Uncle Gene lived in an apartment attached to what was once a gas station and general store, and he put the store area and shelves to good use. Near his library area he had old store cabinets and shelves, filled with things he’d collected or students had given him over the years. Fossils, arrowheads, meteors, skulls, a tarantula… it was a Cabinet of Curiosities and he must have fancied himself somewhat as a Victorian gentleman scientist. He had all the Speedball pen nibs and was a lifelong letterer. His art ranged from oil paintings of primitive rural scenes to very large pencil and chalk pinup girl pictures, in the style of Varga, to small Dali-inspired graphic watercolors with swirls and eyes. I heard him say he wouldn’t mind being stung by a scorpion, just to see what it was like.
After we moved to Florida I remember Grandpa and Grandma visiting us in 1969, and Grandpa sitting in a shady living room and reciting to me from memory the Robert W. Service poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” During that visit he remarked on the moss hanging from the trees, since he had never been south. I turned him on to my breakfast of choice which was hot oatmeal with chocolate syrup and rode with him in the back of my dad’s pick-up truck and followed him around relentlessly.
In August 1972 I was 15, and we had a family reunion of sorts, a lot of us going to South Fork at the same time. The “War and Peace” mini-series was playing on TV and Ray made sure we watched it every night. At this time Ray was in seemingly great health, eyes bad enough that he couldn’t read but was working his way through all the Zane Grey books which were available from the library on phonograph record. The house was full, so I ended up on a cot in the store near the curiosity cabinets and his books. I went to sleep that night watching him sit in his chair “reading” Zane Grey through the headphones. He passed quietly in the night, as I awoke in the morning to the sounds of Grandma trying to wake him up. After the funeral, Grandma had one of my uncles help me pick out some of his art supplies, pen nibs, paper since I was the artsy one amongst the grandchildren. I still have it all as well as some arrowheads and fossils. As my life has progressed, I’ve been an artist… drawing and painting, a graphic designer with lettering and images, and a collector of fossils, artifacts and curiosities. I never knew Ray in my adult life, but I wish I had, and consciously or not, he’s always been my role model.