Who Should Be Designing Corporate Websites?

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Have you ever found yourself working with a client-supplied design for an interface or a design from their print/marketing company? Most companies do not realize the value of a properly designed website and will not always make the right choice in selecting the website designer. The next time you find yourself in this situation, remind them of some of the points outlined below.

The web is still very new and not much has been established in proper web design standards. This leads to many inconsistencies in the visual appeal as well as the functionality of a website. These standards should not be so strict that they confine the design to a point where there is no room for creativity, but rather a professional standard that fits the medium. For example, you would not use letterhead drawn with a crayon unless it was appropriate to your “Crayon” related business. Just as you would not hire a plumber to fix your automobile, you should not hire a print shop to design your website. Experience in this field is still very young and finding a veteran designer is extremely rare.

The web medium is quite different and at the same time, very similar to other traditional mediums: they all help to promote an idea or concept; they all require a certain amount of creativity; and they all require staying within the boundaries of their chosen medium. Web design, for example, needs to consider certain boundaries such as the individual’s viewing restrictions (browser, connection speed, and computer capabilities), usability (navigation, content placement, content design), and design esthetics (interface design, color selection, animation). Let us review each of these boundaries in a little more depth.

Viewing Limitations

Individuals have the luxury of choosing their preferred way of viewing a website, whether it be dictated by their operating system or special requirements of their desktop applications, or because they just like certain features of a particular browser. Whatever the case is, the web designer cannot decide how the viewer will see the design so he must take these variables into consideration. If the design is impossible to correctly duplicate in code in a particular viewing environment, the design will be deemed inferior regardless of how well it may look in the environment in which it was developed. In print, the designer never has to worry about this because he is the one who decides the final delivery mechanism.

Usability Requirements

Connection speed is not only a Viewing Restriction but it is a Usability Restriction as well. If your viewer has a dialup connection, he may never see that great 500k video that you placed emphasis on. How effective would a brochure be if you only mailed a panel a week to your targeted audience? Navigation is another major factor in design success or failure. If the navigation system you build for your target audience is not concise, properly labeled and intuitively easy to use, the viewer may never see the whole site. Imagine an Annual Report that has no table of contents or section headers; how useful would your intended target audience find that?

Design Esthetics

Interface design is probably the only element that has some roots to the traditional design medium. Both types of media require a vehicle or template to deliver its message. The concept of templates is not a new one; it’s just not completely understood as it is applied to online media. I see many websites that break their own rules when it comes to consistency just to force an element into the fold that usually has no right in being there in the first place. Color on the other hand has little connection to traditional media design, well except for maybe television. Projected color is completely different than reflected color, a concept that is too extensive to explore here. You need to look at traditional color theory in a different way in order to apply it correctly to the online medium. Another aspect of design esthetics is the quality of work. Attention to details is (I can’t believe I am going to say this) “paramount” when it comes to the quality of graphical edges and compression techniques. If the image preparation of a great design is sub-par then that is how it will be perceived after being viewed online, sub-par and unprofessional. And finally, do not animate your logo unless it is part of the corporate identity. Flash Animation has it its place in web design and the sooner you learn that the better off your site will appear.

Web design is really a gray area, it comes down to designing smart and understanding the online mediumand lots of experience. So next time you think about having your printer or marketing company design your online appearance, make sure they can work in that medium and have the appropriate experience. They may design a beautiful look but will it work? Remember, perception is everything when making an impression and if your perception is unprofessional then it is easy enough for your targeted audience to move on to your competitor’s site.

Eric Davis is the Director of Web Development for InterActive Network Systems, Inc and a freelancer web designer. He has been involved in web design and development since the Internet became commercially available to the public in the early 90s. For more information, please visit http://www.insbusiness.com or http://www.autumngraphics.com.

Who Should Be Designing Corporate Websites?
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