Selecting a website designer and working with him or her to develop a distinctive online presence for your business is an experience that's very similar to a homeowner choosing an interior designer. Not all web designers are equally skilled, and even when you find someone with the necessary technical know-how, it's still important to ensure that you speak a similar design language. Once you've found a good fit, there are some common pitfalls that can be avoided by careful planning at the outset.
For the basic dos and don'ts of web design, we spoke with Elena Frampton, co-founder of , an interior design firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles that recently overhauled its website. We also caught up with Alex Lin of , a graphic and web design firm that has created websites for high-profile designers and companies such as and .
Do come to the table with inspiration. "Be specific and clear about your goals and share examples of other websites—not necessarily design-related ones—for examples of functionality," says Frampton. "Look for great homepage features and clear navigation."
Do work out a budget that everyone agrees on. "The web design team we initially hired presented us with a fixed rate estimate based on our budget," says Frampton. However, "additional service fees piled up quickly. It reminded us of the contractor who presents a good bid but is then too liberal with change orders."
Do consider what your website will look like on different devices. "Our decisions throughout the web design process were considered for each platform," says Frampton. Make sure your team understands you want your site to look great on computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Do make things easy to find. "I often come across glitzy sites where you see that the firm has been published, but you can't zoom in on articles to actually read the stories," says Frampton. "While people do preview sites quickly, prospective clients and viewers who matter to your bottom line tend to do their homework and want access to real information." The same goes for information. While a "Contact Us" form may look fancy, people are more likely to click on an email address. This information should be easy to find, and easy to follow.
Don't let style get in the way of substance. "Avoid overly complicated designs and illogical navigation," says Lin. "It will only frustrate website visitors." If you have your heart set on an involved introduction, complete with music and animation, at least include a "skip intro" button. Remember: People want to see your work, not a show.
Don't think that once the site is built, you're done. You'll need a plan for updating your website after launch. "Ask who maintains the websites that the web designers have created," says Lin. "You want to find a web designer and programming team that understands the importance of a good content management system, so that what they create can be easily managed by you. The content management system should be something that you can easily use to update, edit, and upload content."
Don't underestimate how useful your website can be. "Websites can be more than just an opportunity for displaying work," says Lin. "They can be used as archiving or presentation tools." Try labeling your categories clearly and you'll create a virtual filing system you and your staff can refer back to. You can also store high-res images for press, and start a blog to increase engagement.