|Once you've decided to move ahead with a website design project and have found a designer you're comfortable with, here are a few do's and don'ts to guide you through this initial stage of your redesign.|
The days and weeks subsequent to the hiring of a company to redesign your firm's current website (or develop your first one) are by far the most critical time period of the entire project. At the beginning of the project, communication lines are established between your firm and the designer, and important information is passed in both directions. At the beginning of the project, your firm will likely be responsible for providing the following:
In your contract, you've hopefully included several different renditions that will be presented during the creative phase. Two should be minimum, and three even better. But what happens if you begin working with the new designer and you find that their style, after being shown the mockups, are not to your liking? This is not something that happens often, but I've spoken with many potential clients who tell me that they're "stuck" with a bad designer because of the lack of an exit clause in the contract. While its best to work out with the designer, knowing in advance that if they do not perform you are not stuck with them would provide a certain amount of peace of mind moving forward - especially if you've never worked with that designer before.
While your firm is not likely in the website design business, it's still in your best interest to be as engaged as possible in the creative aspect of your website design from day one. Not only to avoid being stuck with a bad designer (we can assume that you've done due diligence and have found the designer to your liking), but often a designer will do a fabulous job, but their work is not suitable to your needs or line of business. We took over a project once for a financial company who had hired a website design company that had a terrific portfolio, but when their two mockups arrived, the only resemblance to a financial company was the firm's name itself. Luckily they were able to extract themselves from their contract and hire us; we found out later that both designs were templates from Template Monster! Proof that, indeed, you always seems to get what you pay for.
There are still hundreds of thousands of websites that insist on using flash for navigation, and often as their entire website. Why is this a horrible idea? First of all, many smart phones (IPhones especially) cannot see ANY flash, so not only can they not navigate (click on links) on your website if it's done in flash, they may not be able to see any of the site AT ALL!
Secondly, search engines like Google do not recognize any of the text or graphics within a flash animation. While Google has been very good at indexing pages that are not HTML-based such as DOC or PDF's, images, video, and audio, it still does not index ANY flash content. So your site and its navigation will be invisible to I-Phones and Google. Other than that, it's very cool.
Its often part of your designer's job to do a competitive analysis before beginning your project. If you didn't include that in your designer's contract, you should definitely do this yourself. Start either with a basic Google search, or try Yahoo's tried-and-true directory http://dir.yahoo.com. Look for aspects of the sites that you admire, and things that drive you nuts. You'll likely find both. Communicating what you find to your designer will allow them to do a better job at building something that, in the end, you'll like. Often it's good to get some of these things in writing to make absolutely sure the designer will follow your wishes. If the designer was in charge of doing this analysis, you're job will be to make sure they did a good and thorough job of it. Creative people are often loath to perform analysis tasks such as this, so if you're hiring them to do this function its up to you to make sure they do it right!
We've been involved in projects where the design fee is well over 10K, but the client still was not willing to spend $800 to 1000 on a professional photographer to obtain some original shots to utilize in the design. If you already own high-resolution photographs that your designer has said would be sufficient, then you're good to go. However, we've seen HUGE positive differences in the look and feel of websites when we've got some great-quality original photos at our disposal during the creative stage.
Most of the top web sites built today had 6-figure initial development budgets. While most of the websites we use and visit every day are designed at a fraction of that budget, your expectations should be realistic. But if you gave the designer everything they asked for, and followed these guidelines, and if you're still not happy with the outcome, take another look at the first paragraph to ensure that your communication started off on the right foot. If you feel you've done everything right and still didn't get the design you asked for, it might be time to cut your losses and hire another designer to do it right. The experience might seem like a waste of time, but hopefully you've learned something in the process, and the second time will be the charm.
Having an effective website designed for your business should not be like pulling teeth; while there are certainly a plethora of bad website designers, there are also quite a few good ones lurking out there as well!