The path to designing a web page is like a navigating a city highway. You get on the road with a very straightforward choice; you can go north and south or east and west. Your destination is clear, but within minutes you start coming across exits, interchanges where highways and interstate compete for traffic. Designing a website is exactly like that. You have a goal, you know what you want to achieve, but in choosing your path you are faced with decisions. Far more than you will be comfortable with.
One of the biggest decisions you will face is how to best deploy a website. The fact is that you have so many options in front of you that you can easily find yourself overwhelmed by the scope of the thing. Should you build on WordPress? What about these DIY page builders, like Squarespace and Wix? What exactly is S.E.O.? What am I going to do? ARRRRRRRGGGHHHHHHHHHH!
What separates a web professional from a web novice?
It has never been easier to build a website then it is right now. I suspect that this is not likely to change anytime soon. It is so easy to build a website right now, that behind many closed doors designers are asking each other “Where does this leave us?” For me, that feels like a silly line of thinking and it is one that separates the novice from the professional.
As I am writing this, the difficulty for putting pretty words and pictures on the web is getting lower and lower. Thinking about what this means for web professionals exposes the nuance between the novice who thinks the aesthetic is the purpose and the professional who knows that the purpose is the actual purpose. So while it is true that web design is getting easier, but that also means that competition is getting harder.
With so many voices on the internet, it is the web professional that makes them heard through demographic research, Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O.), and goal driven copy. Pretty pictures aren’t enough to stand out anymore, these days a website has to use carefully crafted words and any images used should serve a purpose that lends itself to the content. Pretty content does not mean anything if it does not create a value for the reader or convince search engines that it is worth seeing. I have yet to see a drag and drop editor that can do half of what a professional designer can do. Developers of services like Wix and Squarespace are making their products more developer friendly, because at the end of the day the only thing that matters on the web are the end-results. By tightening their product, developers of these services are better able to bridge a gap between the best arguments against their services…but there are some things you just can’t automate.
What does a professional web designer really do?
At this point you might be wondering how I see what I do. By now, it should be clear that I think of page content beyond color swatches, page structure, and aesthetically pleasing design. My answer to the question is this: I do everything that you cannot automate. I build meaningful and engaging content that serves to inform my reader and prompt some type of response. The response may be as simple as encouraging to you to subscribe to my educational content or as complex as convincing you to do business with me, but there is always a purpose and a goal I set out to achieve. It is not only important to have a goal, but you also need a means of measuring your success. That is the future of web design, embracing the research to produce a superior result for my clients. I also facilitate connections between my clients and other design professionals, such as photographers and graphic editors. We build imagery around the content, instead of building our content around images. We spend hours with the client to make sure we fully understand what is being sold and why our client’s products are the best….or at least what makes them different from other competitors. In the most basic of terms we think about results and encouraging responses.
How does a designer differentiate themselves from the competition?
I suspect that you can talk to 100 different designers and get 100 different methodologies for how a professional approaches a new project.
My work starts with a lengthy conversation. I sit with my client and I get a 50 foot view of the project. We discuss what it is the client does, what they hope to achieve with their website, and who it is that they cater their service to. Then I conduct research into the client’s targeted user, the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors, and what approach will yield us the best results. This gives me all the ammunition that I need to attack a Search Engine Optimization strategy (S.E.O.) and craft my content.
As a web professional, my sites are not just pretty words and pictures. Instead, they are carefully constructed words that convey purpose and deliver value and images that support the message. Executing a website may be getting easier and easier, but search engines are getting smarter and smarter. If you truly want to rule the internet, then your content has to be a king!
So what separates a web professional from a web novice? It is the understanding that a website is more than just words and images. What does a professional web designer really do? A professional designer thinks about a client’s users before they think about the client’s website. A pro will look at a client’s goals and craft every decision with those goals in mind. In other words, professionals don’t have to worry about their value in the future, because a professional has built a skillset that goes beyond anything that can ever be automated.
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