Web Design Firms – What They Do

Web Design Firms – What They Do

1989 – Birth of the World Wide Web: “By the end of 1990, the first web page was served on the open internet, and in 1991, people outside of CERN were invited to join this new web community. In the beginning was text. It was a dry monochrome landscape of words, message bulletin boards and email. (Here’s the earliest web.) That would soon change.

Enter Web Design.

While computing and information technology has existed in recognizable forms for many decades, Web Design as a field has only existed since the mid to late 90s.

It wasn’t until a few years after creation of the Mosaic Internet browser in 1993, during the early days of the commercial Internet, that design became a factor in websites. In 1996, Microsoft’s introduction of its own browser would spark a “Browser War”, primarily with Netscape — founded by the creators of Mosaic — and further accelerate the Internet’s growth as a visual space.

The browser software of the late 90s would introduce technologies adapted by creative professionals. These tools included Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, and HTML.* These tools led to a visually robust Internet built by creatives, engineers and marketers.

Businesses ventured on the Internet to experiment with the equivalent of billboards and suggestion boxes and the Internet began to evolve into a rich visual environment. Today it’s a standard business practice for businesses to have a website — even if they’re small.

A “State of Small Business” survey of a 1100+ U.S. businesses (from Waspcode Barcode Technologies) reported that Websites are one of the Top 10 Marketing Tools for small business, and that over 50% of small businesses outsource their website design.

These days there are off-the-shelf, little to “no code” website building solutions but one size does NOT fit all. The tempting and “easy” solution to go off-the-shelf can become a long-term waste of limited resources of time, money and staff. No two businesses are alike and neither are the best design solutions — the best design professionals know this.

(Image credit: Programmer OJ Reeves at a streamed hacker competition.)

Two main types of professionals emerged in the past 20 years to provide Web Design Services:

Web Designers and Developers. They are the artists and builders who create websites.

Web Designers
create visual solutions — website and graphic design and decide how a site will look.

Web Developers are programmers who write and work with code to build a site that will work.

Website Design work includes layout, coloring, images and typography. Website Development work covers the “front-end” for the “client side” (the user side), “back-end” for the “server side” (the infrastructure hosting the site) as well as collaborative work with specialists.

Both functions may be provided by the same provider — a generalist. Depending on the client, the provider may recruit the following web design specialists in the web design process, especially for larger or more complex web design projects, including**:

Digital Marketers: viewers targeted via marketing and promotions

Graphic Designers: images including icons, logos, headers, banners and buttons

SEO Specialists: site visibility & ranking with keyword, link-building and outreach

Copywriters: content written for targeted viewers and share a business brand & story
User Experience (UX) Designers: user-focused visual design, influenced by information architecture, testing, interaction and monitoring

Now that we know a little bit about web design firms, the big question is what can clients expect? There is no mind-reading in any business situation. The first steps include conversations, questions — with design firms doing more listening than talking at first.

Clients, after searching online or going through their network will reach out to web design services firms for help. The first meeting will be focused on finding out what is on the client’s “mind” —  i.e. the client’s owners and team — and what they think they want or need.

The WEB DESIGN PROCESS is based on a focus on clients’ needs – some questions:

What are your goals and expectations, and what is your time-frame and budget?
Here, the client has to be honest with themselves about expectations and what kind of time and money they can invest in building, updating or maintaining a site. And design firms have to understand and be able to truly give what the client needs and not just what creates the highest fees. Some are paid by the hour and some quote fixed rates.

What is your business culture and work-style? Personalities & work styles matter. Clients might like the past work or portfolio of a firm, or the firm might be attracted by the opportunity to work for a unique or special kind of client but a good fit is important.

Does your site some basic fixes or do you need an entirely new website? The simpler the need, the simpler the solution. Some sites just need some extra polish for one page, some code or a plug-in fixed, while others need a deep build for an entirely new site. Each situation is different and will require tailored web design solutions.

Beware templated “boilerplate” applications or proposals from web design firms. There are no perfect fits in business or life but there has to be some effort and overlapping fit to make it work. The best firms are oddly enough the ones who are able to say no to client engagements — when they say “Yes”, you will know they mean it.

**Remember those web design specialists mentioned earlier? After your first meeting with a web design firm, you will dive deeper into specific web design details. Even if you just hire a solo consultant who knows everything you will still discuss issues including:

Marketing: Google Analytics, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to increase discoverability and ranking, and content and email marketing.

User Experience: Responsive web design is an important principle. Are the site’s pages loading quickly enough? Is the site designed for attention, engagement, retention, and conversion (i.e. does it attract users who register, come back, and become customers)?

Page Design, Typography and Graphics (incl. motion): A site’s “look” is a part of its story.

Code: Is it mobile friendly? Can it support analytics? Security? Programmers make it so.

Content (Static & Dynamic) & What content management system (CMS) will help?

That was not a comprehensive list for each client but web design firms can help with answers.

*Tools which Web Design Firms use typically include:

HyperText Markup Language (HTML, HTML 5)
was introduced at the birth of the Internet by Tim Berners Lee, the “father” of the “World Wide Web”. HTML was based on technology originally intended for tabular data display but adapted by creatives and developers to create complex layouts. The “M” in HTML stands for markup language, which refers to “markup tags” (keywords surrounded by brackets that create a specific output, visible through a browser window. Many types of different markup tags exist to produce different outcomes).

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS, CSS3) were new and obscure at its introduction but are now an integral part of design. The “Style” in CSS means that webpages’ HTML code can be styled quickly so that developer to change all of the same HTML on a page simultaneously without having to make changes with one by one — saves time, lowers costs of tests and changes.

JavaScript is a programming language that makes websites more interactive and dynamic —  and jQuery is a library of simpler and shorter code that helps streamline the process with standardized interactions between JavaScript and HTML, enabling faster building and responsiveness across different browsers — keeping with proper responsive website design.

PHP, short for “Preprocessor Hypertext”, is a programming language whose work occurs on the “server-side”, as opposed to within the browser — the “processing” of PHP happens before pages are sent to browsers for display.

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator (or other similar image editing software) to create images.

Shared below is a flowchart (from bigducknyc) of conversations you will have about your current or future website. Design firms want to help clients get enough “YES” answers for their site.

Here is another graphic from a UX planning point-of-view (via UXKits) that you will see about the user flow, wire-framing and layout of website’s pages. This is a reminder that websites, if it’s more than a single page, are planned based upon a unique vision created by a web design firm.

Now that you know a little bit about Web Design firms and what they do. This is where you, the client, come in. You have “homework” to do as your first step for a new or renewed website.

Before clients even contact any web design services provider, they need to think about their business, make notes and review their goals for in connection with their sales and marketing.
Web Design firms who are the best fit want to know what is on the minds of clients.

Clients: Take your time to make notes – and then call or email. Let’s make a great site. If you’re looking for a website design firm in California, give us a call for a free consultation, we will make it worth your while.

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