Friday, March 9, 2007

Web Design That Works

As the manager of a web design studio that handles three new projects every week and has to deal with 30 queries a day I can tell you first hand that web design…huh-huh, it’s like brain surgery. You can go at it with a good quality hacksaw and a pair of later gloves but we wouldn’t really advise you to do it.

It’s a good analogy, except it’s totally untrue. Web design, as the proliferation of people who call themselves web designers attests to, is neither like brain surgery nor rocket science. At its most basic it’s like building something using Lego blocks. A child can do it.

Ok. I know, this is where I pause for the stunned silence. You will ask me (and quite rightly so) if it’s that easy to design a website why does it cost so much? Why do major companies spend $40,000 on web design and why should you come to us?

Well, this is where I use analogies thick and fast. I said web design is like building with Lego bricks and I meant it. For about $100 you can pick up a template-driven WYSIWYG web design programme that will let you put a credible web site together without needing to know an ounce of coding, programming or anything else.

This the Lego principle at work which has made engineers and master builders out of kids for well over 50 years. If all you want is a personal site or a hobby site well this will do the job and wasting any more than $100 will be…a waste.

But just like Lego allows kids to play at putting buildings together so do the ready-made, engine-hidden-under-the-hood web site software programmes only play at building robust websites.

If your career or your earnings or your reputation depend on the website you need then a $100 web site building piece of software ain’t gonna do it for you. And here’s why:

1. Because beyond the basic programming a robust website also has to have:
1. Good design principles
2. Easy navigability
3. Built-in search-engine friendliness as standard
4. Kick-ass content
5. Text, pictures, graphics and meta tags optimized
6. Code streamlined for easy indexing

1. Because in order to have your website stand out from the four billion websites on the net it needs to have the kind of attention to detail that only a real studio that has separated the artistic, aesthetic design look from the coding can bring to bear.
2. Because if you’re thinking of integrating a database and some e-Commerce capability you need to have the kind of coding that will not be hacked the next day by the six year olds surfing the net from their infant school PC.
3. If you’re serious about your site you need a design that has at least a year’s lifespan (which in net time equals seven years) before it needs updating and re-freshing.
4. Because sites sometimes go wrong for no reason. Maybe your e-Commerce provider beefed-up the security measures of their servers, or maybe your hosting provider upgraded their servers, or even the gentle east wind blowing out of Madagascar suddenly turned southerly. The truth is websites do go wrong, they do go down and they need fixing fast!

The difference between a website you built using your spare time, your own experience and a $100 programme and a website built by a studio is akin to an all-weather tent and a house.

Pretty much anybody can put up an all-weather tent these days, but a house still needs an architect and a professional construction firm to make it happen.

Having said all this if I then went ahead and said that for your website you’d need to start thinking around five-six figure sums I’d be lying again. Web design studios bring the expertise of innovative, original design, robust programming and content optimization under one roof. They’re specialists, and like any specialist you’d expect to see cost optimizations take place.

So, a decent website with original design and good coding should start at around the $500 - $600 mark. From then on the figure starts to increase on the sheer man-hours needed to do the programming. Ask for something that’ll be database driven, easy to update via a back end, secure suite, with full database integration, e-Commerce capability and a few extra customizable applications and you begin to enter the $10K - $20K simply because you’re looking at a team of programmers who will write about 50,000 lines of code, test them and find that one line doesn’t work. They’ll then spend 48 hours straight testing each line until they find the right one and fix it!

So, now, knowing where the money goes you can decide how to spend it. That way at least you will feel in total control of your website design project and if you want web design that works will be able to decide exactly how much to spend. The web design world may be digital, but just like in the real world you get exactly what you pay for.

David Amerland is the manager of Web Design That Works, a web design studio specialising in high-quality, low cost websites ( He is the CEO of Amerland Enterprises Ltd., a print and digital content providing company whose activities stretch from magazine publishing to high-end commercial websites for corporate clients.