Should You Build Your Own Design Website or Hire a Pro?
Just because you know design doesn't mean you should design your own Web site. Know the tradeoffs and benefits of each approach.
First things first: This article pre-supposes that you have a Website. If you don't, then please take what is presented here very seriously because you absolutely need to have one – especially as a designer. These days, if you don't have a Web presence, you very nearly don't exist.
As for the rest of us, our Websites may have been created by well-meaning family members, or by ourselves or we've hired professional site designers. I've looked at a lot of sites and I can say without hesitation that the family-member designed site is usually the worst and should be avoided. The only exception to this rule is if said family member is in fact a professional Website designer/developer and a contract has been drawn up describing the scope of the project, services, and fees if applicable. This is much the same advice as in my January 2012 article Design Advice for Friends: Do's and Don'ts for Pros. Treat it like a professional relationship and you are more likely to get professional results.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure this article is a "do as I recommend, not as I do" type of situation.
Since I started my design business in 2000 and I have always taken the DIY approach with my website. This is where we get to the "do as I say" moment. While I've been able to cobble together decent enough Websites through the years that have generated business, I know there are things I haven't done well because the technology is too advanced for me or I don't have the time to make adjustments. My first site was made using a template system offered by one of the bigger Web hosting services. The first design was certainly very generic and not beautiful, but surprisingly I actually got clients from it fairly quickly. I think this was because I spent the time to learn the value of keywords, meta tags and page names when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – which is a fancy way to say learning how to be found by search engines.
The downside is that I spent hours, days and weeks on end learning these things and reworking my website when I could have spent the time networking for new clients or refining project management systems.
Since I am a stubborn DIYer to the core, I do still work on my own Website, but there are small problems with it that I don’t now have the time to sort out and I expect that not too long from now, I will have to break down and hire a professional. As it always does, technology moves forward and we can spend our time learning to be a site designer, or spend it becoming better interior designers.
There are certainly programs out there that make Web design accessible. For instance, I use Apple's iWeb software which is very easy to use. But it's limited when it comes to SEO because it was designed for the home user - someone who wants to put their baby's photos online in a pleasing way or to create a small site for a local organization. It wasn't intended for use by a professional business.
Your professional site should do several things simultaneously:
- It must represent your work, personality and design aesthetic (aka brand) in a compelling manner to your target market.
- It must be easy to find, always available, load and navigate for persons of any age and computer skill level.
- It must be easy to update when you have new projects or products to showcase.
- It must be generate leads and be your silent sales person, guiding prospects to contact us for more information.
If your site isn't doing all of those things for you, then it's time to fire your designer – whoever it is. These are relatively straightforward requirements and not necessarily difficult to accomplish. However, if your skills can't match your vision – then hiring a professional is a must. We can all imagine a beautifully upholstered sofa with all the details perfectly executed to our design specifications. But most of us can't actually do that work ourselves up to the standards we would like to set for our work. A Website is no different.
Here are a few tips, whether you are a masochist like me or you are smart and hire a web design professional:
- KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. This is a classic computer tech phrase and it applies beautifully here. There is no need for bells and whistles on a designer Website so don't get wooed by fade-in/fade-out photos, music or Flash landing pages. These things only detract from the main message about your brand and can bog down the user's experience. This is doubly true when doing it yourself. Simple is best.
- Edit, edit, edit. It can be very difficult to edit your own work and the decisions about which projects to showcase or not can be gut wrenching. We love all our "babies" and may have legitimate reasons why any one should be kept. But, if you want your website to reach out to your target market, it should show projects that will directly appeal to that market.
- Be very specific about who your target is. Share this information with your site designer. A young, urban professional is very different from an older, established suburbanite and you need to speak to their wants and needs in a language that they both understand and respond to.
- Learn the basics – even if you farm it out. Obviously, if you design your own site, you need to develop a deep understanding of all of the above. But I would also encourage you to learn much of it anyway so that you are prepared to select the best designer for your project and manage them along the way.
- Visit and compare sites. Keep a list of the sites you particularly respond to and try to break down what you like and what you don't. We ask clients to pull images from magazines or Websites that they like – this is the same kind of process.
- Your site comes first. Your site designer should never use your site to showcase their own work and talent. This is about you and only you. If they are successful, it will speak volumes about their skills.
Linda Merrill is a residential interior decorator based in Massachusetts. Linda's design style can be described as "comfortable luxury" and she believes in working closely with clients throughout the entire design process. Her clients are mainly located between metro-Boston and Cape Cod and the Islands. Linda writes a nationally regarded design blog called ::Surroundings:: and is the host of the design podcast series The Skirted Roundtable.