How To Choose A Web Designer

A little while back I had a bit of a discussion about a certain profession that I will not mention here in case someone from the industry in question takes it the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, every major profession is there for a reason and adds a tremendous amount of value to society. The fact of the matter is that every industry and profession has good aspects and bad. When you think of a doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant, etc, you tend to have a personal frame of reference, as well as a more widely held stereotype. There are usually some aspects of that profession that irritate you, or that you think could do with some improvement. Perhaps you don’t make use of certain professional services because of these perceptions, whether or not they are commonly held or based on fact.

That got me thinking about my own industry, and what it is about the internet consulting and web design and development industry that drives people nuts, and that if things were different, people would utilize these services more often. What would people change about the industry if they had a magic wand? What would you do differently if you were, for example, a web developer, to differentiate yourself?

These are some of the things I have been told hold people back when discussing this topic with some small businesses:

– Web design and development is too expensive for the average small business

– Apprehension over how qualified an internet professional really is

– There is too much jargon in the industry, which makes it confusing to assess as a non-technical business person

– There is a shortage of internet programming skills relative to visual design skills in the industry

Personally, my big wish is that a certain level of qualification (a degree combining computer science, design and business) was a requirement to practice, the same way that older professions are required to, like accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc. The low barrier to entry makes it difficult for businesses to distinguish experts from hobbyists. Imagine having to choose your doctor based on what he tells you he knows how to do for you!

So, how then does one assess a potential internet partner, who can and should be a long-time partner in the online success of your business? Here are some things to look at carefully when choosing a web designer, web developer, internet business consultant, or related service provider, from my experience:

Technical and business qualifications and experience. Is the business comprised of an inexperienced person with a web design hobby, or has the business got people with tertiary level business, programming and design skills in-house? Make sure they have real-world business experience in developing e-commerce solutions, and look into how far back that goes.

What online business applications has the business developed previously, and how does this match your requirements? Some web design businesses will give you a very nice looking static brochure site, while others will be able to offer advanced functionality, such as a database and content management capabilities, e-commerce functionality, internet business consulting services, site promotion, site management, hosting, domain registration, design, application development, site optimization, newsletter systems, form processing capabilities, logging of user activity, online surveys and polls, user registration and authentication, advertising management, content syndication, and the like. Check how many of these are optional extras an how many are included in the price you are quoted up front. You should always get a detailed proposal up front, and compare apples for apples rather than being too subjective initially. My business, for example, differentiates by bundling over 250 enterprise-level applications into our small business package, at a lower price than most web designers will charge just for the design and some basic functionality.

Long term cost/benefit. What is it going to cost you the next time you need to make a modification? I’ve never yet come across a successful website that was designed and left as it was created on day one. Your site needs to change with your business, so make sure you know how you will be billed for those changes, and what the time frame for them will be. Every site also has hosting, bandwidth and maintenance costs that most people don’t think of when first creating a site. Look into what these will be, and what you get for them, so that you can budget for them when starting your project. Also keep in mind that a cheap solution with one or two features will probably not serve you as well as a slightly more expensive one with extensive built-in capabilities.

Personal style and preference. Different businesses will bring different styles and methodologies to the party. Make sure that the one you go with suits your personal preferences. If your internet specialist loves graphic-intensive Flash-based sites, they will probably develop your informative content-based solution, just not as well as someone who specializes in your preferred style.

Online promotion. Make sure that the business you choose is good at promoting their own online presence. Google, Yahoo, and MSN are the three most popular search engines, so make use of them when choosing a provider. If you are looking for a web developer in your local area, search for the terms you find most important and include the name of your area. For example, I optimize my services for the Joondalup area of Perth, Western Australia, so a search for “web design Joondalup” or “web development Joondalup”, or many other internet-based services, brings me to the top when people are searching for local service providers. An internet business that is no good at promoting itself online will be worse at helping you get yours up to full potential.

Satisfaction guarantees. No website can make a flawed business model work, but an online expert should be able to help you make it everything it can be over time, much the same way a personal trainer can’t make you fit overnight, but they can help you become a top athlete with focused ongoing attention. Find out what guarantees, if any, are provided. This is a real differentiator, because, understandably, many web design businesses won’t do this. Those that do are at least serious and confident in their abilities to ensure that their clients are happy and successful.

Management of expectations. Any internet business that claims excessive short term success rates is probably overselling themselves. Make sure that they (and you) are realistic about the time frames in which your online presence will start producing results.

Consulting skills. Make sure that you are dealing with an internet consultancy, not just a web design house. Experienced internet consultants have the business experience to help you make your business successful online in ways a web designer will probably not.

Find successful web sites online. Many will have the site developer’s details in the footer, or in a credits section of the site.

The Zend Developer Pulse Survey – Expected Trends In The Technology In 2012

Zend recently conducted a survey of various developers from all over the world to evaluate what they are thinking ahead for the New Year and how this may affect different technologies. The survey includes views of 3335 developers from different countries and provides an insight into the expected career trends and technologies that are likely to get a lot more attention than others. Zend, the company that created PHP, believes that the general mood swing of developers will help in determining the technologies and tools that will be used in this year for fulfilling the never ending demand for apps and software solutions required by organizations and businesses.

The competition for businesses has moved from local to global competitors and the World Wide Web provides a perfect platform where the current war for market leadership is being fought. This requires businesses to effectively connect and engage with their customers, suppliers, employees and other business related personals at any time. The current business competition is being carried out over internet through web tools, cloud technology, mobile apps & platforms and social media. Let us see what the developers think about the coming trends in the technology and their career inclination.

An insight into the survey and its findings:

1.) It seems like mobile application development is going to be the key focus of developers in 2012. Around 66 percent of developers said that they will be targeting mobile apps development projects in the New Year.

2.) 40-50 percent of developers assured that they will be working on projects based on cloud, social media integration, API production and big data/analytics in 2012.

3.) Over 75 percent of developers said they would opt for next-generation User interface development as a possible career ahead.

4.) Out of all the developers surveyed, 67 percent are looking to enhance their mobile application development skills on different platform. Whereas, 46 percent said that they will be enhancing their cloud application development skills.

5.) Seems like cloud technology is going to get a lot of boost from the web and application development industry as 60 percent of developers are determined to use public cloud in their projects. Year 2012 is going to experience some extra clouds this year.

6.) The survey shows that developers will be focusing on dynamic open source languages and using multiple languages for their projects.

7.) PHP, Java, JavaScript and C were the forerunners in the most favorable and likely to be used programming languages section in the survey. Other languages were left far behind them.

8.) Seems like PHP is still the most favorable programming language with more than 67 percent of developers admitting that they spend more than half of their time working on PHP and use it as their core language. However, 33 percent of enterprise developers said that they used both PHP and Java in their projects.

9.) The demand for skilled PHP developers is expected to increase in 2012 as compared to that of last year and more than half of the developers agree with that.

The survey clearly indicates that 2012 will see an increased demand for cloud, mobile and social apps development. Web development companies are going to invest more heavily in PHP development and will definitely enhance their PHP development skills. However, it seems that mobile application development will be the most happening and in-demand technology in 2012.

Why Is It Important For A Web Designer To Know How To Code?

Contrary to the popular belief that web designers should not worry about web development, geeky programming codes can actually help the creative bunch to a great extent. Almost every web designer has a basic knowledge about HTML and CSS. However, they often feel that a detailed knowledge about coding will make them abandon their Mac Pros, afternoon coffees and Photoshop brushes.

I do not feel that a designer’s creativity can get hampered if he becomes a code jockey. In fact, there are chances that his designing skills will get better and sharper. Are you wondering how this is possible? Here are some reasons why it is important for a web designer to know how to code:

#1. Better Design

Web designers have a great knowledge when it comes to color theory and typography. However, he should always look for ways to expand his skill-set. He must make sure he becomes unparalleled with his vision and talent. Just as a painter needs to learn about bristle qualities, paint compositions and canvas types to become a complete artist, a web designer will find it easy to execute his ideas if he knows the intricate details of the development process.

#2. Better Communication

It is natural for a web designer to find the techno-jargon of the developers totally alien to his ears. And it is obvious that he will find it hard to understand when exposed to a discussion among developers. However, efforts to know coding and working with codes will make him familiar with the terms, and as a result, “meaningful” conversions with developers will help him design more efficiently.

#3. Better Expression

The official website of WordPress has a message at the bottom: “Code is Poetry“. What is the meaning of this message? It means that the power to transform a code into something visual is the highest form of art. If a web designer can write his own codes, it will help him express in a better way. He will have the power to enhance his designs by creating pathways and developing wire-frames all by himself. The more he will know about the medium he works in, the better he will work in that medium.

#4. Better SEO

Why should we rule out SEO from the discussion? After all, SEO is also a part of a website. SEO helps a website get better visibility on the search engines. When a web designer is able to write codes, he is also able to design in such a way that will benefit an SEO campaign. And when a designer is SEO-friendly, it will just become another feather on his hat.

#5. Better Accessibility

When SEO knowledge meets the power to code, it creates better accessibility. A great accessibility helps in reaching more people via a website. Designers will not only develop codes for accessibility, but also understand every consideration. It will become easier for him to present information in a clean and coherent way, and visitors will find it easier to navigate.