Learn the Truth about Your Web Design Company by Its Portfolio

When you start building your online business and search for a web design company that will implement all your needs for the web site you must understand that it is a very serious step because you are entrusting your business along with its reputation and future.

That’s why it’s very important to make the right choice.
There are several factors that must define your choice, and one of them is portfolio of previous web design works the company has done. It can tell you more than all words and promises, just be attentive and try to analyze. I will tell you what you must pay attention to:

1) Presence of portfolio

Yes, it seems to be obvious that web design company must have own web site with portfolio of previous works. But don’t be astonished too much when you see one without it. There can be various reasons for this but I wouldn’t recommend you to tempt fate. Portfolio is like a “face” and it’s pride of web design company, it must be full, substantial, and routinely updated…and IT MUST BE!

2) Total number of works

This can tell you much however there is no standard number that will guarantee you are going to deal with web design guru. Yes, 50 successfully finished projects is better than 5, but their quality is also important. Compare the number with period of time during which the company operates in the market and calculate average number of projects per year, month, or week. Remember that average web site design takes 2-4 weeks to be finished.

What this information can give you? Firstly, you can see that the company has got enough expertise. Then this shows that it has stable flow of works, adjusted schedule of development process, and enough staff to perform it, so if you commit your web site design to the company you can be sure that the work won’t be for them like a bolt from the blue or well-paid but not feasible overloading.

3) Type of works

Look attentively at each work in the portfolio. How many projects are similar to the one you need by type of site, technology used, industry, and look and feel?
At least 2-3? Good!
More than 5? Excellent!!
None? There can be a reason for this – owner didn’t want to make it published, or web site is no more live – so if all other works show professionalism and expertise, you should ask the
company if they have ever done the task you need.

If you need any particular technology to be used for your web site implementation it’s more than necessary to see examples how the web design company worked with it. However sometimes it happens if the technology is not common used and very popular that the web design company hasn’t had chance to work with it for commercial purpose but it might be used for internal projects development, so you will loose nothing if ask the company to show you some examples if they exist.

If you need a web site for exact business, for example dating site or real estate site, it’s also better to view such previous works in the portfolio because there are can be specific features and it’s better to make sure that the web design company is experienced with them. Also some web design companies make demo packages that also can show you the abilities and experience.

4) Quality of works

Learn carefully each live site (or the ones which are similar to the site you need). How long does it take to load the site home page?
A few seconds? Great, the web designer knows how to optimize images.
A few minutes? It’s normal if this is a Flash site because usually the whole site is loaded at one time, not only the home page; or it’s a Flash intro which goes ahead entering the site
and also can load longer because of movie and sound.

But if a simple HTML web site loads more than 2-3 minutes and you can’t see all images or they are shown partially, you must be watchful. Check another HTML sites from the portfolio – if they are also loading for ages, it’s better to search for another web design company because this one is not professional.

All of the aforesaid is correct only if bandwidth of your Internet connection is normal and usually you don’t have problems with loading web sites.

Test the site for user-friendly navigation, pay attention to colors combination, and estimate general impression from the site – all this must reflect professional work. But sometimes a web design company is forced to design a site strictly according to the customer’s wishes, so if the customer lacks for good taste the site also looks tasteless. There can one or two such sites in the portfolio, but not all!

5) Happy owners

Web design business is a highly competitive area and as in any business there are honest and dishonest players. Sometimes it happens that you see the same site in portfolio of two different web design companies and it’s difficult to find the truth to which of them the work really belongs. Some quirky companies place cheap templates in their portfolio with fake owners’ contact info.

That’s why it’s very important to know real references of real owners of the web sites the web design company has made. Ideally this info must be accessible on the web design company site under Portfolio, Testimonials, or Clients sections. Try to contact ALL of the persons listed there and compare their opinions. You may get to know some interesting facts.

6) Own site of web design company

And finally compare the own site of the web design company to web sites presented in its portfolio. Are they similar by quality, technology used, and overall feeling? If the works from the portfolio look much poorer than the own site this can mean that the own site was ordered from another web design company, more professional. Yes, it happens sometimes in web design business that start-up amateur company commits its web site design to “older” professionals. In such case you better to continue searching for another web design company.

So these 6 rules can help you to make the right choice. Don’t be afraid to spend longer time for search and analysis, finally you will only benefit by getting perfect web site that will give new prospects to your business and make it more successful.

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What is a Web Designer, Anyway?

As a web designer, I get all kinds of requests for information other than web design, and as a web designer I’m not really suppose to be able to do things outside of the web design area. I believe there are a few misconceptions about what exactly a web designer does. In this article I am going to nail down exactly what a web designer is and what they should be able to do. First I’ll touch of the differences between a web designer and a web developer. A web designer is someone who creates the visual design and layout of a web page. A web developer is someone who does the behind-the-scenes programming of a website. For example a web developer creates the code for database websites.

Web designer’s definition:

They give business/organizations a web presence by building them a website. Web designers are professionals who organize information, create page layouts, while communicating the business’s information/opinions in a website. Web designers create another medium for the business to expand into. Creating a website enables the business to attract new customers, showcase its services/products, and to do business across countries (as opposed to one location).

What things do web designer’s do?

That’s a really good question. It is definitely hard to nail down what every designer must do in order to call themselves a web designer. A good web designer should be able to do both the design and the development, unfortunately for you the consumer, it doesn’t always work that way.

Your web designer must be able to perform the following:

* Understand and keep current will all new emerging technology

*Layout web pages using HTML, XHTML, XML , and other programming languages

*Program HTML (hand code), JavaScript and CSS

*Translate your ideas, needs and expectations into a web page

*Design navigation elements (such as navigation bars)

*Create graphics in Photoshop or any other professional imaging software

* Effectively participate in a web development team

* Have an understanding on how to create Flash (authoring software used to create animation programs)

*Understand and implement web standards

* Have an understanding of Search Engine Optimization

* Have a basic understanding of typography, graphics and color theory

* Understand needs of users and of usability testing

* Have ability to analyze a target market

* Understand cross browser problems and how to fix them

A great web designer also has knowledge of coding languages such as:

* C++

* Python

* Java

* JavaScript

* Cold fusion

* SQL

* PHP

Sometimes it might be difficult for a web designer to have all those different programming languages under their belt. It is like knowing English, French, Chinese and German. Quite complicated. The more languages they know the better. Well that should help you on your search for a good web designer!

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How to Hire The Right Web Design Firm

Regardless whether you manage a small business, charitable organization, or Fortune 500 company, choosing the right web design firm can quickly become a full-time research project. With thousands of design firms to choose from, what factors truly determine which design firm is best for your business?

The primary considerations for choosing a web design firm are:

* Price

* Customer service/access to support

* Credibility indicators of the design firm

* Portfolio and design experience

* Other services offered (domain renewal, hosting, SEO)

* Turnaround time

Let’s take a closer look at each consideration in detail, and explore how to identify and qualify the right design firm.

Price

Like many products and services we purchase, both personally and professionally, deciding on a web design firm can often come down to price. But the value of the services rendered is really what’s important. A $200 web site usually turns out to look, feel and perform like a $200 web site.

The price of your site’s development will depend on three factors: the features of the site, the amount of content, and the service options included with the design package, such as hosting.

Because pricing varies by firm, here are several principles to use when determining the validity and value of a web design quote:

* Does the quote state one all-inclusive price for the entire project?

* Is there a reoccurring monthly fee for hosting?

* Is the site custom-built, or is it customization of an existing template?

* Is there a separate fee for content development, such as writing sales copy?

* Is domain registration/management included in the package?

* Will the firm provide multiple design concepts, prior to actual development?

It’s important to compare quotes from at least three firms to, determine the value of the services offered. Looking for the best value is important in a competitive service market.

Customer Service

There’s nothing worse than signing with a firm that offers a great product, only to find out they are impossible to contact. Consistent, open contact with your web design firm is important for ensuring success before, during, and after your web site is developed.

Throughout the design process, you may identify text, photos, or contact information you’d like to change before the site goes live. If you have immediate questions regarding your site’s development, you’ll be glad to have immediate contact with customer support staff by e-mail, telephone, or live chat.

If you are limited to e-mail technical support, consider other firms that offer a wider range of customer service options such as telephone and live chat support. E-mail is great for convenience – when it’s convenient.

Credibility Indicators

Identifying “credibility indicators” can help ensure a firm is trustworthy, and will be around after your deposit or full payment is sent. Credibility indicators include, but are not limited to:

* Toll free telephone support

* 24 hour customer service

* Better Business Bureau affiliation

* Human e-mail address contacts

* Google PageRank of 2 or above

* Presentation of a hard-copy quote/design contract

Design Experience/Portfolio

Does the design firm have experience in working with similar types of businesses? Even if a designer doesn’t have a web site in their portfolio related to your industry, the firm you select should have a strong working knowledge of how to develop an effective site for your business type. Product and service web sites are not the same. Your designer should have a plan of action for developing a site that reaches the maximum number of prospective customers in your target market.

A few good questions to ask about a firm’s design experience include:

* Does the firm offer a number of diverse, finished web sites available for review?

* Will the firm conduct research regarding my competition?

* Will my web site highlight the features, benefits and value of my product or service?

* Has the firm outlined a plan of action for creating an effective site, start to finish?

Design experience need not always relate to the type of web sites the firm has previously developed. If you have a specific look in mind, ask the firm if achieving a similar design is possible. The ultimate goal is to know you’re going to get a tangible benefit out of your site through effective, affordable web design.

Additional Services

Many web design firms offer design, but do not provide other required services such as hosting and domain name registration. Ideally, your web design company should be a full-service firm, offering at least basic hosting, domain registration and search engine optimization services tailored to your needs. Research each firm to determine other key lines of business, so that any future expansion of your site will be seamless as your business grows.

Turnaround Time

An effective website should take 30-60 days to go live, from the start of production. Unless you’re offering hundreds of individual products or services on your web site, the entire development process, start to finish, should take no longer than 60 days. Turnaround time should include:

* Upload of your web site to the hosting provider

* Configuration of any scripts or forms on your site

* Domain propagation (accessing your web site and e-mail via yoursite.com)

Hiring the cheapest, fastest, or most elaborate web design firm does not always equate to hiring the right web design firm. A limited amount of front-end research can save time and money in the long term, and maximize the sales revenue from your web presence.

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Offshore Web Design and Development – Use Great Opportunities

Sooner or later every small or medium business owner realizes that he needs a web site for his business. And almost everybody wants to have great web site for affordable price because usually web site design budget is quite limited.

There are few ways to find the best solution.

  • Somebody prefers to design the site by himself – but it takes much time and labor, distracts from the general business, and let be frank – you have seen many of such “DIY” – web sites -they lack professional touch and look unfinished or overworked.
  • Somebody decides to hire a professional web design company but in case of limited budget he has to say “good-buy” to many features he wants to see on the web site, because web design companies are also businesses and they can’t work for “thank you very much” only.

So what to do when you want to have great web site but your web design budget is limited?

Think about IT-outsourcing and offshore web design and development!

There are many web design companies in other countries, mostly of Eastern Europe and East-Southern Asia that operate with small budgets and offer great web design works

How it is possible? There are different economical factors which condition on low internal expenses of the companies in these countries so they can do the same volume of work but for lower price than it costs in USA, Canada, UK, Western Europe or Australia. So offshore web site design and development helps to keep prices at least 3-5 times less.

You can say “Yes, this is cool that I can save my money but how they will do the work if I am here in USA but they are in Ukraine, for example?” Easily! In our age of Internet this is not a problem at all! Practice proves that for web site design project it’s enough to have communication through email, instant messenger (ICQ, AOL, MSN) or IP-phone.

You can say “How can I trust somebody whom I have never seen before and most likely will not ever see?” Actually this question must the web design companies ask, not you, because there are many of IT-outsourcing companies and competition is quite strong in this area, so to get a customer many companies allow the first payment after 30-50% of the project completion, i.e. you pay after you have seen good results and satisfied with the work.

And as in onshore web design you need to pay much attention while choosing web design company: look at their previous works in portfolio, and ask about previous customers’ references. Ideally all this information must be accessible on the company’s web site.

As for the rest there is not much difference between offshore and onshore web site design process. You see the results of work in the progress, make your comments, see changes, agree them. When the project is complete and the site is ready to be uploaded to your server, you make final payment. It’s also not a problem – you can make payment by credit card, PayPal, wire transfer, Western Union, etc.

So let’s resume what you must know when dealing with offshore web site design:

  • If you are on “tight budget” and can’t afford spending thousands of $$$ for your web site design you should think about trying offshore web site design opportunities.
  • There are many countries, which take part in offshore web site design; the most well known are India, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Philippines.
  • To make right choice of offshore web design company for your web site design take into consideration the company reputation, portfolio of previous works, previous customers’ references, quick and competent feedback to your initial request.
  • To avoid problems you must be attentive and ask exact questions about payment policy and method, timescale and milestones of the project, conditions of the ready site delivery, warranties, post-development support and maintenance.

At your first experience with offshore web design you can see it to be too risky and complicated, but this feeling will be replaced with real satisfaction when you will see your new great web site live in the Internet and you realize how much you have saved on its design.

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Time For A New Web Design For Your Small Business?

On the first page of Google, you will have a choice of around ten or so different business links to click on. If you click through to a web design that looks unprofessional, in an instant you will probably be clicking on the next link. Many small business owners mistakenly believe that simply having a web presence is all that is needed to gain the benefits of online marketing.

First impressions do count

The design of your website represents the first impression your customer has of your business. If the web design of your site is outdated, or the information is poorly organized, or if your home page is so cluttered that it is hard to know what to look at, your website and web design is probably not working for you. Your visitors will not stay on your site, and take one look at your home page web design and move onto another site. Remember, a competitor’s web site is only a click away.

Keeping up with the competition

Do a search on Google for your competitors and go and look at how they are representing themselves online. Can you learn from these sites? Is their web design more contemporary, more professional looking than yours? Your website needs to, at the very least, look as professional as your competitors if you want to be competing with them at the same level.

How often should you update your web site design?

Generally, web designs can start to look dated after two to three years, depending on the style and quality of the design. Like fashion, web designs do go out of style. The simpler and cleaner your web design is, then generally the more timeless the design. The more contemporary and ‘now’ your web design is, the quicker it will date.
Your web design should look contemporary when compared to your competitors.

Measuring the success of your website

This has never been easier. With all the software that is available to provide you with statistics on website visitors, including what pages they looked at, how they got to your site, keyword searches, etc. it is not difficult to see if you are going wrong. If all your visitors come to your home page and then leave the site, your web design probably has some usability issues that you will need to address.

Creating the illusion

Web designs can be deceptive. You can use a web design to create the illusion that your small business is large and thriving with seemingly hundreds of employees, even if it is not. Creating the illusion is the first step to making this a reality.

Who shouldn’t create your web design

Definitely not your brother’s friend who has just finished an HTML course and offers to do your web design and build for free, and definitely not your system administrator who has some spare time on his hands. Leave the web design and development of your website to professionals who have valuable experience in this area.

It is worth paying someone to do a good job, than have a website designed built for free that can possibly damage the professional image of your business and, in fact, turn customers away.

Is it time for a new web design?

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