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It is no longer good enough to just have a website to set yourself apart from your competitors. A professional design is more important than ever, but how do you choose a designer? By making the following five observations, you can choose the designer who's right for you.
  1. Proven Portfolio Any competent web design agency should have a portfolio of exemplary web sites to demonstrate what they're capable of doing. It should be freely available on their website, but if not, ask.
  2. Standards Compliance Does your website work on all major browsers? Do you know? A competent web developer is versed on the inconsistencies of various browsers and operating systems, and is able to compensate for them appropriately. Ask your agency about their "Cross-browser compatibility testing."
  3. What You See is What You Get What is the agency's website like? Often an agency's website is a strong indication of the sites they design. If you don't like their website's style, you probably won't like their proposals.
  4. Listening skills. Web design is a service industry. The client should tell the agency what they want, not the other way around. If you're web designer is pushing you to use a particular design that you're not comfortable with, it may be because it's easier for them. A good web design agency will listen to their client's needs.
  5. Price indicates skill. While you could accept the lowest bid from a student on summer break, you will likely get what you pay for. If you're serious about your business, it would be best to take advantage of an experienced web design agency.
The average website takes 4-7 weeks to complete. Afterward, your new website will need continued maintenance throughout its lifetime. For these reasons, your relationship with your web designer should be a partnership.
The goal of any design is to effectively communicate a message. Typically this means promoting a brand or selling a product.
  1. Less is more. Every element added to a design increases cognitive dissonance, meaning that it makes the site's message more difficult for the customer to find. It will take some constraint, but I promise that less is more when communicating a brand message.
  2. Color Palette Consistency of message is important and that includes colors. If you have a set of official colors, those should be the colors used in your website. Ideally those same colors will be used on every page. A constantly changing color selection implies haphazard organization, while a consistent color scheme looks professional.
  3. Typography With the huge selection of fonts freely available online, it's tempting to use a different font for every element of your design. Like your color palette, it's important to choose two or three fonts at most and stick with them throughout your marketing materials.
  4. Photos Photos are fantastic to connect with your customers, but they're also the most obvious indicator of your professionalism. A stock photo from the Web or your Uncle's point and shoot camera will immediately cheapen your brand's integrity. With photos, more than anything else, it's important to use exclusively professional photos to flatter your brand and products.
  5. Social Media Circus While social media is important, its significance is often overstated. What is important is to be accessible to your customers. Before signing up for that shiny new web2.0 service, ask yourself how it will help your business. Does it make me more accessible to my customers? Do I have to manage it daily? If you can't check a service daily, people who use it to contact you will be frustrated. Choose your social media wisely or hire a social media manager.
Typefaces are important because they determine, on the most fundamental level, how easy it is to read a document. (And after all, all web pages are documents.) At the same time, typefaces determine perception. They should reflect and reinforce the mood of their content. Most importantly, your font must legible. Some fonts (like the eponymous Bleeding Cowboys) is intended specifically for logos or headings, and would be totally inappropriate for anything longer than eight words. By choosing a font that is easy on the eyes, you improve your site's usability and accessibility. The typeface that you select needs to accurately reflect the mood of your message. Always consider the audience for which the piece is intended, and then choose a font that achieves your desired perception. For example, a sans-serif modernist font like Helvetica is the font of choice for Apple because it mimics the clean industrial design their customers know and love.
What's the difference between a serif font and a sans-serif font? A serif is a fine line that marks the end of letter's main stroke. Think of the little horizontal feet that the "m" on an M&M's candy sits on. Conversely, a sans-serif font lacks those little lines. (In French sans means "without.") Times New Roman is the most common serif typeface, having been around for nearly a century. It was commissioned by the UK newspaper The Times from which it gets its name. Sans-serif fonts are modernist, perceived as being "clean." The most famous sans-serif font is Helvetica which has graced everything from street signs to the logos of Apple and Target.
To avoid licensing problems down the road, it is important to only use fonts with commercial licenses. The problem with most free font websites is that fonts are licensed only for personal use or require attribution. What's a designer to do? FontSquirrel comes to your rescue. They provide, free of charge, a carefully curated collection of fonts exclusively licensed for commercial use. If you're like us, you'll end up with an over abundance of installed type faces. (Last we checked, our library of fonts had just crested 1,200.) To make managing them easier, install the free LinoType Font Explorer X.