The Art of Web Design – it’s not just coding…

There is truly a lot involved in being a good web designer. Many people have learned to code, and even more know how to use content management systems, but designing is much more than that. Over the years, I've been called upon countless times to "fix" another designer's work.  This doesn't mean the other designer necessarily did anything wrong, but being a good designer calls upon a variety of coding skills, design, psychology and especially an empathetic connection with the client.

That's why I specialize in artist, musicians and consciousness based businesses.  I understand these energies because I resonate with them.  That's why I don't work with corporations or people with whom I don't have a connection.  Other designers specialize in corporate accounts, because they resonate with that energy.  Therefore you want to choose your designer carefully.  You're going to be working closely with them.  You want to have a rapport with them and feel comfortable enough to let them know what you truly want.  You want a designer who listens to YOUR needs.

A good web designer, in my opinion, not only understands coding but also has a feel for artistic design, use of color, fonts, and artwork.  We also have to keep up with trends in both style and security. We need to be aware of changes in site-adjacent social media. We also may advise our clients on search engine optimization, and therefore their site text. On top of that, we need to act sometimes as a counselors, allying our client's stress and working together with them to create a site that reflects their dreams and visions.

Web design has changed quite a lot since I first begin designing sites back in the early 90s; it's another world!  Today we have multiple sized devices; our sites have to be responsive and change size for each particular device.  In the "olden days" we could experiment with all kinds of fun animations and scripts, but now our sites need to load fast and be as secure as possible.  (Some of those fun codes can also create gigantic security holes that can be exploited and wreck your site.)  We used to simply code in an email for contact info; today's best practices shield your email address with the use of forms.  We must stay current, and it takes an effort to do so.  Learning about, for example, new coding or current security threats, is not necessarily exciting.  But a decent designer needs to know the trends and change with them.

Today WordPress is very popular, and for good reason.  It has the ability to be somewhat flexible, secure, and works with excellent robust shopping carts.  But there are pitfalls here too, that designers need to take into account.

WordPress needs to work well with a variety of plugins that are used, and well written themes and plugins are usually updated regularly.  The updates are done to fix problems, conflicts and security issues.  If a theme isn't updated regularly, for example, it may cause problems when other portions of WordPress get updated. This can result in a lot of weird behaviors and errors can suddenly start happening with the interaction of all the parts. So your web host and/or your designer need to make sure that all the parts of your site are updated regularly.

What about customization? I love doing custom coding, but it is considered "best practice" to put such customizations in a special CSS file so that it doesn't permanently affect the main coding. This prevents my custom coding from impacting the way the site works, or of being overwritten when things are updated. You'd be amazed how many times I've found customization done directly in the themes, where they will inevitably been overwritten - or worse - the designer doesn't update the theme in order to preserve their work, causing site malfunctions when plugins are updated.

Also, as a designer, when a client reports that something isn't working, it's our job to do our best to fix it. I've actually heard from clients that a previous designer stopped responding, or simply shrugged off complaints. I understand the urge to do that, because troubleshooting can be frustrating, but this doesn't work for the client!

Tyhink of the web as a type of ecosystem.  It's always changing, and our sites need to change with it.  Lots of unexpected stuff can happen with sites over time through no deliberate fault of a designer.  I've had, for example, a store locator that suddenly stopped working when other plugins were updated and it wasn't updated in a timely fashion. This can happen with any plugin that doesn't get updated regularly. It happens to all of us designers: one day the site works, and then something weird starts happening. The client calls, upset.  We have to fix it.  In this case, I had to find a more recently updated store locator and disable the old one.  It's not an exact science, and it can be an annoyingly tedious task to disable each plugin and test each part of the site individually. But we gotta do it!

Another job of being a designer is doing our best to give the client what they want, balanced with input gleaned from our experience.  Let's say the client is using a logo that I feel is ugly.  It's not my job to override their wishes and try to force them to use a different logo.  Because although I'm part style consultant and part web designer, the final word belongs to the client.  It's YOUR vision, and I'm here to help you achieve it.  This can be a delicate job!  What if a client wants to put a giant image that takes up the entire top portion of the site, or, all image and no text? I might remind them that, for example, search engines need text when scanning the site, and using only images could negatively impact their search engine results.  In addition, we want our sites to grab our visitors' attention quickly, and perhaps some exciting text in that space could be more effective.  That's part of my job.  But YOU, the client, have the final say. And it's my job to give you what you want, or as close as possible.  Because in web design as in other businesses, in the end, the client is king.  Or queen.


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