Web design is a art and science of creating a website. Reich Web Consulting provides high-quality, reasonable-cost website design and development services.

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Questions to Ask to Find a Web Designer

Questions to Ask to Find a Web Designer

Your business needs a website. Depending on the size of your company you probably have other technology needs too, and you might think that it’s a no-brainer to hire one company to do it all. It’s not. It can be hard to find a web designer that’s up to the task, and he or she is almost certainly not the same person that manages your network.

Reich Web Consulting used to be Reich Consulting. While the web was always our focus, we used to accept any gig that involved a computer. When we were an IT company, our small business customers all said the same thing:

We like the convenience of having all our technology requirements met by one vendor. – Small Business Owners

But is hiring a general IT company to create your website the most economical and convenient solution? This article will help small business owners to ask the right questions to find a web designer capable of building them a successful website.

It the IT Guy

You should probably let him stick to IT.

The Difference Between IT and Web Design

IT stands for Information Technology. Information Technology is an umbrella term for the support of computer and network infrastructure.

Web design, web development, and web marketing refer to

  • Creating the look, feel and user experience of a website
  • The programming that drives a website
  • The skills required to get your website in front of the right people and make it accomplish your business goals.

These terms get used interchangeably, but the individual or company you hire to build your website needs skills in all three disciplines to help you succeed.

Why IT and Web Design Are Different

“But wait,” you say, “the web is just a bunch of computers networked together! That sure sounds like information technology to me!” But that definition makes the grocery store checkout and drone warfare all part of the same skill set. That definition is just too broad to be useful.

IT and web design are separate skill sets with little overlap.

A good IT generalist will have some programming and troubleshooting skills relevant to website design. A good web designer or web developer will possess general IT skills related to their trade. Both will most certainly be able to install a content management system like WordPress. But that’s where the similarities end.

The IT generalist might pass that off as a complete website. The web specialist understands that’s just the beginning.

web design laptop

Well, OBVIOUSLY he’s doing web design. It says it right there!

Does the Company Have a Web Department?

Does the company you’re considering have a web department? Is anyone focused full-time on quality web design?

A good IT company offers a breadth of knowledge a mile wide and few inches deep, a staff tenacious enough to solve hard problems, and if you’re lucky, they employ experts with extensive expertise in the technology that matters to you and your business.

These skills make a fantastic team for planning and building your business’ computing infrastructure, keeping it running like a well-oiled machine, and solving problems when they occur.

So what does any of that have to do with building an attractive, engaging website that meets your sales and marketing objectives?

The qualities required to create a successful website are unique:

  • Graphic design & layout
  • Responsive design and cross-browser testing
  • UX (User Experience)
  • Technical SEO, site structure, information architecture
  • Copywriting, Content Marketing
  • Search engine trends, marketing, and advertising
  • Security

Ask questions. Before you sign a contract find out if their staff have training and experience in the skills that affect your project.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Company to Build Your Website

Now that I’ve made you question everything you thought you knew about the web, I’d like to ease the pain by offering something useful. The rest of this post provides a list of questions to ask before you hire a company or an individual to build your business’ website.

I ask Adobe Stock for "outsourcing" and it gives me a white dude palming a globe with the cast of a college brochure.

I ask Adobe Stock for outsourcing, ” and it gives me a white dude palming a globe with the cast of a college brochure.

1. Do they Outsource?

Many businesses use some form of outsourcing. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing and no shame in using it. In fact, Reich Web Consulting outsources tasks when offering work to outside experts results in a better end product for our customers.

But when a small business chooses a vendor based on that company’s ability to meet all their needs it’s important to know if that’s truly the case.

If you sign a contract with Company X, will Company X complete the work or will they outsource it to someone else? That’s important to know. And I’m privy to the reasons why because Reich Web Consulting gets outsourced work all the time.

Outsourcing Can Impact Price

If your IT company outsources your project, you now have a middle-man involved and all of the cost and labor concerns that entails. As a businessman I can’t help but think “good for them for working smart and not hard,” but I’m aware of all of the ways this can end badly.

Look at the quality of their design portfolio. Does the quality seem comparable to the work of other companies specifically focused on web marketing? How do their prices compare? Can you get essentially the same website, delivered without a middle-man, for less money?

Outsourcing Can Impact Quality

I don’t think anyone in the history of the web has woken up and thought “I’m going to do some crap work today!” Sometimes there are good reasons that talented individuals produce work that’s beneath them. And it usually involved money.

When we accept freelance projects, the terms area not always ideal. Agencies often provide a customer with a quote before their hire outsourced labor. That means the person or team that will build your site has been given no input into the planning, cost, or schedule. You can see how quality could easily suffer.

  • The price quoted by the sales team may not reflect the reality of the labor involved in its execution
  • The freelancer may be asked to do more than the outsourcing company is willing to pay for because they did not consult them before quoting
  • The freelancer may lack critical details, which results in missed deadlines, communication breakdown, and rework as projects need adjusting to an updated understanding of the client’s needs

When a Project is Outsourced Responsibility Can Become Ambiguous

If your IT company outsources your project, where does the buck stop?

If the outsourcing company doesn’t plan adequately, they may ask the freelancer to pick up slack and work harder and longer for no additional pay to solve a planning or budgeting snafu. It’s at the freelancer’s discretion whether or not to oblige.

Conversely, freelancers are humans, and humans make mistakes. If a bug appears after the freelancer receives payment, will they feel a responsibility to fix that bug?

And who, if anyone, pays for it?

If they can't hack a Gibson, don't even bother.

If they can’t hack a Gibson, don’t even bother.

Do They Have Design and Technical Skills?

You should hire someone to build your business’s website that has the skills to do so effectively, as well as the knowledge to steer it towards future success.

But a company that doesn’t focus on the web might not know what they don’t know. Here are some important points to understand and questions to ask before hiring a company to build your website.

Cross Browser and Cross Device Optimization (Responsive Design)

Users need to be able to navigate your site anywhere, on any device with ease. Search engines rank websites better that work well on all devices.

Some web designers still don’t understand that we’re living in a mobile-first world. Others think that ensuring the homepage passes automated tests like the Google Mobile-Friendly Test is enough. Ask the following questions to make sure the company you hire is on top of cross-device usability:

  • How do your designs account for the scale and size of various devices?
  • Are your designs responsive? That is, do your websites use the same design for all devices and adapt the design as-needed?
  • What is your test procedure?  Do you test on multiple browsers? Do you test on multiple devices? Can we see your test matrix?

Site Speed

Users will leave a site if it loads slowly (Response Time: Is Speed the Ultimate Usability Metric?), costing you leads and lost revenue. Search engines will rank your website better if it’s speedy (How Website Speed Impacts Search Ranking).

Getting the homepage to pass automated tools like Google’s Page Speed Test is not enough. It’s not difficult to build a website that gets high marks from automated speed tests while still performing poorly during actual user interaction. Ask the following questions to find out if the company you’re working with thinks about and gives special concern to page speed:

  • How quickly can I expect my website to load on a high-speed connection?
  • How quickly can I expect my website to load over a 4G phone connection?
  • What do you do to ensure fast load speeds and response times?

Keep in mind that there are legitimate reasons for slow response times.  One example is the high-resolution image carousels that are so popular today. Some customers love and insist on having an image slider on their homepage with a bunch of high-resolution photos. While I discourage it unless it adds value, at the end of the day the customer gets what they want.

(For further reading on the subject, check out the annoying but informative Should I Use a Carousel?)

Hosting & Maintenance

Most of us have contracted a virus or malware from completely innocent web browsing. How much trust do you retain in the website that infected you?

If your website gives customers a virus, serves unwanted ads, or malware, you’ll enrage them and ruin your online reputation.  Search engines like Google and Bing may remove your website from their index if they discover it’s been hacked or is serving malware. Preventing these types of problems comes down to quality website hosting, regular maintenance, and security-conscious development. You should ask the following questions:

  • Even though I’m paying you, where is my website hosted? Are they reliable?
  • How often is my website backed up?
  • What platform or technology will be used to build my site? Should I be aware of any concerns related to that platform?
  • Will my site be encrypted with a security certificate?
  • What other steps do you take to ensure my website is secure?
  • If my site does get hacked, what contingency plans are in place to minimize damage?

Website Development Technology

Lots of tools exist for building websites.

Your site could be static which means it’s a simple collection of files that get served to web browsers. Your site could work on a cloud service like SquareSpace, BigCommerce, or Shopify.

Or most likely, it could be developed on a Content Management System like WordPress or Drupal. The import thing is that you’re aware of your website’s platform, and know that if the feces hits the fan, someone’s got your back. You should ask the following questions:

  • What technology will be used to build my website?
  • Should I be aware of any implications to the technology choices? (Speed, security, etc.)
  • Are there ongoing costs?
  • Can I change my content? Or will I always have to pay someone to change it for me?
  • Will there always be somebody on-hand that understands my website’s platform in case something goes wrong?

Design Skills

Not every site needs a unique design. That level of attention to detail is terrific, but it’s also expensive.

But your website should be built by a company that knows how to create a design that looks attractive, provides a good user experience on all devices, and converts (generates leads or sales).

The person who develops your website doesn’t necessarily need a graphic design degree. But it must be planned, designed, and built by someone who’s taken the time to understand your business and the goals you hope to achieve through your new site.

A quality designer bases a website on research and discovery and later refines it based on usage data and user feedback. Consider asking the following questions to get a sense of the company’s design chops:

  • What have you created in the past? Can we see your portfolio?
  • Are your website designs based off of what the platform and templates offer? Or based on our needs?
  • If we need a design that’s not a “stock” option, do you have the expertise to make it happen?

Look at the company’s past work.  If you have questions, ask them why they made a particular design decision.

Marketing

We’re going to switch things up.  The company you’re considering working with should be asking you the questions!

If you’re considering hiring a company to build your website that doesn’t seem genuinely interested in understanding your business goals, that’s a major red flag. They’re likely planning to sell you a cookie-cutter “solution” that won’t solve a problem.

How do I know? They’re not asking the questions they’d need to ask to build anything else.

Some companies will write a creative brief.  A creative brief is a document, generated by ongoing discussion between client and designer that answers important questions that inform the design process.

The creative brief doesn’t neccessarily need to be formal.  And a lot of the questions are likely answered by your business plan (if you’re not a knuckle-dragger like me that never developed one). Your designer should be asking:

  • The who, what, when, where, and why’s of the project.
  • Who is your target audience/demographic?
  • Who are your competitors?

That’s a small sample of what you can expect. But if the company doesn’t ask these types of questions, move on.

Conclusion

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that Reich Web Consulting used to be Reich Consulting.  We changed our name and mission because we realized our passion lies in helping small businesses succeed at online marketing.

We care about our customers. While we can’t meet all their needs, we think our narrowed focus offers the best value. We’re all web, all the time and we’re proud of that. And we want someone that can bring that level of passion to our customer’s IT needs to deal with them.

But that’s us.

That’s not to say that an IT company can’t build a good website.  Before you sign an agreement with anyone, think about the points raised in this post. Ask questions. If the company you’re talking to is savvy enough to handle your project, you may not even understand the answers, and to some degree that’s OK.  The import thing is that they’ve got the expertise to respond to these questions at all.

Are there other questions that are valuable to ask a prospective web designer? Let us know! We’ll update this post with visitor-suggested ideas as they arrive.

Help Web Design Clients Take Great Web Photography - Facebook

Help Web Design Clients Take Great Web Photography

I love when a web design client can provide great web photography. I’m not a photographer, and hiring one can eat up a small business’ online marketing budget fast.

Fortunately today’s technology allows anyone to take a pretty good photo, and letting the client do it themselves is a great way for me to give their customers a media-rich, immersive web experience  without breaking their budget.

Before a web design project begins you should communicate expectations for client-provided photography up-front to avoid wasting time editing or re-shooting photos later. Taking a great photo for the web requires special consideration.

In this article we’re going to talk specifically about photo orientation, scaling, and cropping.

Photo Orientation for Web Photography

Landscape orientation  is almost always better than portrait orientation when you plan to use your photography online.

The image gallery I’ve included below shows photos I took of a Jack Daniels bottle sitting on my desk (FYI, it’s legal  and often encouraged to drink and design!) The gallery also includes some “meta-photography” showing how you hold your camera or smart phone to take photographs in portrait and landscape orientation. I’ll be referring to this gallery throughout the article.

Portrait and Landscape Orientations Explained

Portrait Orientation

Portrait orientation is when the height of a photo is greater than its width. A portrait orientation photograph is what you get when you hold your smart phone or camera vertically.

To visualize the ratio and scale of portrait orientation, think of a picture of an individual framed and hanging on your wall, or a page in a book.

Landscape Orientation

Landscape orientation is when the width of a photo is greater than the height.  A landscape orientation photograph is what you get when you hold your smart phone or camera horizontally.

To visualize the ratio and scale of landscape orientation, think of a family photo taken in a wide orientation to fit all the members in frame, a photograph of a natural landscape, or the size and scale of most computer monitors.

Why Landscape Orientation Photos are Preferred for the Web

When you’re taking photos for the web, landscape oriented photos are almost always better. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it’s a pretty good guideline. Here’s why.

Landscape Orientation Fits the Flow of Most Websites

We read most websites from left to right, and top to bottom by scrolling vertically. All of our devices build on this basic truth. If you turn your phone or tablet, the screen rotates so the pages still flow left-to-right and scroll vertically. Landscape photos fit this layout well. You can fit the full image on-screen without scrolling, and because the text is already laid out left to right in a wider orientation, your photos will flow with the text. Portrait oriented images often take up most of the screen and can leave the user wondering if there’s still content left below them.

Image Galleries

If an image will display inline with your content, landscape orientation is usually best. But if the image is part of an image gallery the rules are often more flexible. Talk to your web designer to see what works best before you start snapping photos.

Coping with Automatic Cropping

Most website building tools (like WordPress) automatically scale and crop your images to specific ratios. This means that if you don’t plan your images could get cropped in a way that leaves them ugly, confusing, or ineffective. Talk to your web designer before you begin snapping photos.

I recommend framing your photos with the subject centered and with ample space around it if cropping occurs. The goal is to keep the subject visible regardless of how the image gets cropped by your website. Take a second look at the image gallery above. The landscape oriented image of the bottle works well when cropped to a square or rectangle. The version taken in portrait orientation doesn’t work well, because it’s cropped in the middle of the bottle.

Social Media and Sharing

Every social media site has specific rules about how they scale and crop your photos.  Facebook accepts photos of any size, but they scale and crop your images based on the their purpose and context. Most of the image sizes used by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other popular social media services are landscape oriented or square. Once again, this means that you’ll find portrait-oriented images difficult to use for things like profile photos, header photos, cover photos, thumbnail photos, etc.

Social Media Image Resources

I’ve provided a Pinterest board that I use to collect resources related to social media image sizes.  Browse the pin board and see for yourself how your images get scaled and cropped for different purposes across all of social media.

Exceptions

Exceptions exist for every rule. Use portrait oriented photography when it’s right. It makes perfect sense to use portrait orientation on the photos of employees on a Meet the Team page.  An artist or photographer showing off their artwork in an online gallery isn’t going to want their work cropped into an aspect ratio that doesn’t fit their vision.

Video

Video should always be recorded in landscape orientation. No exceptions. Online video hosting services such as YouTube and Vimeo always display videos in landscape orientation. If you record a video in portrait orientation your designer will have to crop it to landscape orientation (resulting what’s likely an unacceptable loss of video content), or your video will display with big, ugly black margins to either side.

Communication is Key

Letting web design clients provide their own photography is a great way to offer them a beautiful website you can all be proud of, give their customers a rich and immersive experience, and give their wallets a break.  This is especially true today when most of us have a pretty good camera built right into our phones.  But communication is key. Let your client know what orientation will work best for their photography, what sizes it might be scaled and cropped to, and how they can account for it by orienting and framing their photos when they take them.

Final thoughts: I’m a freelancer. I work alone, and there’s every chance that I could be taking my own opinions a little bit too seriously. If you’ve got a different perspective on correct photo orientation for the web, framing the subject, or any other topic I’ve covered I’d love to hear it.

The JavaScript Dollar Sign ($) – What’s It For?

My latest project involves some customized extensions to a WordPress based site.  The designer who outsourced the development to me requested a number of JavaScript-based effects, and though I’m aready familiar with a number of other JavaScript frameworks including Sencha (formerly ExtJS), WordPress ships with jQuery and so that’s the framework that we’ve decided to use.

Ever wonder what the heck the “$” means in jQuery or why it was chosen?  I sure did, and just found a great article explaining it.

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