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The Cost of a Poorly Designed Website
by William Szczepanek

Article 5: December 1, 2007

Today, a suitable business website is a validation of professionalism — an electronic business card, so to speak.  A proper website adds a level of trust in the business that wouldn’t exist otherwise.  Done well, the website notifies its customers that the business is authentic.  Done poorly, the site can leave customers wondering whether the products and services will be just as bad.

An Electronic Business Card

Would you give a mangled or dirty business card to a prospective customer without apologizing? The potential customer seeing the business card would not take your business seriously, or worse, they would feel insulted.  What happens when a person visits your website and can’t find what they are looking for? Do they find links that reveal the dreaded “404 page not found error”, or pictures that do not appear, or text that is difficult to read?  Many business owners have developed exceptional sites on their own, only later to find their sites difficult and time-consuming to maintain.

The image that your website portrays is the picture that people have of your business.  If you do not have a background in art or at least an eye for balance in composition, or you have never done work in Web page layout, which differs from print layout, then you may not be aware of how others perceive your site. The designer, developer and client all have a picture of what they think the site should look like.  They seldom agree.  If you do the design and development yourself, you should be talking to yourself.

The Purpose of a Web Designer

In any case, the purpose of the Web designer is to present a layout, color scheme and graphic images that convey what your business is about, based on your preference, whether that be avant-garde or business-like.  The developer makes sure it gets done efficiently, that it all works properly and at least attempts to follow the guidelines of the Word Wide Web Consortium, W3C. You need to convey the business purpose to each of them in such a way that they can understand it. Many times a good designer can help with the layout and flow issues and developers can help to ensure that the best programmatic approaches are taken.  But sometimes they clash and each has their own point of view that can be taken to the extreme.  We have all seen very flashy websites with beautiful images that miss the mark in communicating the business need.  We have also seen sites where every conceivable programming gimmick was invoked because it could be done.

Often one person is doing both the Web designing and developing.  More often than not that person is a designer who has learned to program.  Usually programmers do not have good design skills and very good programmers will be the first to admit that they do not have good design skills.  But they play a very important role in ensuring that the site is reliable, fast loading and meets the standards of the day.

Teamwork in Web Design and Development

The best results will usually come from teamwork, but unless the client is using a consultant to manage the designer and developer, the decision making will ultimately fall on the client’s shoulders. As a client you are not expected to be an expert, but need to have a basic understand of accessibility, usability, markup, the dynamics of design, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  To generate a successful site the Web designer and developer will need your input and that will take some of your time.  It is your site and you must take a certain amount of responsibility for its development.

Content is the Most Important Component

Content is the most important part of any website.  Words must convey the message.  Good writing skills are important.  Poorly written text with grammatical errors will doom a site even if the design and development excel.  Some designers can write quite well, most developers can’t, but there are exceptions.  If you can’t write well, find someone who can.  In most cases it is the business owner who needs to generate the message because they are the one with knowledge of the business.

Links control the flow through the website, and thorough design consideration, based upon standards in the industry, affords the best approach.  Now is not the time to test your new theory that menus embedded in the middle of the text work well.  Take a tip from those that have tested sites for years, and make your menus easy to find and easy to understand.  A good designer can help considerably in this area.

Producing a good website is not easy.  It usually requires significant talent in many diverse areas.  In general, the investment in a good website is paid back quickly in the form of new business, and the difference in cost between cheap and reasonable is usually not that great.  The real cost of going the least expensive route is often not known until it is too late.