Know your options before paying for a website

This introduction guide is for you if
– you consider to hire someone for creating a website
– if you intend to create a website by yourself using templates / online site builders

Why am I doing this? 

I noticed a pattern of time consuming questions that we have as soon we need a website. Some of the FAQ’s are:

1. I want a website, where do I start?
2. There are many “do it yourself” tools for creating a webpage, what is the difference between an online webpage builder and hiring a web designer / design agency?
3. Who should I trust to create my homepage?

If you have other questions, feel free to ask and I will gladly reply.

Who am I?

My name is Alexandru Dan, architect and designer. Besides architecture, I have worked on several webdesign and screendesign projects. I noticed that my experience can be of help to those who start their first internet presence, therefore I want to share what I know so far. Please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with what I wrote, it might help others.

My early web creations started about 12 years ago, with simple flash ActionScript animations. I have learned by simply trying things out and from what I could find on the internet. My first serious encounter with webdesign started some years later, in 2008 as I won the first prize for the redesign of the Homepage for the Architecture University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. This lead to my next client. Soon I had been doing webdesign freelancing along my architectural studies. The projects where fun and challenging, as the websites trends & requirements continued to change.

So let’s start with the FAQ’s that I mentioned above.
(The mock-up background is from pinterest.com)


1. I want a website, where do I start? 

Understand why you want it

First of all, be clear and know why you really want to have a webpage / social media page. What are you actually doing by creating your web presence? For example, if you want to travel somewhere, you will know what type of transport is best suitable for the way. A car won’t be of any help to travel over the Atlantic. Or taking an airplane won’t be as efficient for a small distances. There are also plenty of options in the internet world and If you know what your options, preparing your content and finding the right sollution will be fun!

Forget the design, for now

Awesome design ist not the entire solution. Just having a great design does not make your vehicle move. Try to explain to yourself, or even better to someone else, why and what you want to achieve by creating a website. When I have a customer, first I listen to what they want, then we concentrate on the content, the design comes off naturally. But I failed to do the same when I was my own client. I knew why I wanted my homepage, but I rushed too fast into designing something that had “no engine”. It took me more than a year to understand that the aesthetics are the “cherry on the top of the cake”.  Yes, as a designer I wanted things to be “perfect”, but this kept me constantly preoccupied. I was wasting time seeking the awesomeness. Therefore prepare your ideas and don’t waste time thinking at the design for now.

What not to expect

Please note that paying for a web designer or a creative agency, does not mean that they will sort out the ideas or content for you. Of course there are all sort of services and agencies that might help you with anything you need. But keep in mind that a web designer / design agency works with your content and does not sort out your business. If you deliver folders full of information and expect that you get a product out of it, good luck.., most probably you will get refused. Firstly clear things out then ask for design services.

2. There are many “do it yourself” tools for creating a website. What is the difference between an online website builder / templates and hiring a web designer / design agency?

It is obvious that you get better results when paying for a specialist. But maybe you don’t have yet the resources. You can start with a simple page, containing for example just your contact information. In this case, why not fill out a template and go online?

What you need to know when you use an online website  builder / template:  

Once you choose a template, you have almost no flexibility of changing the design (unless you change to another template). This can be in your advantage because you cannot screw the design. What you get is a predefined layout design. You might have some options regarding different families of fonts, colours and different page and menu layouts.

Therefore, when choosing a template, first check to see that you get all your desired elements. How does the home/start page look like? Do you like it? Or do you see many changes that you would like to do? Do you intend to create 50 buttons / pages instead of the 4 offered in the menu? Some templates are designed for smaller scale websites, others can be easily expanded.  But keep in mind, that if you want to add lots of content and make many  updates, than you should consider outsourcing your project from the beginning.

template  =  layout
template  
≠ the entire design 

When you buy a template, you buy a layout and not a complete website design. The templates might look very good at the beginning, because most of them have color corrected professional photos that are carefully chosen for that design. Keep in mind that your content is part of the design. As soon as you start with a template you will get a totally different experience because you might not have the right resources.

Like I mentioned above (even if I am a design lover) great content can be anytime transformed into good design, not the other way around.

3. Who should I trust to make my homepage?

Pros for doing it by yourself

  1. If you have the time
    You will have to take your time and understand how things work. I noticed that some friends and colleagues built up their own business webpages without having prior web design experience. It might took them some time but it works for them! Below is a list of tools that you can use, in order to make your own website. After you choose a platform there is plenty of information out there that can guide you. Just be patient, there is a reason why web designers & developers have to work full-time for a project.
  2. If you really need a simple homepage
    If you are an artist, a coach, teaching something etc, the list goes on…and you are just starting / you don’t have the budget to hire a specialist. In this case it might also be a good idea to start it on your own and don’t wait until you can afford somebody. It’s not the design of a webpage that brings the clients, it is the content that matters. In the early stages, it might be enough to start with a simple template. Most of the template platforms offer all of the necessary options (contact forms, links for social media, basic search engine optimisation, etc).

When hiring a freelancer or a creative agency

Communication

I believe that good communication is the root of any good work. Pick a freelancer or a creative agency that gives a damn about what you do and do not accept working with somebody that hurries doing something before understanding your true needs.

Scale, complexity, maintenance

The website industry is constantly updating and changing trends. Websites should be responsive, viewable on any device, more secure, search engine optimised, etc. Therefore consider investing in a person or a team that can deliver you the necessary platform. If you want a “healthy” homepage, carefully consider your options for updating & maintenance possibilities. Similar to a car / building etc, paying for a website / social media page is only a part of the investment, maintaining it is the next step.

Some key terms that will help you to better communicate with a specialist:

Front end – Is what you see: graphical elements, layout, general design.

Back end – It is the backbone of the website, the code that creates the rules for the design, the code that makes it “alive”.

Responsive design – The content is adapting to each screen size. This means that the graphical elements are displayed in different layouts and sizes according to the used device. (Mobile / tablet / Laptop / big screens).

List of online tools to create webpages


thegrid2i_web

The Grid

https://thegrid.io

I will start with the grid because they are promise “artificial intelligence” to create the web design for your content. You do not choose a template here, your options will create the design for you. I will test this month the platform and will write my experience here.

Price: around 100 – 400€ / year


wordpress

WordPress 

There are two options here: wordpress.com and wordpress.org
For wordpress.com there is no setup needed. Here you create an account (free or paid), you pick a template(free or paid) and you are ready to go.
wordpress.org gives you acces to the open source wordpress installer. You have to manage on your own: buying a domain / hosting service / installing wordpress on your server. It might be more complicated but it offers more flexibility than wordpress.com. Here you can install any desired theme / plug in. WordPress.com has a limited (growing) number of themes and plug ins.

Price for wordpress.com: 36 – 300€ / year + selected theme (free or premium)

According to the statistics, 26% of the worldwide websites are made using WordPress. Depending on what you want, this platform has many advantages. For example, I also decided to use WordPress for a while. The main reason is the ease of update, I want to spend more time to create new content instead of dealing with updates. I also like the integration with social media & plug-ins. If you want, you can link the posts from WordPress with a social platform, so you don’t have to work three / four times for a post, link your calendar, etc.


squarespace

Square Space

squarespace.com

Even if I have not yet tested square space, I will list it it here since I saw some of their beautifully templates. I will quote their information “(…) from individuals and local artists to entrepreneurs shaping the world’s most iconic businesses — to share their stories and create an impactful, stylish, and easy-to-manage online presence.”

Price: 132 – 204€ / year


wixcom

WIX

wix.com

Once I needed a homepage for a short film that I made, so i decided to test WIX. As you may expect, you have different layouts that you can choose from. After you choose one, you have the option to further customise it by simply dragging around the existing content. The design is more flexible than the WordPress Themes (that is why they are called “flexible templates”).  But this also means that you might screw up the design. Of course you can add add-ons, social media and plenty more options. What came as a surprise was the ease of use of their user interface. I asked a friend to upload the teaser on my homepage (gave him access to my account).  He managed to upload the content without explaining him how to do it! I personally don’t know now any other platform that has such a intuitive user interface.

Price: 50 – 300€ / year


I hope it helps! Please share your impression about this guide. I am looking forward to see comments, as I intend to add new material.