You are ready for a website and you are getting all sorts of advice from well meaning friends and family. You need this. You need that. Hire a website developer because that is what you need. You don’t need a website developer you need a website designer. I have a friend that is a graphic designer - they can help you.
So now you go to Google. Search the difference between website designer and developer and it gets even more confusing! If a website development company comes up - they say use a developer. If a design company comes up - use a designer. So… what’s the real scoop? (And in all transparency I’m a designer but will try not to be biased!)
The initial question should be based around function. What do you want your website to actually do? Let’s take away the branding and the messaging and the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for a moment. Look at the purpose of the site. This could vary depending on what stage your company is in. New company? Been in business 4-5 years? Well established company that is looking for a refresh?
Different growth stages of a company will have different needs and functions. A new company may just be looking for a presence and authentication. A company 4-5 years old now may now need to add additional functionality to the site - they are looking at starting lead generation or perhaps they need to add in a help desk service or intake forms. A well established company may want to add in more customized type of automation or may want to add a shopping cart to the site. (All of these can also apply to a company at any stage - just using generalities and slight over-exaggerations here.)
As technology has changed, the lines can be very blurred between a designer and developer.
As a general rule, a website designer will:
- Work with the look and feel of the site from an outside standpoint
- Add functionality that is “off the shelf.” No or little customization is needed
- They have a good working knowledge of SEO or Search Engine Optimization
- They have an eye for customer experience
- Keep mobile top of mind when designing
- Generally rely on popular builders for the website such as WordPress, Joomla or even Wix and Squarespace type of websites
- Basically a web designer handles the aesthetics of a website.
A website developer will:
- Be a rockstar with coding. They can make “off the shelf” work for your needs specifically
- Go by the alias of “programmer”
- They can build websites from scratch without the use of the commercial platforms
- Make mobile work more seamlessly with custom work
- They integrate custom functionality so it works through the site
- They build custom applications or add custom components to an existing website
- They are more “back end” type of website people.
A graphic designer will:
- Use color, images, fonts and other creative elements to express ideas or thoughts
- A graphic designer works with different software than a website designer
- A graphic designer strictly deals with the visual
- A graphic designer’s work may or may not translate to a website due to the technical aspects of what a website needs to perform
- A graphic designer can be a website designer if they have the technical skills.
More confused now?
To add even more upset to this apple cart, a person can be all three - or two of the three or just one of the above. A good website designer doesn’t necessarily create great logos. It’s a different skill set. A good developer may also be terrifically creative and can make a website that looks great and functions perfectly. A graphic designer may present a beautiful design for a website but it doesn’t translate to the screen or - even more important - to mobile.
The best way to decide what you need or want is to list the functionality you need of the site. Get referrals from business associates. Find websites you like and reach out to that company and ask who did their website. Google companies in your area - but don’t limit yourself to your location. Many designers or developers work entirely online - so you can find someone you like from anywhere in the world.
Referrals, testimonials and references will be your best friend at this stage. Seek them out. Just as in any industry there are good, great and not so good/great companies. Do due diligence here. This can be a large portion of your marketing budget so take your time here.
The last piece of confusing advice is to really investigate the company, ask questions, see portfolios and submit a request for a proposal detailing exactly how you want your site to function. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. THEN, once you have the proposals in hand, set appointments to talk through the proposals and go over each detail. Ask specific questions regarding HOW they fulfill the functionality. Any reputable company will be happy to do this. Take notes and then go with your gut and instinct. This relationship will last a long time - or should - so make sure they will fit your companies needs.
Keep in mind - your best friend’s sister’s brother’s cousin may not be the best fit for your company. Now… relax… you got this!