As a designer I often get asked if I can make websites. But what does it mean to “make” a website?
I can design a website, sure. I can tell you where everything is supposed to go, make you a pixel-perfect or responsive layout that changes shape depending on what device you look at it on, and I can make your website look pretty cool. But building it? That’s another matter. It would usually be something I’d work with a web developer on.
But surely I can just get the web developer to design my site too?
Yes, you can. But many web developers don’t offer a design service, and the ones who do may not always be your first choice for design. For the same reason you wouldn’t hire a plumber to do your electrics, it’s probably in your best interests to work with a team of designer plus developer. This isn’t to say developers can’t do design – and vice versa – a lot of them can. But if you want excellent bespoke design AND excellent build quality, it makes sense to hire two specialists instead of just the one.
So what is involved in building a website?
Research, Design and Development
No two teams work in the same way. However, as a general rule, the first step for most website building is talking to the client. The designer will work with the client to learn what they need and what they want, before formulating a visual layout for the website, and designing the components. The designer will then work with a developer to make sure the design can translate to code effectively, and the website coding commences.
Coding the website: Content Management Systems vs ‘from-scratch’ bespoke websites
With lots of Content Management Systems around like WordPress and Drupal, the process of building websites has changed a lot over the years. Approximations vary, but it’s estimated that 20% of all websites are now built on the WordPress platform, and a further 20% on other Content Management Systems. Anyone can now “build” a simple website using online templates.
The alternative to using a Content Management System is ‘from-scratch’ bespoke design, where a developer builds your website on an independent, standalone platform.
But what is a Content Management System? What is WordPress?
Think about a Filofax. It’s a set template for how to arrange your life – there are lots of different inserts you can buy: a calendar insert, an address-book insert, notepad, etc. Content Management Systems are like an online Filofax. But instead of organising your time, they organise your website content. You can mix and match components (e.g. a photo gallery or a blog) within your website, and you can – to an extent – choose how they look.
One of the benefits of working within a Content Management System like WordPress is that once the website is made, you (as the website owner) can learn to update certain bits yourself. Say your company runs an annual offer selling all your earrings at half price. You can log in to your website’s admin area and upload a banner that says “ALL EARRINGS HALF PRICE” – and then you can take it down again when the offer is over. You can also write blog posts, update website copy and images, and generally be a little more in control of your own site, without having to engage a developer every time you need to make a small change.
I’m fairly technical. Can’t I just make my own website on WordPress?
There is nothing stopping you from doing this! But it depends what you want to use it for. If you’re building a website as a business investment it makes good commercial sense to hire a specialist for the things outside the capabilities of the widely-available templates. It also means that your website will look different from everyone elses’ who has used the same template as you.
A good developer can take a WordPress template (or build their own) and adapt it to suit your exact requirements. Say you like a template that has a great layout, good spacing and nice fonts. But the nav bar is on the left, and you really want it at the top. And you like the style of the inbuilt gallery, but you want images to pop out in a lightbox, rather than scroll across the screen. These are all things that a web developer can easily change.
But more than this, say you already have a design that you really like – from a previous website, or supplied to you by a designer. It might be drawn in Photoshop, or it might be someone else’s website that you love the layout of. You want your website to work like that. A web developer can work with this design, and adapt it to make it work as you intend it.
So I want a designer and a developer?
Probably. You probably know one or the other, or have someone in mind already. It’s often wise to speak to this person first – lots of designers have developers who they trust, and work with often, and vice-versa. So even though you’re technically looking for two people, you’ll often find that the second person comes recommended by the first.