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Thread: The standards of web design in SA

  1. #1
    Platinum Member Chatmaster's Avatar
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    The standards of web design in SA

    I was on my way to the office today when my cell phone rang. The lady phoned me after being referred by one of my clients and she was disheartened. She quickly explained to me that she has had a website live for nearly 5 years now and had several redesigns done on it by different web designers over the period of time costing her in access of R60k. During the 5 years period she has never had one referral, not even one! I told her that I would give her a call the moment I had a look at it and we will discuss her options. In my years in the industry I have received several similar requests, but this one was enough to cause me to go hit the punching bag for 5 minutes before returning her call.

    The website had fantastic content and I was truly impress by her writing style as it grabbed my eyeballs and made me want to go to KZN with my next vacation. There were just a few basic problems with her site.

    She had an image landing page with a “click to enter” button. Once I got to the internal pages I was shocked to see that the website had a JavaScript dropdown menu that couldn’t be indexed. In viewing the source code I could even see where the JS source code was borrowed from.

    In terms of conversion rates and usability there was simply dull pages that looked like big advertising boards. It took about 4 hours of my time to just analyze and compile a suggestions report. It was clear to me that the web designer wasn’t a complete newbie and this made me even more angry as he should have known better. But this incident made me think!

    Just what do web design companies sell to their clients. I personally would not just design and associate myself with any website as I feel reputation is of importance in our small industry. If she could pay R12k for this website, what should I charge for my websites (Sarcasm intended). Is it time that someone brings out a website where web design companies are being blacklisted? Is it fair to judge web designers that clearly have no idea what makes a website work? Is it the web designer’s responsibility to deliver a product that works or to deliver a product that the client (Who has no idea what works) demands? How can this be improved?

    Any opinions?

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    First off - I think it is a very common problem. The first site I ever "set up" was for an industry association about 6 years ago. Essentially I wrote the content and outsourced site design and layout. And it cost a fair bit for what was little more than a mildly modified ASP based CMS.

    After walking the road here, I was approached to revue a new page of content for that site. I was horrified by what I found and looked at the full site now armed with the knowledge gained (as an unintended consequence) here.

    I think the thing that bugs me the most was some of the shortcomings were really basic. Such as some simple CSS stuff that makes a big difference. An example - main headings were called class_1 instead of H1. Tight synopsis content was class_3 instead of H2. No robots.txt, no sitemap, hopeless page titles.

    Perhaps we can lay this at the door of a lack of professionalism (and that seems valid enough), but I don't think that is the only problem.
    • Most stock standard CMS's are not well optimised even on the basics.
    • SEO is held as being a near mystical art (I agree it is heavily nuanced, but the basics are the basics).
    • There is something of an attitude among coders (and I'm not even going to try to expand on that - but non-coders who have spent much time around "average" coders will know what I mean).
    • The client is ignorant of the fact that pretty does not necessarily equal effective.
    Last edited by Dave A; 30-Aug-07 at 07:59 AM.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Platinum Member Marq's Avatar
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    Bad Potty Training

    I think there are two additional factors to this problem within the web building profession and its not just this area that has a problem.

    Its a catch 22 type set-up.

    The first is that the fundamentals of business practice from admin, philosophies, operations etc, through to ethics is generally missing today. Bad potty training. The basics are not taught and everyone wants to fly before they have learned the complexities of aerodynamics. Result = crash.

    This results in the second factor; which is that there is a vast amount of information out there which allows the DIY guy to train themselves to be a "passable" marketable resourse.

    The problem here is that because they do not have the basics and have no proper formal training their views and business practices are skewed and the results show up in badly presented reports/presentations/websites which on the surface appear to be good but below is a structure without foundations. DIY in this case = Don't Involve Yourself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chatmaster View Post
    It was clear to me that the web designer wasn’t a complete newbie and this made me even more angry as he should have known better. But this incident made me think!
    Think of it from the web designer's perspective.

    What is the goal of a web designer? Surely it is to win web design contracts and to get good referrals quickly.

    It is understandable, therefore, that web designers would submit proposals that look impressive on the surface instead of being impressively efficient in the deep structure. Potential clients are led by what they see, not by the theory of good web design. Furthermore, clients are more likely to talk about their web sites when the site is still new, and presumably that is the time when most word-of-mouth referrals happen.

    A similar thing happens to translators (I am a translator). A company may commission one of its employees (say, Joe) to get something translated. Now I can either translate in such a way that the company will get most benefit from the translation, or... I can translate in a way that most impresses Joe. My word-of-mouth referrals will come via Joe, not via the rest of the company when they eventually notice increased sales (which may well be a result of my highly suitable but visually unimpressive translation). So... if you look at it from my perspective... whom should I woo?

    The ideal is to do both, of course. One has to have some professional pride, after all.
    Last edited by leuce; 30-Aug-07 at 09:08 AM. Reason: asdf

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    I have to agree with Leuce - Designing is just that - the exterior and the aesthetically pleasing.

    SEO and the ability to accommodate the demands of SEO is a marketing issue.

    Logical function eg automatic invoicing is a programming function.

    It has been my contention for years that there is a gap in the market for an advisor or consultant (I am now both ducking and dodging) to act as the liaison between all 3 of the above parties and the client, should the latter not be informed enough to know the difference.
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Hold on a moment. We're talking about websites, not magazines.

    If all you want is pretty to look at, why not just do the whole thing in image files? Including the text. It would save a heck of a lot of layout issues and be the same thing, right?

    I don't think so. The text is in text for a reason.

    My gripe is at the most basic level. Really basic stuff. A simple thing like page title, a description tag, and using a few important tag names don't affect the final visual appeal, and it's more likely to aid the design process. And from there the SEO expert can start weaving their magic without having to re-engineer the entire site.

    Forgiving this because the website designer is an "artiste'" is just not on. An artist generally won't use watercolour on canvas made for oils. And if they ever did, it would be intended, not out of ignorance.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Platinum Member Chatmaster's Avatar
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    Maybe I should go about things this way. Lets rather answer the following questions first and then based on our answers there decide what the role of the web designer is in the whole process. Why does anyone want a website? Why does any business need a website?

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    To influence existing and potential clients to make the right decisions?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chatmaster View Post
    Why does anyone want a website? Why does any business need a website?
    There's this pub in the bush, and they're making some money because they have some regular customers. The owner then gets a brainwave -- why not introduce a shuttle service to transport potential customers from the main road to the pub? The shuttle minibuses are expensive, but running costs are low. After a few months, the owner realises that although the shuttle service has been running, it hasn't brought him any new customers. He is angry and annoyed at the guy who sold him the shuttle minibuses. He knows that other businesses have shuttle services and they're obviously making a tonne of money. So where does the problem lie? With the shuttle service, obviously...

    ...not!

    The owner has a misconception of how a shuttle service could bring him more customers. He thinks that if the service is in place, customers would automatically come. If they don't, he blames the service... not the implementation of it.

    He doesn't realise that when he sees other businesses' shuttle services, what he's seeing is only the visible part of a more comprehensive marketing programme. He would have spent his money better getting smaller shuttle buses that formed part of an integrated marketing plan.

    A web site should not be expected to stand on its own, but should form part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. The problem with small businesses is that they can't afford extensive marketing projects, and their owners do most of the marketing themselves, so they tend to think of a web site as a complete solution instead of a single tool in a large toolbox.

    Ideally, in a small business setup, the person responsible for the web site should have an interest in the business itself. A web design firm will design the site and then forget about it, but a one-person marketing department might continually refine the web site and do stuff with it until it actually makes money.

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    Surely a website IS a magazine /brochure in a more eco friendly medium? IMHO not all magazines have the same goal, nor market, in mind either. So the biggest question has to be "what do you want from the website"

    One of the best designer sites - http://www.steinergraphics.com

    For me they are a whole planet ahead of most on design, but when it comes to the reality of SEO, they don't feature.

    I somehow don't think it is important to them.
    Regards

    Debbie
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