By Joshua Lucas

Issue # 9

Wednesday, May 6, 1998


When I played football in high school, my coach was a monster when it came to researching our opponents. We studied tapes and looked over various plays that the opposing team ran. This was done in preparation for the big night when we actually got to take the field and play.

This seems to be the place where we are now in this series; Everything up to this point has been the preparation.

We have studied our competition and found out what our customers want and expect. We have looked at ways in which we can bring community into our web sites in order to make our visitors feel more at home. But the time has come to start working on the actual site and moving it from paper to the Web.

The first step in moving the idea to reality is to realize that some control is going to have to be given up. In order to do justice to your ideas for the site, you probably won't have the time to design and implement this all on your own. And let's face it; Most of us don't know a whole lot about things like "Communication Theory" and "Visual Hierarchies." A professional design team can do an incredible job on an incredible idea. The problem lies in the fact that there are many design firms out there now. And the prices of each can vary wildly!

When the Web first exploded a couple of years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find more than a handful, but now they seem to be springing up all over. How can you find the right one? And at the right price for your budget?

First, you need to find out everything you can about the various design companies in your area. The Web is a beautiful thing when it comes to research. If you have a local search directory (like one of Yahoo!'s Metro's), try a search for 'Web design' or 'web site design' and see what comes up. This should at least open some doors and give you some valuable information.

When you find a design company's site, look it over carefully. Are there are elements you'd want in your site? Have they done a solid job in promoting their own business? Or have their efforts been better on behalf of their clients?

Take a careful look at the sites they have already designed. Are there common elements to all of the sites? How does the design compare to the price? Don't be afraid to call or e-mail their clients, either; They will most likely be quite willing to give you insight on what it's like to work with the design company. By looking closely at these type of questions you can find out a lot more information then if you just picked up the phone and called.

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas". . .writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.

Find the web design companies closest to you and begin to research the sites they have created. Do any of them match what you are looking for? And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

Don't be afraid to shop around, either. You CAN say "no" if you feel uncomfortable; just because you have met with some designers does not mean that you have to buy everything that they are saying. Good web site design firms will encourage you to compare services, and a really good firm might even make suggestions for other places for you to investigate. That shows a lot of confidence in their abilities, and good will on their part to ensure that you get the best service.

Obviously, price and budget are considerations. The lowest price isn't necessarily the best use of your money, nor are the highest priced firms necessarily the most efficient use, either. Is the firm helping you design a whole on-line marketing "image", with ideas you can take into other media? Or are they throwing your ideas into a "template", and moving on to the next client? Just because a firm has designed a 100 different sites doesn't mean they are the right firm for you, either. Is there any growth and "evolution" in their sites? Or are they still doing the same things they were doing last year?

Come prepared with the plan that you have made about your site. Know the sections you would like to see and why you need them. By coming in prepared, you will set yourself apart from many of the company's other clients who generally look solely to the design team for all of their answers. The simple act of being prepared will help greatly with the respect and seriousness the design company gives to you. Plus, by giving the company a starting point, a good design firm can often take your ideas in directions you never considered! You may even save some money, because the design team won't have to start right from the basics.

The move from paper to the Web can be intimidating, but with the right amout of research and preparation, it can also be a very exciting experience.

NEXT WEEK: Working with a web design team "long distance" - Using non-local designers.

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