The Myth of Web Design

10/11/2007

- Andrew Wetzler, President

It is common to think of web design as a trade that is best suited for artsy type folks in rooms with music blaring, lava lamps and beanbag chairs. That notion is perpetuated by the fact that websites, by their very nature, are visual and “front-end” focused from a user perspective.

What is not understood by many individuals is the reality that on a scale of priorities and challenges with any website design project, the “look and feel” is often not nearly as significant as the “back end” of the site. This is not in any way to minimize the importance of utilizing qualified and creative designers, but there tend to be far fewer potential hiccups with the front end of a site than with the back end. Shopping carts, for instance are a huge part of e-commerce websites that are much more technical than creative. Given that there are literally hundreds of shopping cart packages available, it is essential to select one that will work efficiently with all of the site’s other requirements (such as integration with a CMS or accounting system).

Identifying the programming language that is most practical is also essential. The two primary options are ASP and PHP. The biggest difference is that PHP is Open Source, which means that there are literally thousands of Open Source add-ons / modules that can be integrated with the design and consequently there are loads of customization options. ASP, by contrast, is a Microsoft owned and managed environment, which entails limitations (and additional expenses) associated with the integration of related applications along with less ability for customization.

Large organizations already committed to Microsoft products are more likely to run on ASP or .Net, whereas PHP tends to provide a lower cost, and somewhat more entrepreneurial platform.

Developing the “back end” of a site is typically not a task handled by web designers, instead it is performed by programmers. Programmers often have different areas of specialization, so it is essential to work with a programmer who has the skill set to meet the requirements of any particular project. For example, programmers tend to have an expertise in either ASP or PHP.

Another chief consideration when designing a website is the degree to which the site is projected to be search-engine friendly. There are a series of issues that will impact the ability of the search engine spiders to crawl the content of the site. In general, the more content the better, and the fewer bells and whistles the better. Even if the decision is to favor look/feel over SEO, it should be an informed decision.

The bottom line is that designing a website involves a number of considerations beyond the actual aesthetics of the site. The more time spent addressing those issues up front, the greater the likelihood that a project will run smoothly and on schedule.

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