Day 10: The Secret Sauce of a Successful Website Designer

I decided to distract my web site designer, Chad Tomlinson, from the task at hand: this site! Yes, we still have the last bits of work to do here but I really wanted to interview him for this series. I’ve had a lot of fun working together, video chatting with him, laughing, and stressing out together about when this was going to be completed! I thought I’d link his site but when I went there I thought, “This can’t be Chad’s site!” And sure enough, like the cobbler whose children have no shoes, Chad has neglected his own site for his clients (some of whom I’ve listed at the end of this post). I highly recommend him, even if he is going barefoot around the internet.
Katie: What are the three biggest mistakes an author (or anyone) can make in creating a site?
1. Locking themselves into things they can’t keep current. If you’re not interested in being a blogger, don’t start a blog. If you don’t want to keep your news clippings up-to-date, don’t add a news clippings section. A site that looks dormant is spooky, like an abandoned house with a few pieces of furniture and clothes still hanging in the closet.
2. Music that starts playing automatically (sorry, I know your old site had it, but I always blame the designer).
3. Expecting a web page to be a fixed design like in a magazine. Web pages are more limited in certain ways, so it’s best to accept and learn to work within those limits. Text and images might not always layout exactly as you would want. So unless you can plan for your masterpiece to fail gracefully on some people’s browsers, it’s best to keep things simple.
Katie: What is the average cost for a web designer and then the programmer?
Chad: Depending on experience level, a designer might charge $50-$100 an hour, a programmer $40-$75. Your site was on the large side, but more importantly, had multiple goals, so it took some time to figure out how to best organize it.
Katie: Does the designer hire the programmer or does the client?
Chad: If a designer has designed websites before (and they ought to have, it’s very different from print), he more than likely has a programmer he likes to work with. Your designer shouldn’t expect you to have one in your Rolodex.
Katie: What are at least two best must-dos for any site?
1. Organize your site wide and shallow instead of narrow and deep. If you bury things in folders inside of folders on your hard drive, what happens? You can’t find what you’re looking for. So even if it makes organizational sense to group your pages that way, that might not be the best way to lead a reader through the material.
2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It’s the unfathomable black magic of the modern age. Go ask your programmer. And then would you tell me what they told you?
Katie: What’s your best secret sauce, and I’m not talking bar-b-que! Give us the web guru’s secret recipe!
Chad: WordPress. It’s not just for blogs, it’s an overall content management system that just makes it easier for mere mortals to enter information into a web page. You still have to have a programmer to get your format established, but after that you can be largely self-sufficient. (And yes, you, Katie, are running WordPress, but you are self-hosted on a server you pay for. That’s as opposed to running the simplified version that resides on‘s servers.) And (either way) it’s largely free!
Katie: What is your nightmare client?
Chad: Never had one. 😉 But if I did, it wasn’t you.
Katie: Phew!
Chad: Seriously, the nightmare client is the one that keeps moving the goal, usually because they never had a clear idea of what they wanted to begin with. But it’s part of a designer’s job to help them understand what their needs and goals are.
Katie: Anything else you want to add?
Chad: Do not skip the wireframe step! The design and programming of web pages is still a complex and potentially time-consuming (i.e., $$) process, so to cut down on major miscommunications, everyone needs to be in agreement about the function and content of each page before the real work begins. Wireframes are a preliminary, skeletal look at each page of your site. They use nothing but gray boxes and minimal type to block out where everything will go on every page. They’re not sexy, but they will help ferret out all the unspoken assumptions each party’s making.
Some of Chad’s design work can be found, aside from right here:
Dial Tone Records
Heavy Light Records
Bradford for Justice
Penny delosSantos

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