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Web Design

Technically-speaking, this topic doesn't belong on a site that focuses on hosting. However, obviously, for someone looking to "get on the 'Net" for the first time, the art and technique of creating a website is something they need to address. Possibly more than with web hosting though, you get what you pay for when it comes to web design.

First of all, it's easier than you imagine it to be, while also being more difficult than you could possibly imagine it to be. If you just want a bunch of words -- nothing more complicated than a letter -- then you can very easily put up a single web page that doesn't use any of that mythical HTML or link to anything, and which tells the word about your company or organisation. It won't look pretty and it won't be very functional, but it is, nevertheless, a web page, and isn't any more difficult to create than it is to write a letter.

On the other hand, if you want a "proper" website, you're going to have to invest one of two things: time or money, or maybe some of each. If you want to "do it yourself" because there's no way you're going to engage some overpaid, geeky, expensive web designer, then you're going to have to invest more time than money. If you'd rather get on with your business and have a professional do the job for you, then you're going to have to invest more money than time and, again, as with just about everything else in this world, if you go cheap, you'll get cheap. Worse still is that people know what a cheap website looks like, and it will reflect badly on you and cost you in the long run. Put it this way: Do you print your business cards yourself on a cheap, ink-jet printer on perforated card stock, or do you have them printed by a professional printer on expensive offset printers with high-quality inks on good-quality card stock? Do you cringe when you give out your business cards or your website address, or do you give them out proudly? Hmm, good questions.

However, that doesn't mean that you should go for the most expensive quote you receive. Probably the most difficult part of any web-design project is the hammering out of the details before any work starts. An inexperienced web designer (or firm) will underestimate your needs and so give you a quote that will not cover what you are expecting. When this happens you will either end up paying more than you were quoted, or you will be forcing a resentful web designer to work for less than minimum wage as the project drags out for no extra money. Of course, that's the web designer's own fault, but it's also your fault for not first checking into the designer's experience and level of customer satisfaction.

Something else you need to consider is what happens when the web designer is done. How do you maintain the site? Perhaps you will have allowed for an ongoing relationship with the designer for maintenance, but if one of the specifications for the new site was that it came with some sort of a system (often called a "back end") to allow you to manipulate the content of the website without having to deal with the technical and design aspects, then that's great -- except for one catch: Is the system one built from the ground up by the designer, and you're going to be forced to deal with that designer in perpetuity whether you like it or not, or is it built on a well-documented system available through other channels? The answer will determine how well you can deal with change in the future -- change brought about by new developments in technology, old software components no longer being supported by the vendor, the changing security landscape, changing business relationships, things breaking, or moving from one server to another as your needs change.

Another good question: Who owns your site and its back end? If you end your business relationship with the designer, does he/she get to take his/her toys with him/her? The answer may not be as straightforward as you think.

But let's say you have some artistic skill, the right tools and some time. There's nothing that says you can't do it yourself and probably even do a good job of it. This article is not going to develop into a review of the programs available to you, as there is plenty of that information available on the Web, but those programs do fall into two categories:
  • Locally-installed software, such as:
  • Web-based software (usually offered by your hosting provider, not installed and configured by you), such as:
    • SiteBuilder
    • SiteStudio
    • Or some other package with a cool name promising you that you'll be able to create a professional-looking website in no time at all.
By its very nature, design software installed on your computer is going to be more flexible than a web-based package offered by your hosting provider. Also by its very nature, the web-based software will be slow in comparison, cumbersome, and possibly relatively limited in ability, and you may be restricted to a few pre-designed (and so probably used by many other sites) templates. Additionally, a site created in a web-based application may not be portable to another server or host, in which case you (or a web designer) will have to start again from scratch should you need to move your site. These are all things to consider as you get excited reading all of the "do it yourself in five minutes" hype.

The purpose of this article was not to help you create a site, but just to give you the necessary information to make a decision about how you might create or have someone create your site. At least now you're armed with the necessary information to make an informed decision.
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