Making a website really takes no skill at all. Today you don't have to be creative, you don't have to know code, you just need to know how to work a computer and type. Thanks to applications like Dreamweaver and it's predecessor GoLive and the ever popular FrontPage (sorry I think I just threw up a little in my mouth) you can slap something together in a few days. But making a statement with your website, I mean really setting yourself apart from the crowd, takes time and a little bit of elbow grease. And this is where a lot of people/companies make mistakes.
Over the past few months I have struggled with a client who came to us looking to update their website, but have lacked the effort to decide on what they want their site to say about them. From simple content to deciding on a look and feel they have been painfully slow. I won't go in to any further details about the company itself, but will expand on two reasons I believe this process of making a website is more than a simple "wizzy-whig" editor.
If you don't have content, then you might as well not have a life on the web. Without something to engage your users then all the pretty graphics and typography you put on a site will do you little good. I know this, because I've been there. When I first started out in web design, nearly two years ago now, I thought using lots of pictures and little text would draw in people by the masses to my site. Boy was I in for a surprise when all I heard was the sound of crickets chirping the next morning I woke up.
Now I'm not saying you have to know everything about anything, but you should be able to talk about what you love, right? I mean if you're serious about writing a blog, or telling people why your business is great, then you should be able share that with others. Think of it like your meeting some friends for coffee and conversation. Or if that's too casual then think of it like a formal dinner party. That's not really the point I'm trying to make. What is important is that you are comfortable with communicating to people who you are and why what you have to say is interesting. That's really all it is.
There is a great article on A List Apart titled "Better Writing Through Design" by Bronwyn Jones where she lays out some great ideas for putting your own voice in to your website. I particularly like what she says at the end of the article:
Design a voice for your site and you do more than make words and images play nice. You engage your users in a discussion you both want to carry on.
(For every rule there is an exception, and in this case I would have to say that creative people aren't held to this rule as strictly. Where they lack in content they make up for in a strong portfolio.)
When I refer to layout I am talking about the look and feel of a website. Most of this work is usually done by a professional, such as myself and many of you who read this. And from my experience there is no real shortcut here. From an initial idea/concept to the first sketch on paper to the various mockups created, this portion of creating a website is at best, lengthy. It is also the most emotional. People can become really attached to certain images or colors or fonts for that matter. It's easy when building a new site from the ground up, but when you are working on a redesign things can get messy.
For example, the clients site I am working on uses a primarily red palette on the current version of their website, from the logo to the background to the font colors. So when I presented them with four initial mockups, each utilizing the same red color, I was surprised to hear that they didn't like any of them. Actually I was flabbergasted. So what I'm working on now is creating a more muted color scheme which uses more grays and blues with and a hint of red in the logo and some header text. Sometimes a subtle hint of color can make a bigger impact than using color all over the place.
Speaking of redesigning a website there is an interesting article on A List Apart titled "Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign" by Cameron Moll. Even though the article is dated October 2005 I think it holds a timeless bit of information. Now whether or not I whole-heartedly agree with what Mr. Moll has to say is up for debate. While I can see his point on the whole emotional/aesthetic approach to a redesign, and a more business/market approach to a realign, I think the two can go hand-in-hand and don't necessarily have to be separated.
Obviously there is more to consider when creating a website, but I wanted to focus in on the two areas I think are really the backbone to any great project. Plus I've been so focused on these two areas here at work