What’s In A Website?


Having designed websites for nearly twenty years I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. From spending hours creating fully animated websites (in Flash) to the proliferation of smartphones and the need for every website to be beautiful when seen at 2 inches wide by 4 inches tall. For most of that time is was very possible for one person to deliver a successful web project. It seems strange, though, that with technology getting more advanced, websites have become increasingly complex beasts.

There are lots of reasons why website design and builds have become tricky, and you’d probably get a different list from every designer and developer you talked to, but here my top five:-


1. Content management

Long gone are the days when designers had an ongoing commitment to update content for the client. Gone too are the days when the content management system (CMS) used was one which provided clients with a frustratingly restrictive environment – one which took ages to navigate and changes. Now the website’s we produce can be made to hold a variety of complex page layouts whose elements can be moved around on the fly. All of which are held within a quick to learn and easy to manage and customisable back office.


2. Adaptable websites

The news of Apple launching yet another revolutionary product can lead to more cursing than excitement as the evolution of the internet and how it can be accessed is thundering along at a remarkable speed. Put this against the life span of a website, many I have worked on lasting over five years, and the danger is a site which doesn’t move and adapt can be left as a snapshot of the year it was built, a citron C5 in a world of electric cars. So websites need to be adaptable, changeable, able to withstand significant upgrades and improvements as either technology or the organisation the site is for changes. Within a competitive marketplace it means making changes without huge budgets, manipulating what’s there rather than starting from scratch, as well as ensuring the site is made in such a way that would give the flexibility for subsequents stages of development.


3. Responsive website design

“Okay, it looks good on desktop but what about on iPad?” “My new Samsung Galaxy?” “On my customised version of Firefox which shows up on my new sat nav?” Making a website which works on as many different devices as feasible is probably the biggest challenge of a new website project. The technology needs to be right and there needs to be testing and tweaking as we, our clients and their customers all start using the site on any one of countless devices.

And it’s not just a technology thing – from the stat of any web project the need of the site to look and work well in any format is fundamental to the planning, the conceptualisation, the designs – everything. As soon as we put pen to paper on the designs we need to be completely aware of how each page will work small, medium and large.


4. Security

The past couple of years have seen more and more large multi-national companies have their websites compromised and their users personal data skimmed and sold on. The stories of Microsoft and Sony making the headlines is just the surface of an increasingly hazardous job of keeping websites safe. Trojan programmes can capture the keys you type, automated programmes are sent to look for holes and exploits meaning any given site may be hit by hundreds of malicious snooping bots trying to find a way in. Not to mention the dreaded shadow of denial of service attacks.

So what’s the result? We build a site and at the same time agree a strategy with the client to protect the site. Unfortunately that isn’t job done – the threats change, the technology responds – what works on launch day may well not be what is needed going forward. We also need to account for ongoing support which, because if the current climate, has increased significantly. To protect against the waves of attacks on sites across the internet, software has to be patched more frequently, servers need to be updated and the systems used to protect the site need monitoring and regularly reviewed and tweaked to ensure they are still being effective.

The annual cost of running a website has also increased – every website needs good and reliable hosting (to minimise the site going down at any point) and then the site needs extra protection in this current environment. This might come from paying a premium to a host or it may need to come from a third party. It is becoming essential to harden the security measures around logging in to the website, to have a firewall to deflect the regular attacks on every site, and a facility to regularly back up the site so no data is lost if the site is successfully attacked.

In the do-it-yourself age of website design there has become an expectation that hosting is cheap and the packages uniformly similar but due diligence on where the site will live and how it will be protected is key to the site living a full and happy life.


5. Website Design & SEO

So many websites to look at, so little time. Pushing a website to the top of the pile and achieve the magical page one ranking on Google is not a job that should be taken lightly. Google is becoming more and more hostile to those who want to manipulate their meta data to make their sites perform well on searches. Google and it’s peers are probably right to do so but it does make the desire to improve a website’s profile a far harder task. And just to make things ‘interesting’ Google frequently alter their algorithms, what they use to ‘value’ a website so there’s a danger that any site may suddenly drop into obscurity due to a new understanding of what makes a site relevant to the user.

As designers we have to consider how the design and content of the site, along with the technology that makes it, will effect the final profile of a website. We also have to be careful we pay attention to the objectives of a client before we begin so we can build a site which after time can get the profile which it needs to be a success.


Is that all?

Well, not really but it’s a start. One of our biggest challenges is articulating all this to potential clients in our conversations and in competitive pitches. That’s along with needing to differentiate us from other web designers, show we understand the project at hand, develop a proposal that meets the key needs for the site and make sure it’s clear that we’re offering something a million miles apart from the company in the advert on TV which promises to build your site for pence. Simple, yes?

Note to any who have read this. I hope this was a mildly diverting read. I may have 20 years of design experience but this is my first blog piece. I’m hoping I’ll improve, hope you bear with me! Richard