Here is a web design theory : websites are like onions, you see, since
websites have layers. And ogres are like onions, since ogres have layers.
Websites are designed by web designers. Ergo – web designers are like ogres.
So, let’s explore why web designers are like ogres.
Firstly, let’s see why we say that websites are like onions, with layers, in the
first place – since this is the whole raison d’etre of my argument.
Websites have an outer layer
This is the graphical look and feel of the site. This is normally what most
people think of when they refer to ’web design’. In order to create this your
common, or garden, web design ogre needs to have an artist’s eye and a
designer’s skill with tools such as Photoshop or Fireworks. The graphical web
designer needs to have insight into the latest web design styles, He needs to be
able to wield shades and shadows and meld them into Web 2.0 flavored onion soup.
Preferably soup not made with eyeballs.
The second layer of a website is the structure
The structure could be determined through some method such as functional
decomposition, where the web designer might start with the main function (home
page) and break the site into manageable sub sections so that he ends up with a
clear idea of the scope of the site as well as the internal structure. So here
your web designer needs to have some knowledge of basic Software Engineering
principles. But even more than that, once the main functions of the site have
been designed, the functions need to be married to the graphical design in such
a way that the system is usable. A knowledge of the principles of good web
design and usability (ala Nielson –
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.html), and a familiarity with the
http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/ to learn how to avoid making mistakes such
as ’mystery meat navigation’, is essential.
The third layer of a website is the dynamic and interactive elements
Frontpage and Photoshop can only bring you so far. Your web design ogre might
find that he simply has to go and kill a couple of nerdy programmers to steal
their reference manuals: PHP and MySQL for Dynamic websites, AJAX and PHP –
Building responsive Web Applications. And he’d better know that Ruby on Rails is
not a gem on a train track.
Then we get to the content
The website needs to be filled with good, quality content. Sometimes you are
lucky and your client gives you good content. Other times, you’d better start
rewriting the techno-speak and corporate waffle and ask your client gently if he
can state five benefits of their services. So, a good knowledge of copywriting
and a command over the English language will not come in amiss.
So, we have the layers that make a website. The core, though, is the marketing
We all know that it is NOT just a case of ’build it and they will come’. The
website needs to be marketed and it can only be marketed if the underlying SEO
principles have been kept in mind right from the start – in other words, links
are easily followed by humans as well as search engines, all pages have
meaningful titles, keywords are gently worked into the content of the pages.
Apart from that, someone needs to take the marketing budget allocated to the
website (all websites have a marketing budget, right?) and use that marketing
budget to get the best ROI for the site – decide on the best Internet Marketing
strategies for building links and traffic and then go forth and execute (the
strategy, that is).
Now, my question is: Is it fair to expect one person to have all these skills?
Years ago when I studied ’Computer Science’ there was basically one job title to
aspire for and that was ’Systems Analyst’. If you worked for a really big
corporate they might have distinguished between System Analyst and Programmer.
(And there was also a career called ’Punch Operator’, which strangely enough,
has disappeared since today we all are supposed to do our own punching…) And
yes, I suppose the ’System Analyst’ of that time was supposed to do everything –
analyze, build, test, deliver and support the system.
But… tempers fuggit…. ’That was then, this is now.’
Today, there are myriad career paths available for the aspiring math’s whiz-kid
who sits down for an aptitude test. Anything from Business Analyst to Test
Manager to Network Administrator to IT Technician….
And BTW, if you are a COBOL programmer, you are a COBOL programmer. You know
COBOL; that is what you do. Nobody would expect you to sort out the DNS entries
for the company intranet server.
But the same specialization doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the web
design arena. I saw a job description just today for a ’web developer’ who is
supposed to have the following skills: Photoshop, Fireworks, Flash, Swish, .net,
C#, MSAccess, SQL design experience, ASP, VB, .net, HTML, DHTML, ASP, XML, CSS,
Java script and VB script. And this poor sod is supposed to also maintain
networks and troubleshoot Windows servers. And wait for it – this paragon of a
web design ogre will be paid what practically constitutes a minimum wage in the
IT world. And this is in the corporate world, where they should really know
better and where they can actually afford to appoint specialists.
If you are a web design freelancer working for yourself, you’d better be sure
that you are well versed in all the skills that go into building the layers of a
website…or you’d better start working on a plan to build strategic
partnerships with other specialist freelancers. This will allow yourself some
freedom to specialize in whichever aspects of web design that you enjoy the
most, as well as offer the opportunity to others to do the same.
Christine Anderssen is a web design ogress of multiple talents. You can find
her at TM4Y Web Design and Internet Web Hosting for South Africa. After spending
20 years in the corporate IT world she recently started her own Web Design and
Development company specializing in custom built Internet solutions for small