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From the Trenches

The Six Million Dollar Web Designer

Mike Sweeney | March 15, 2010

Gentlemen, we can build him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s ideal web designer. We can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

Who will be that man? Or woman?

I love web designers. Hell, I am actually envious of the really good web designers. It’s a field I wish I had explored further back in college and during the early days of my career. Great web designers – the really great ones – are invaluable pieces of the marketing puzzle.

I can attest to the value of a great web designer because at any given moment, our firm is actively working with 3-4 web designers. Right now, we’re redesigning this blog, creating a client microsite, and plowing through various stages of 3 website redesigns. We can’t do any of that without a team of talented web designers. [And by the way, we’re always looking for more. Drop us a line if you meet the criteria below.]

That also means that I can attest to the weaknesses of the not-so-great designers. Surprisingly, these weaknesses are rarely related to design skills. Here’s some simple advice for transforming yourself (or your design firm) from good to great:

Meet deadlines.

Do I really have to expand on this one? If you agree to a schedule, meet that schedule. Yes, clients will cause delays. If at all possible, build those delays into the schedule.

Be an artist. An artistic marketer, that is.

I can appreciate an artist’s process and the idea of artistic expression. That being said, if you’re working on a design for a business, put your business hat on. Better yet, put your marketing hat on. Function is generally more important than form in these cases.

Don’t copy. Borrowing is ok (and sometimes encouraged), copying is not.

If someone is paying you for what they think is an original design, make it original. By all means borrow some ideas from other similar sites, then make it your own. Just because we list a few sites we like in a creative brief, that doesn’t mean we want replicas.

Take direction and criticism in stride.

This is another one that applies for every field. If you think your design is a masterpiece that is above a critique, you better be able to sell that design with more than storyboards, wireframes and passion. Try listening to your client – before you even start designing.

Be versatile.

In most cases, I argue against heavy specialization in particular verticals or types of organizations. Heavy specialization leads to a) less creative problem-solving b) an eventual revenue wall once you’ve maxed out the prospects in a category and c) boredom.

For me, versatility is what turns the great web designers into awesome web designers. Learn business. Learn marketing. Learn SEO. Learn analytics. You don’t have to become an expert in each of these categories, but a little knowledge goes a long way.

Bonus: If you happen to possess one of those 20:2:1 zoom lenses with bionic night vision function in the left eye, it can’t hurt.

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