10 March 2010

How to Choose a Web Designer

What Makes a Good Website?

A well designed website can be standards compliant and affordable.

What constitutes good design is debatable, but when designing for the web there are guidelines which designers ignore at their risk.

Text should be easy to read. This means starting with a reasonable font size and using text columns which are not too wide to scan – the eye tires quickly from reading long lines of text and has difficulty picking up the start of the next line. Text columns should have margins wide enough to give the eye a resting place, and should have a neutral and contrasting background colour. Body text should never appear above a photographic image.

Graphics including logos should be crisp and have clean edges, yet how often do we see graphics with jagged edges?

Photographic images don't have to be big to be beautiful, but whatever the size they should be sharp and clear and properly optimised for the web to ensure fast download times.

Your website should reflect your own business and be a one-off – not built to a template which has been used tens of thousands of times. The interface should be transparent (so obvious that the user doesn't have to think about how to get from page to page) and follow the Three-Click Rule: you should be able to navigate from any page on the website to any other page within three clicks of the mouse. Don't be surprised if you've never heard of the latter – many so-called web designers are also unaware of it.

Any commercial website should also be cross-platform compatible: it should look the same and perform properly in all current browsers whether they are running on a Mac or PC.

Check the Track Record

Take your time. Have a good look online at any web pages that the designer has already made. Ask yourself the following:

Is it easy on the eye?
Is the text legible?
Is it a fast download ?
Are the pages consistent across the website?
Does it work in all my browsers?
Was it built using XHTML or old-fashioned HTML?


HTML (hypertext mark-up language) has been deprecated for years, yet websites are still being built using HTML. This is mainly because some people are still using old drag-and-drop applications to generate their web pages, despite the fact that these programs are notorious for generating bloated code (slower to download).

A future-proof website will be coded using XHTML (eXtensible HTML) and will be hand-coded (ideally) to ensure fast download times. Now that Google is starting to include the speed at which a web page downloads in their calculation of its page rank, it will be interesting to see what happens to the rankings of those old-fashioned HTML sites.

Luckily you don't have to be a programmer to be able to tell the difference between a website built using HTML and one built using the recommended XHTML. The World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C, the people responsible for developing web standards) have their excellent Markup Validation Service which is available to everyone. To check whether a web page was made using XHTML or HTML:

1) click on the link above;

2) copy the web address of the page you want to check into the Address field;

3) click on the Check button.

Not only will you see whether the web page validates as HTML or XHTML, but you will also see any errors in the way the page was coded. Try it out on any page from this website to see how any proper web page should validate: