Dear Design Doctor
I am an established furniture designer maker and my website is 5 years old, and needs an update.
Where do I start? Can I do it myself or should I get a web designer to do it for me?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine March/April 2014 (page 26) where it was titled ‘Learning how to work with the web’:
‘If your website is 5 years old then much has changed – in your business but also in website technology. Your site was probably designed in Dreamweaver or Flash, which aren’t easy to change unless you understand coding.
So, time for a big change: start afresh and update your branding too.
Step 1: What’s the purpose of your site?
The first step is deciding the purpose of your site: do you want a website, blog, online shop, or a combination of these?
A website acts like an online portfolio. Its main purpose is to show your work at its best, give info about you and your work and how to contact you.
Blogging has become popular in recent years. Most blogs consist of a series of articles and images. It’s great for creatives to use as a journal or to share more about themselves. The most popular softwares to create websites or blogs are WordPress, Tumblr and SquareSpace. (If you want to learn more about blogging you might find our personal blogging journey & resources of interest.)
An online shop allows you to sell your products directly and includes a shopping cart for financial transactions. Popular e-commerce software for creative products are Supadupa, Shopify, Big Cartel or WP plugins. These often charge monthly subscription rates, but you can start with a free trial period to see if it is for you.
Step 2: DIY or get the experts in?
The second step is deciding if you want to do the design yourself or outsource it to a professional.
I strongly suggest a mixture of both: as a professional creative you probably have got a good idea of how you want your site to look. But budget expert help in from a designer or web developer to get you started with the initial layout. They can also help out with integrating social media links (to drive more traffic to your site), security issues and if any problems occur in the future.
It does cost a little extra at the beginning, but it’s a good long term investment.
In my experience it will save you a lot of time, money and frustration, and you can get quicker to the creative part of including images and text!
Ask your expert for a bit of training to maintain your site yourself, or do a one-day course. Once the main structure is there it is pretty easy for anybody who is familiar with computer basics to add more texts and images.
Step 3: Money & time
The third step is related: what’s your budget and how quickly do you want to launch?
You can expect to pay around £600-£800 for a basic structure with a couple of pages.
You also will need to pay an annual fee for website domain and hosting.
Step 4: Your brand & attracting your ideal clients
Is your style minimal or decorative?
Are you eco-conscious or luxurious?
Do you want to position yourself as affordable or high-end luxury?
Identify 5 specific brand values to help you create the right feeling for your site.
You have only got a couple of seconds to attract your ideal clients online, so it’s crucial that you get this right. Research other sites to see how they attract similar clients as yours.
Step 5: Create your layout & design
Identify how many pages you will need, what the headings of each should be, what images will be going where and what text you need.
At least you will need a home page, an ‘about me’ page (the most read on many websites!) and a FAQ. Also include a CV or a commissions/stockist list, and don’t forget a sign in box for your newsletter.
Have some creative fun with this. Just draw your ideas out on paper (a separate A4 for each page) to give you an idea of how your site will look and connect.
Be generous with the size of your images. Ideally include 4 different shots (from different angles, detail and in context) per product.
Video is increasingly becoming popular, and it is a fantastic way to show who you are and tell your story to potential clients. A short video showing you, your work, your studio and skills is a very powerful tool to attract the right clients. (You can read here a guest post on how to use video to promote yourself – with 3 great short videos with other creatives.)
Then discuss your design ideas with your expert to see if what you want is possible.
Step 6: Images & text
While your expert starts building your website you can start working on step 6: the images and copy (or hire a professional copywriter).
You often don’t need that much text: keep your site visual.
Keep your tone of voice relevant to your audience and values. Friendly, plain English is often best.
Images and the styling are the most important parts of your site and I suggest you use a professional photographer to help you present your work in the best possible way. Research how others have done this successfully to help define your own style and brand.
Step 7: Get ready to launch
Create momentum: you got something to celebrate!
You need to make a little noise to get noticed.
Share previews on social media or in your newsletter.
Launch your new site when you are launching a new collection, when you have a major show, or in September for the Christmas season.
Step 8: It’s a work in progress
The reality of websites today is that they are never finished.
So step 8 is about constantly improving your site, making time to add new info and images regularly, installing Google Analytics (or something similar) to keep driving traffic to your site.
There are billions of websites out there and although you might want to sit back feeling proud of your new site, the hard work now really begins: to keep people coming back to your site!’
Have you recently updated or rebranded your website? What did you learn? What tips would you give to other creative businesses? Feel free to share them in the comments box below: