1. Technology

Freelance Web Designers - What Does Your Web Site Say About You?

Your Customers, Clients, and Future Bosses are Looking

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When I first started at Symantec around 8 years ago, they owned the program Visual Page as part of their suite of software for sale. This was a WYSIWYG Web page editor that allowed you to do some HTML editing, but it was primarily set up to be a visual tool. One of the questions I asked the hiring manager was if I'd have to use VP to work on the Symantec Web site. He said "oh no, we can get you any tool you need."

Well, I was relieved and when I was offered the job I took it and built and maintained the Syamntec.com Web site using HomeSite and then Dreamweaver.

But what does this tell you about the confidence in the Visual Page product? If Symantec were primarily a Web development company, I would think that their Web page would have to be built and maintained by the software they were trying to sell. Like how would you feel if you went to the Adobe.com Web site and it had meta data that indicated that it was built by FrontPage? (Shortly after I was hired, Symantec sold Visual Page, and the problem no longer existed.)

The Web Site of a Designer Needs to Be More Than Just Good

It's interesting that many Web designer's sites are actually fairly plain, often poorly written or maintained, and not standards-compliant. Sometimes it feels like they are trying to say "I'm so busy I can't maintain my own site." But a good marketing person would tell you that you should always be spending time putting your best foot forward. Even if you are so busy building your clients' sites, you should keep your own site up-to-date. It protects you from the lean periods.

Your Web site is what you show the public about yourself. If you are trying to be hired to be a standards-based Web designer, your personal site shouldn't be built using tables. If you state that you are a CSS expert, then you shouldn't have the <font> tag strewn throughout your Web site.

But I would actually take this a step further.

I would argue that if you are a freelance Web designer, your personal or business Web site needs to deliver more. Your Web site should be a showcase for all that you can do and all that is possible on the Web. It needs to be standards compliant and accessible. It needs to be optimized for speed and for search engines. It needs to be the apex of what your customers can expect from you, not just what they can settle for.

Why Should I Hire You?

Back when I was a hiring manager I had to look at a lot of Web designer and developer resumes. And the first thing I would look at after I'd waded through the resume, was their Web site. If they didn't list one, and they were impressive enough, I would Google their name to try and find a site by them.

If the resume said that they were a CSS guru with standards-based design as their bread and butter or even if it didn't, I would always view the source code of their Web page and their portfolio pages. Tables didn't impress me. Font tags made me laugh. And (honestly) if I saw meta data indicating the use of a WYSIWYG-only editor, they wouldn't even get a phone screen.

In my opinion, a Web designer or developer needs to know a few basic things to get hired by me:

  • HTML, preferrably XHTML
  • CSS
  • How to optimize an image
  • Proof that they know what their resume says they know

And all of this can be determined by looking at their Web page.

Avoid These Web Design Site Pitfalls

I want to cringe when I see some of these things on normal Web sites, but when they are on Web designers' sites, I just want to cry.

  • Table-based layout
    I know, it's easier. I know, it takes longer to test and validate that it works on most browsers. I know, you learned tables before and you don't have time to update your site. But it's invalid XHTML, and as a professional, you should be delivering standards-based layout and styles at the very least.
  • The <font> tag
    That tag has been outmoded for several years now. Don't use it. Just don't. If you can't use CSS for anything else, learn the font property.
  • Images resized in the browser
    Can you say, slow? Whatever speed you think is too slow for a Web page to download, a designer's Web site should be fast. And images that are not optimized slow down the best site.
  • Old HTML
    Come on, HTML 4.0 has been around and supported by 99.9% of the browsers out there for years. The best Web sites are converting to XHTML, it's hard, but it shows you know what you're doing.

Don't Assume Your Clients Don't Know

Granted, they may not know today, but if they learn tomorrow about standards-based design, you could be out on your ear. And if they do know something about standards-based design, then your Web site will just show that you don't - and they won't be your client.

The thing to remember is that there are a lot of Web designers out there. What makes you special? If all you do is table-based layout and HTML 3.2, then you're not even up-to-date. Make sure that your Web site tells your potential jobs or bosses only good things about you.

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