How To Jump Ship From Print to Web Design

View Comments by Bianca Board on 7 October 2013

OK, the first thing is: DON'T PANIC!! The second thing is... are you ready?

Print design isn’t what it used to be.

But then, you probably know that already. You can see it in the closed print businesses around town, and you can see it when your phone doesn't ring like it used to, right?

I’ve already talked about why print design is dying, so today I want to talk to you about how you can escape the slow decline and move into web design.

Hey, are you hyperventilating?? I said ‘don’t panic’ remember? Breathe deeply and go with me here!

 

Why I moved from print to web...

Before we talk web, I want to tell you a bit about me first. I graduated from college as a print-only designer. I worked for a few design houses doing my creative thing, you know brochures, logos and the like, and then about 10 years ago I decided to go it alone and open my own design house, BRB Creative.

I didn’t set out to do web, but within a year or two my clients started asking me to design their websites for them. They trusted me, they liked my design aesthetic, I already understood their brand… I guess it was a no brainer that I design their online face to the world too.

At first I said no because, back then, I didn’t know anything about designing websites. I mean, I hated techy stuff and my design college had barely even touched on it. But my clients basically demanded it!

I realised if I didn't add web design to my services then I was missing out on a LOT of business... I had to get with the times.


Honestly? Web scared the living daylights out of me, but I figured I wasn’t going to be alone. If I was going to get my clients online then I was going to need a web developer to turn my designs into reality. 

So I started searching for a web development partner, and boy that in itself could be a loooong story, possibly even a murder mystery (as in where did my website go, and if I ever find that developer again I’m going to murder him!).

OK, I think it’s my turn to breathe deeply now. 

 

How I started off in web.

Anyway! I dipped my toe into the web world about 8 years ago. But the process of ‘how’ I developed my websites changed as I got more experienced.

I started off doing what we all do, I used a web developer. And I really wasn’t picky enough to begin with, but hey I knew nothing and there was no one to teach me how to do it.

I searched high and low for a specialist web mentor who could help me build the web arm of my business, but could I find one? Nope! So I had to learn the hard way what to do and what NOT to do. There were lots of hairy moments, but eventually I found my way through.

Now my business is about 95% web and 5% print… and that 5% is only there because I have some long-term clients who’ve always relied on me for their catalogues and collateral marketing work, so I won’t turn them away now.

But I absolutely don’t take any new business in print design, I don’t do high-end logo design any longer either because, frankly, it’s not cost effective for me. I’ve got web design and web building websites down to a fine art. But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

You can make huge margins on websites, they can be fast, and they can even be fun! But, you do need to do it right.

"There’s no point jumping from a sinking ship to a new ship if it's about to catch fire!"

 

How to enter the world of web design... the right way! 

There's lots of options if you want to move into website design.

There's techy options and less techy options. There's web building options that give you full control of everything but take forever to complete, and there's web building options that take away a lot of options for the sake of speed and simplicity. And there's all the options that fall somewhere in between.

I think the best advice is to decide what kind of person you are, what kind of designer you are and what kind of WEB designer you want to be. Then you find a system that ticks the most boxes and doesn't make you tear your hair out.

Web design isn't rocket science unless you WANT it to be... and personally I don't want the extra hassles, I just want to be able to do what I do best: design... oh and make good money while doing it!   

As you can see, I've selected a handful of the most popular web design platforms out there and I've given them a quick run down for you. I hope it helps!

 

Web building options for graphic designers.

WordPress.org

This is open-source software so that means it’s free which is awesome and, at its most basic, you don’t need to code. This software was designed as a blogging platform and has an inbuilt content management system that can be extended to other uses with a bit of tweaking.

I like WordPress, but it does have its challenges. For instance, you will need to become technical to get your head around web maintenance tasks. Tasks like sourcing a reliable web host, learning how to point their existing URL to the new server or buying a new one for them.

Then for each client you’ll need to install WordPress onto their host server plus work out what plug-ins they’ll need (there’s about 21,000 to choose from) and then install the ones you want and get them working. 

Actually to be fair, installation is pretty quick if you’re tech savvy, and it’s a popular platform, about 17% of all sites around the world are WordPress.
 

You might hear a lot of big brands are using Wordpress like Ford and Sony. Yes they do… for their blog. But, a blog is a far cry from a fully flexible business website that most of your clients will be expecting.


Just remember that WordPress is primarily a blogging platform, but that’s not to say it can’t be more. With a bit of customisation you can transform it into a workable website for most small businesses.

But customisation means a developer and I warn you to tread very carefully when you choose one (I talk about that at the bottom of this article).

Now, if you’re looking for some automated shortcuts, there are WordPress themes you can buy which saves time having to design a layout.

This will allow you to simply focus on the branding and the content, but these themes tend to be very limited for business websites. But have a look around at providers like Woo Themes and StudioPress to name a few… still even then it’s not a complete solution out of the box.

They’re still lacking compared to web companies that design business websites from the get-go…. Which brings us back to the problem of customisation and/or plug-ins again… see the issue?

If you decide to DIY it, what’s going to take the most time is getting the site to look and to WORK the way you want it to.

With the right theme it’s easy enough to make a basic brochure site, but if you’re new to WordPress it’s going to be a stress when clients are expecting features and functions that aren’t there yet and you’re scrambling to work out the best way to make it happen.

Luckily there’s a huge amount of help out there thousands of forums and people willing to help, but you’re the sucker who’s going to have to dive into all that and find work out who’s … and if you’re not technical or up for the challenge of it all, then I think it’ll drive you nuts.

I don’t want to waste hours on a fruitless search for some WordPress widget, I just want the bloody thing built and working straight away so I can focus on the branding and the conversion optimisation because results is why my clients love working with me, and it’s why I get so many referrals. 

Once the site is built and live either you or your client will need to keep the software updated and ensure new updates don’t conflict with your existing plug-ins, etc. None of this is super hard if you’re techy, but it is annoying if you just want to design something that works straight out of the box, so to speak.


Adobe Dreamweaver.

This is the web editor most commonly used by designers who also like to code. True web developers, however, won’t use it as it’s far too limiting. As a non-geek designer, if you’re thinking of doing the web build all yourself then this is FAR too big a jump for you, it’s annoyingly difficult for something that’s promoted as being easy.

Bottom line? You need a deep understanding of HTML to get it to work at its best.
 

Adobe InDesign. 

If you think you can just convert your InDesign or Photoshop file to HTML and upload it as a website, think again.

You’ll regret it and your client is going to be hopping mad. Not just is it horrendously bad practice but your site is going to break… a lot.

Yes I know InDesign SAYS it offers a print to HTML function. But it isn’t a web authoring tool, trust me on that. Any developer will tell you that the code Adobe InDesign spews out is clunky and almost unintelligible to a human coder, not to mention it doesn’t play well with every browsers.

Which means even if you DO manage to push out a site that works, if you or your client ever needs the services of a developer to do something whiz-bangy, they’re going to give you a very big ‘WTF?’ when they have a look under the site’s bonnet.

So what do web designers use it for? Some designers use it for creating web wireframes and layouts and then they’ll move it to another tool like Photoshop to finish it off. Some designers skip InDesign completely and create it purely in Photoshop and then they give it to a developer to slice all the elements out and build the site for them.

What I’m saying is this is not the simple solution you’re looking for.


Adobe Muse.

I’ll admit, I haven’t personally tried this program as it’s pretty new, but it’s worth a mention since Adobe created it for print designers.

In theory it seems ideal for anyone who is already comfortable with the InDesign interface, and I hear it’s completely code-free which I’m obviously all for!

However it seems it suffers from the same problem as InDesign.

Critics of Adobe Muse also say they’ve gone too far in its ‘print to web’ automation. The code it produces is unstructured and inaccessible to (who you or your client may need at some point) and, perhaps more importantly, it’s unable to address critical factors such as user “accessibility, load times, SEO and semantics”.

Sites produced by Muse don’t have as much functionality as WordPress which may become a problem as your clients grow and want more features. 

In my opinion it also lacks in two more major areas: support and training.

Having web smarts is absolutely critical to your success.

Having free and unlimited technical support will take the stress out of the learning process, you need to know someone’s there if you get stuck, you need to know you’re not alone. That security creates the right environment for successful and profitable web projects… and happy web designers!  

"Having web smarts is absolutely critical to your success as a web designer."


Even if the whole system is automated and even if it seems easy to produce a website using the same sort of workflow you use as a print designer, you’re going to come up against a fair few problems. Firstly clients want results. They don’t actually want a website, they want business results. So you need to understand what a good website looks like, and we aren’t just talking about aesthetics.
 

Online Web Builders.

This is where it gets harder for me to be completely unbiased. If you don’t already know, my company Web123 have created web building software that lets graphic designers create websites without any code. Hmmmm where to begin. First, let’s talk about some of the popular web builders out there.

Wix.

They’re spending a bucket load on online advertising and they do make it very easy for anyone to get online so it’s not surprising they have 26 million users.

The good things I can see is there’s a lot of attractive templates to choose from, and they let you add content to your site using an easy ‘drag & drop’ interface. They’ve also automated the help functions pretty well too, but there’s only a US phone number if you need to speak to someone.

Another thing is once you’ve selected a template and started building a site you can’t change the layout without redoing the site all over again, what a pain!

If you’re trying to build effective business websites Wix is pretty limited. For a start you have to host your site with Wix in the USA, which means your sites will perform slower than locally hosted sites. They don’t offer responsive designs and their sites aren’t mobile friendly.

The most important thing to say is if your client sells online, skip Wix. They only allow for basic eCommerce functions and your clients deserve better.

There’s none of the features that I consider standard, for example no automatic confirmation emails when a customer purchases an item, no ability to configure taxes or shipping costs, no function to manage orders in the backend (like mark goods as sent or refunded, etc) either.

My advice? If you’re serious about doing web as a long-term profession, don’t consider Wix.  


Squarespace.

 

Definitely more flexible than Wix, and they offer more technical support than Wix, but as websites go, there’s much better out there. 

I think the best thing about Squarespace are their designs. They’re pretty sexy. But the downside is that they’re only suited to image-driven businesses like photographers, artists and anyone who needs to display a portfolio.

If I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve had to explain to clients WHY those sorts of sites aren’t effective at converting visitors to customers and WHY they aren’t as Google-friendly as they could be, I'd be drinking Moet every Friday instead of My $9.99 bottle of Omni Pink bubbles!

Don’t get me wrong I love beautiful design, but I love results for my clients just as much. And you CAN achieve both with the right website platform, but not with Squarespace in my humble opinion.

Squarespace currently doesn't offer any eCommerce shop facilities for Australian customers. 

My advice here? Not a bad option for small info sites, but I’d leave Squarespace to all the micro-businesses who can’t afford an awesome designer like you anyway!
 

BigCommerce.

BigCommerce works well for a lot of smaller online traders, it gives you the basics of what you need and it does it pretty well. Plus I like to support my fellow entrepreneurial Aussies; BigCommerce is an Australian StartUp who secured a heap of oveseas venture capital and I have to give them props for that!

Admittedly, their designs aren’t as attractive as Squarespace or Shopify (I didn't review Shopify as it isn't available in Australia) but they do offer some cool eCommerce features like an abandoned cart saver so you can track the email of customers who haven’t completed their purchase so you can send them an email reminder.

What I don’t like about BigCommerce is that they don’t offer the simple but important things, like a blog. I find that really strange as it's all about content these days. Content creates traffic, and a blog is a major way to do that. 

Now, as a web designer/developer yes you can use HTML to edit their themes but it’s not as easy as the other web platforms I've mentioned, and there is less developer support too. Then again, if you’re reading this blog then I dare say you don’t WANT to learn how to code, and I don’t blame you!
 

Web123’s ProPartner Program


For the sake of transparency I need to tell you, this one is my baby. It’s based on the same web building software I created for my business that revolutionised how I worked... and how I profited.

When I started off designing websites I would contract developers for the job, but no matter who I used, and no matter HOW organised I was, the process was always difficult, and often, unprofitable.

The problem was I knew web was a winner for my business, but I had to streamline the development process. No more big  custom builds, no more projects getting stuck ‘web development hell’, it was time to create something that worked.... every time. 
 

"Web123 was my personal solution to 5 frustating years of living in web development hell."


About 4 years ago my partner Simon and I brought together an amazing team to build a powerful content management system (CMS) and an easy web building process for our business.

The mandate we set was ‘We want a web building process that’s fast, easy and flexible… oh and make sure every website offers ‘premium’ CMS features as standard’.

I got a lot of eye-rolling and grumbling, but eventually we did it. We’ve now built well over 1,000 websites in the past 3 years so I guess you can say it was a total success!

So let’s get to the nitty gritty of what the Web123 ProPartner program offers:

Web123 is more than a web builder, it’s a whole web business in a box. And that's exactly what you need if you want to jump ship from print to web.

You get access to all my most successful processes distilled into 100s of bite-sized educational videos plus heaps of downloadable resources, guides and admin templates.

Plus, the web builder is simple enough so technophobic graphic designers (just like I was) can take control their own projects and build websites, code-free.

Admittedly the ProPartner system isn't for web designers who love to code but on the flip side our websites are deceptively simple. This is not your typical ‘brochure site’ that semi-automated web builders tend to spit out; they look simple but they’re really very powerful.

Most of our ProPartners are surprised when they realise how much grunt they've got under the bonnet, so to speak... and the more familiar they get with our CMS, and as they realise just how flexible our layouts can be, the more impressive their websites become.

Basically the complexity of your websites can grow with you as your web skills naturally develop.

All sites have free mobile versions, and responsive design layouts will be coming in the next few months.

Clients get unlimited product and sales pages and unlimited technical support. Plus things like a single page checkout feature, inventory control, integrated email marketing campaign manager, customer capture forms, email auto responders, the list goes on.

More importantly for you, once you’ve completed your training and we’ve shown you how to do the basics, you could build a client website in the space of a day ready for all the content to be added.

Remember, fast web projects are profitable projects. 
 

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How to choose a good web developer.

If you do decide down the road of a full custom-coded website, or if you choose a platform like WordPress where you need technical customisation then you’ll need to hire a web developer.

It took me years to find a great developer I wanted to work with.

I’d find someone who seemed to tick all the boxes, then I’d test them out on a project, but something would fall down along the way, then I’d be putting out client fires and be back to the drawing board again for my next project.

I despaired in finding a developer I could trust to get the job done and not hike the price up on me because of ‘unforseen customisations’, or blow out the project timeframe because of other jobs, or an ‘urgent holiday’.

Yep, I’ve heard them all! But hey, maybe I was just unlucky.

"My advice? Always hire on word of mouth."

Word of mouth is the only way to go. No, not your mum’s hairdresser’s cousin who does a bit of web on the side. I mean a quality recommendation from a peer or mentor who already works in web design regularly… although you might have to pry their developer’s details out of their cold, dead fingers first!

Whenever you get a recommendation you need to ask a lot of questions from the referrer. When you’re just starting out, this is the only way to be sure you’re getting a quality developer, especially if you’re green. Don’t be shy, your livelihood and your reputation is on the line!

Questions for people who try to refer you a website developer:

  1. How many projects have you done with them?
  2. Did all the projects come in on time and on budget? If not, why not?
  3. What platform did they use? i.e. Custom code, WordPress, Dreamweaver, etc.
  4. Were they easily contactable?
  5. Were they responsive to your needs?
  6. What are their main weaknesses?
  7. What are their main strengths?
  8. How happy was the client with the final result?
     

"A good developer will lift your project and make it a dream… a bad one will steal your clients and send you broke!"


I truly hope you find someone as good as I eventually did… in fact I liked working with him so much he became a partner in Web123 with me!

Call me cynical but I’ve been burnt before, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I nearly gave up on web. I don’t want that to happen to you. It doesn’t have to happen to you.

Specialising in web design is the best thing to have ever happened to me. I don’t know where I’d be today if I’d stayed in print design. Probably still in country Wagga, probably still scratching around to pay the rent, probably still stressed and probably totally grey!

 

If you only remember one thing, it’s this:

Web isn’t that hard if you find the right production process.

Seriously, it’s not rocket science, and if it starts feeling that it IS... then you need to change your process, quick smart!

Seriously my designy friend, web design is a MASSIVE opportunity you can’t afford to ignore any longer. The last thing I want is for one bad (developer) egg to put you off from working in web.

It’s the future, it’s pretty easy to sell and it can be super profitable…. If you do it right!

I really wish you the best of luck!

 

 

What do you think? Share your comments below.

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