Leaving design school you likely thought of yourself as a web designer. You’re the guy or gal responsible for making the site look nice and for setting the stage for a fantastic user experience. But as many freelance web designers before you have discovered, some clients wish to have much more than a web designer, they want a website creator. In this post we draw a distinction between designers and creators and provide some insight into how you can bridge the gap between the two.
Isn’t Designing and Creating the Same Thing?
The first order of business is to establish some common terminology. For our purposes, a website designer is the front-end person responsible for UI stuff. A designer isn’t responsible for coding, troubleshooting, or testing. They are the ones with the critical eye that drives the creative aspects of a snazzy looking site. In that regard, a website designer generally has a more limited role, perhaps on a larger team of people, all of whom are responsible for the development of a website.
By contrast, a website creator is someone who is involved in much more than the design process. Website creators deliver full-service options to their clients. In addition to designing websites, this might include coding and programming the site or handling the server side settings. Basically a website creator does it all, from start to finish, for their clients. One tool that enables website creators to offer a full slate of services is a website builder. Website builders offer many valuable features for individuals to build beautiful, feature-rich websites for their clients. Whether you choose a premade design to customize or create one from scratch, a website builder can make the process of design simple and seamless. And with features like domains and hosting, and sites that are SEO friendly and web-standards compliant, website builders can take the worry out of creating websites so you can focus on the design.
Advantages of Being a Website Creator
Since website creators do a little bit of everything they have a major advantage over website designers with regard to the scope of services they offer. In such a highly competitive field – particularly for people in the freelance industry – offering services beyond your aesthetic sensibilities is a sure-fire way to get more business. You can market yourself as someone who can deliver all the necessities of a website, or you can promote yourself to fill specific needs such as managing content or connecting a client’s site to a domain.
Another advantage of being a website creator and offering a full set of services is that you’re more likely to make repeat customers out of your clients. You might initially be hired to create a website, then a few months later hired by the same client to set up custom email services. After another few months perhaps they hire you again to create a blog and add an online shop to their website. Being a website creator lends itself to a more self-sustaining business.
Because you can offer a wider variety of services as a website creator, you stand to make more money, both because you appeal to a wider market and thus can get more jobs, and also because the more skills you have the more money you can command. Additionally, by accumulating jobs more quickly, you can develop your reputation (and your portfolio!) and watch your business and your income grow.
Tools for Website Creators
Let’s face it, design school is great for honing your craft as a designer, but many schools still lack instruction in other areas. As we discussed, there is a lot you don’t learn in design school, including many of the backend skills that are often required of a designer that works the freelance market. Even if you utilize something like WordPress templates to provide expanded services, your clients still might request customizations that require editing HTML, CSS, PHP, or other files that necessitate coding skills you may not have.
If you’ve recently graduated from design school, you might find that there is a lot of work out there for website creators (for which you may lack the skills), and not a whole lot of opportunities for freelancing as a pure web designer. However, no fear! There are several options for expanding your services to become a website creator.
Find a Programmer
It can be presumed that you became a web designer because you have a creative mind. For many creative types, the analytical skills required to be a programmer don’t come as easily. Given that most people are either creative or analytical, providing your clients the backend services they request may necessitate creating relationships with other folks in the industry.
For as many designers out there who lack the skills to do the backend work themselves, there are probably just as many programmers out there who lack the frontend skills to dive into the website design business on their own. A relatively simple solution would be for you to find one of these programmers to handle your coding needs.
A great place to find programmers is Smashing Magazine’s job board, which allows you to post a freelance job for a $75 USD fee. There are over 4 million subscribers to Smashing Magazine, so the exposure for your job listing is potentially quite large. Another excellent resource is Programmer Meet Designer. Although not as large in scope as Smashing’s job board, as it’s name indicates, the whole intent of the site is to connect designers with programmers. An additional bonus is that it’s free to post a job listing on their site, which currently has 32,000 users. Many developers can be found on Elance as well. Their platform makes it easy for you to post a job and select from qualified programming professionals.
While paying someone to do the work for you is not ideal for your pocketbook, it is certainly a better option for designers whose coding skills leave a lot to be desired. The time and energy you would expend trying to figure out the coding for yourself may well have a greater opportunity cost than just paying someone else to do it.
If your budget just doesn’t allow for hiring someone, think about contacting local colleges or universities to inquire about the potential for having a student intern. Much like design school students, student programmers are always looking for experience to build their resume. If you can find a student with the skills you need, you might be able to form a non-paid relationship whereby they gain valuable experience and you gain free labor to take care of your coding needs.
Learn to Code
However, be wary of diving too deep into coding and programming. You became a designer to focus on design, and more often than not you will be much better served continuing to focus on your area of expertise. No matter how coding savvy you think you might be, chances are likely that you will encounter an issue of some kind that is well beyond your capabilities to solve. By splitting time between the creative work required for a clean UI experience and the analytical work required on the backend, the result can be a website that doesn’t reflect one’s design capabilities and which does not function as well as is could.
Utilize a Website Builder
Using a website builder like IM Creator is an additional option for web designers who seek to become a website creator. The primary benefit of utilizing a website builder is that you don’t have to learn code, nor do you have to outsource backend responsibilities to someone else, saving you both time and money. With features like drag-and-drop editing you can easily incorporate maps, videos, text, and more, all without any programming skills required.
An additional benefit of website builders is that you can either create a design from the ground up or you can utilize one of the existing templates to customize for your purposes. With ready-made designs for everything from photographers to lawyers, there are templates for just about every need. And by using pre-made, yet highly customizable templates, you can save a lot of time and free yourself up to take on more projects and make more money.
Website builders also offer a lot in the way of support services. Online forums, FAQs, step-by-step guides, and technical support services via email and chat are just a few of the common supports offered. This is highly beneficial for individual designers that don’t have a programmer or IT specialist at their beck and call. And because you can resolve any issues with websites that you create with the assistance of the website builder support services, you can present yourself as a competent, well-rounded website creator to your client. Essentially, you have the resources of a design studio staff without having to pay everyone’s salary!
What’s My Best Option for Becoming a Website Creator?
There are benefits to all the options listed above. At the end of the day you have to proceed in a direction that best suits your talents and your needs as a freelancer. Using a website builder gives you the flexibility and support you need to design and develop sites without constantly relying on interns or programmers that require a cut of your income. But having a partnership with a programmer ensures you have someone with the expertise (and the analytical intelligence) to tackle the complexities of website development should you need their help. Teaching yourself some basic coding is beneficial as well, so you can at least have a working knowledge and understanding of the underlying processes that have to be carried out to make your designs come to life. The best option may well be a combination of each, utilizing a website builder as the basis of your business and relying on programmers and your own coding knowledge when needed.
Ultimately, as a designer you shouldn’t be expected to know how to write code to make a site responsive, but you should at least understand what responsive design is and how it impacts your designs. There are many great designers out there that are rubbish developers, and there are many rubbish designers that have decent coding skills. Rather than being bad at one or the other, in becoming a website creator you can focus your creative energies on the design side of things and rely on website builders, programmers, and a little bit of your own coding knowledge to create well-formed and functional sites for your clients.
What do you think is the best option for becoming a website creator? Let us know by leaving a comment below! Also be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletters to receive fresh design tips, tricks, and resources that will make your job as a freelancer much easier.
Photo Credits: Crayons and Coding by Aleksandar Cocek via Flickr Creative Commons Macbook Computer by VFS Digital Design via Flickr Creative Commons 10 buenas practicas para escribir código HTML by Infocux Technologies via Flickr Creative Commons