Not all graphic designers are good web designers

I’ve recently come across some issues with Geraldton business websites that were produced by ‘graphic designers’ as opposed to specialist ‘web designers’. Despite being great looking websites, they lack fundamental SEO properties, the home page real-estate isn’t optimised for clicks above the scroll, and in some cases the navigation and action buttons don’t work on touch screen devices like iPads and iPhones.

So if you are considering having a website built, here’s a few things to consider when choosing your website designer.

What’s the difference between a graphic designer and a web designer?

Graphic Designers

Most graphic designers are trained in design principles and are taught the software and creative skills to apply these principals across multiple media. They have a strong understanding of typography and colour and how they interplay to create effective visual communications. Some people who call themselves graphic designers have simply learnt the software but don’t have the conceptual design training or knowledge. Graphic designers are the go-to for logo design, and while they work with multiple media, the majority focus on print media such as stationery, press ads, brochures, posters and publications.

Web Designers

Web designers like me specialise in online interactive media including websites, banner ads and web applications or ‘apps’. Some may have started out as graphic designers and then specialised in web. Others trained in multimedia and web design from the outset. Personally, I started out as a website manager, internet marketer and SEO specialist and then trained in web design. In all cases, we are web design specialists.  Just as there are graphic designers who have learnt the software but not the design theory, so too are there ‘web designers’ who have learnt the software or code, but don’t have training or experience in web usability or interactive design.

Web Developers

Then you have web developers – the experts in coding and building websites. While a web designer works on the ‘front end’ or interface, a web developer works on the ‘back end’ or code. Web developers interpret web designs and make them interactive using programming languages such as XHTML or HTML5, CSS, PHP, ASP, JavaScript, or the iPhone nemesis, Flash to name a few.  Most web designers have web development skills in HTML and CSS, while only a few can program PHP, JavaScript etc. On the flipside, most web developers or coders I’ve come across lack strong web interface design skills, but that’s another blog.

Traditionally designers create a Photoshop PSD front end web design and then supply it to a web developer to build, though it’s more common these days for web designers to purchase pre-designed themes or pre-built website templates and simply customise them to save time and money.

Graphic Designers vs Web Designers

A graphic designer who focuses on logos and print media may give you a strong visual design, but if they lack the specialist web development and online marketing knowledge your website may not be as effective as it would be if produced by a specialist web designer.

How to tell if a graphic designer is a good web designer

  1. Google “website design in Geraldton”
    Do they come up in the first two pages of search results? If not, then they may not pay much heed to SEO. Be aware though that not all businesses that come up on the first page will be good web designers, despite being good at SEO.
  2. Look at their portfolio
    Have they built many websites or do they mostly do logos, branding systems and print designs.
  3. Browse their client websites on your computer
    Go through the site. Is it fast and easy to navigate? Or does it load slowly and do you get lost inside the site.
  4. Browse their client websites on your mobile phone
    Does the website re-size to fit the screen? Is it easy to read on your device. If you have a touch screen device or smart phone such as an iPhone or iPad, does their website work? Can you tap on menus and buttons to navigate. As many people use touch screen devices to browse websites, you need to ensure your website works in these.
  5. Ask them how they will SEO your website
    Be aware that it takes more than just writing keywords into your content to make your website search-engine friendly. If they don’t mention meta tags, internal linking, sub-heading hierachy, external links, anchor links or xml site map submission then you may find yourself having to pay extra for on-site SEO services that should have been provided by your web designer upfront.

Not all graphic designers are poor web designers. Just like not all web designers create visually appealing or intuitive websites.  You just need to be sure that whoever you choose to design and build your website, takes into consideration things like SEO, mobile phone and touch screen accessiblity, conversion optimisation and usability.

About Jen Hanrahan
I'm a web designer, internet marketer and local SEO specialist based in the seaside town of Geraldton, Mid West WA.