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The bookshelf of a web designer

The bookshelf of a web designer

This is part of my bookshelf at work. Looks impressive, right? For a web designer.

You may wonder where all the shiny design books are.

I’ve got lots of those too, but these are the really important ones.

Why are they important?

I can’t possibly know everything there is to know about all the things in this small sample of books, but just by reading them I become better educated and more able to offer value to the projects we work on.

The ones you see above are for SEO – search engine optimisation, building client relationships, content strategy, communication design, information design, online conversions and ongoing testing.

They’re important because a web designer isn’t just his or her skill with visual design.

A visual aesthetic comes down to intuition, experience, nurturing an eye for white space, colour, typography and form. A lot comes from great photography – more of that in an upcoming post – and the ability to cut out what isn’t necessary.

The business of web design involves expertise of more than shiny objects.

It comes from a broad expertise in a number of areas.

The web is a tool for business

Your website is a tool for your business – not just a shiny object that you’re supposed to have.

Any tool for business should come from relevant experience and ideally some expertise. Many web designers forget that they need to let people know what they know.

This is best illustrated with a story.

I had a meeting today where someone was looking for a new company to take over their existing website.

He’d had three meetings already and we were the last up.  I didn’t know this, which was good as it would have come with added pressure.

I suspect his last three meetings were with people who could design, could do a good job, could bring the project in on budget, all the things you start out wanting when commissioning a web project.

However as the meeting went on I found out that they didn’t seem to have communicated what they knew of the way the web works.

  • We talked about what Google likes
  • We touched on what Google doesn’t like
  • We looked at his competition – using a great tool at majestic.com
  • We discussed how the site should be focussed towards content people want to read, not just what’s useful
  • We covered advertising and remarketing – showing people relevant content to inform, not a hard sell
  • We explored segmenting users on the site, on social media and in email marketing
  • We examined the importance of calls to action and sign up to stay in touch
  • We delved deeper into advances in video streaming technology and data capture, metrics and online sponsorship
  • We briefly skimmed schemas (structured data) to mark out to Google what is news, an event, a person or a place

This is all pretty normal stuff, it’s not rocket science, but none of it is particularly visual.

In other words it’s not typical designer language of what can be done to make something look great.

It’s about business.

So I asked myself why wouldn’t another web designer cover this?

Do they know this stuff?

If so, do they think their portfolio is going to win them the work?

The business owner is sitting right there. He wants to know “What’s in it for me?”

Surely it should be about the client first and the portfolio follows.

I don’t get it. It’s odd.

A web designer’s craft is based on knowledge

So having related the above I became the consultant.

In the client’s mind I’ve now positioned Inigo ahead of the others.

We’re possibly the most expensive, but by adding knowledge – actually talking about a lot of the factors that are going to be important to the success of the project – the consultative approach becomes a must have.

What do they want to achieve? How are they going to get there?

Where does this knowledge come from?

  • One part being a business owner
  • One part from reading widely
  • One part from experience

Being in business makes you more focussed on the budget, the process, the outcome and beyond.

It’s more than just shiny stuff.

A web designer will think about what a website looks like.

A good web designer will think about how what they design will work.

A great web designer will listen first, find out what something needs to do and then design something that will make a difference to the business.

The only way to do that is to be educated. To have a good amount of knowledge in a wide area of subject matter to do with the web, user behaviours and business.

Knowledge comes from reading

Okay, so not all knowledge comes from reading, but a well read designer will be better able to deal with project requirements.

We can’t live in a vacuum. We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done as the digital world is always evolving.

  • Good design principles remain fairly constant.
  • Website best practice evolves with consumers and technological advances.
  • Online innovation moves at a scary pace and the possibilities are new on a daily basis. Keeping up is a daunting prospect and across all the areas of knowledge it’s impossible.

Reading is then at the core of gaining knowledge for what is possible – and advisable – on the web.

Of course reading isn’t just books. Books can’t be printed fast enough to encompass all the emerging knowledge.

However overall concepts in strategy, SEO, conversions, testing, etc., don’t alter that much from year to year.

Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is still as important now as it was when it was first published in 2005. It’s been an invaluable resource for years.

And when you read an amazing book, it seeps into your consciousness.

It gets into your brain and changes the way you work.

Then you read online, finding resources every day that tweak the direction of your hungry brain.

Experience comes from doing

All those books, all that reading, all those Tweets and Facebook group updates provide useful information that informs your working life.

It moves from hungry brain to express itself in the doing. The making of projects, the decisions of site maps, site structures.

  • Will Google like this?
  • What will make this content easier to share?
  • Where am I going to put this call to action?
  • Can I let the page scroll?
  • What percentage of people will view this?
  • Do we need to test several versions of this content?

Knowledge then, as if in a curse, turns you into questioning everything.

Only by doing can you then answer those questions. Only by testing can you understand whether what you’ve learnt about will have an impact.

Not just on the user, but dear reader, on the client’s business.

Test once, test twice, test many times, but ultimately experience comes from doing many times.

We love doing

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (not pictured above), he talks about doing something for 10,000 hours before you’re an expert.

I’ve clocked up at least 20,000 hours of the design and management of building websites.

So by that measure, I’m an expert. Feels strange to commit it here, but people wouldn’t hire us if the expert had no expertise.

We do love doing.

Being active and putting into practice what we’ve learnt is why we’re here.

We love the strategy, the SEO, the content creation, the design, the building.

Getting a site live for a client is the culmination of all that effort, yet just the start too.

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