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7 reasons a designer shouldn’t take responsibility for your site

When you need a website, most companies will try to find a graphic designer, web designer or simply brief their advertising agency. This is the worst mistake a company can make as designers have the wrong priorities when it comes to web design.

To get the best results when looking at web design you need to get someone in marketing to do your website design. The number one priority of marketing types is to generate revenue, and this should always be the number one priority of your website design.

Here are the main reasons why you cannot trust a designer to create your web design:

1. Your website is not an online brochure

The majority of websites are currently online brochures; some are even nice and interactive! Designers are great at taking a lot of information like your corporate profile, differentiators, products and services and using their design skills to logically organise this information into a beautiful design.

However, your website should be a 24x7x365 new business hunting machine, not an online brochure, and the requirements to achieve this are very different to the structure of a standard website.

2. Elements that don’t blend and match are imperative

Designers stick to your corporate identity; they use shades of your brand colours to demarcate areas on a web page. This results in a really good-looking web design, with all elements on the page conforming and blending in, even the areas that need to stand out by using a contrasting shade of your corporate colours blends in.

Blending in the parts of your web design that drive action is one of the worst things you can do though, but designers will argue out of doing this. The reality is to make a website work, some things should not be pretty.

3. Designers love consistency, even if it is not how your market thinks

Designers often get bogged down with consistency, but in order to appeal to your target market you sometimes need to be inconsistent.

For example, on one page you may refer to “product categories” and then on another it may be necessary to refer to the same thing as “product families”.

Your web design is there to win you customers, not to win awards and so it should take those customers into consideration.

4. The most important part of your website is the text, but designers do not write your web copy

When setting up the budget for your web design, you need to put the majority of your budget into creating the most amazing web copy.

Most companies focus their budgets on the web design part though, making a beautiful website and then copy and pasting old copy that was written for other purposes, or getting a junior writer to slap together the web copy.

Web copy should come before the design; this copy should be researched according to how your target market shops and thinks and although the saying goes “a picture says a thousand words”, the copy should be the king and determine the design and the design is simply the bell boy.

5. Your website needs to constantly evolve so designers do not put in easy to use content management systems

Your website is one of the best ways to test strategies. If for example you want to try out how your market will respond to a new value proposition, simply add it to your website. Using your website analytics you can see how people respond, and you can see how people respond to other pages and make continuous tweaks to see if you can improve responses.

Designers know that a website should not be a designed and then left, so they know you will be back for more which means more hours they can bill you. As a result, very few of them put in content management systems that allow you to simply add new pages or change content.

6. For web design, especially in emerging markets, you need a mobile version of your site

The majority of people use mobile devices to browse the web in emerging market countries such as South Africa and India; if you are in the upper LSMs you have a tablet or some other smartphone, if you are in the lower LSMs you have a old budget BlackBerry or a feature phone.

Maintaining a desktop website and mobile website is cumbersome — your designer should create you a responsive website that simply displays differently based on your device (without the need to zoom in or out).

7. Designers do not focus on driving traffic to your website

Having a website is useless if you do not have a plan to drive traffic to your website and then convert that traffic into customers.

There are many things within a website’s design that impact on its ability to attract traffic and convert the traffic to visitors, but when you place design as the most important element, many of these things are not implemented.

Driving traffic to your website is an ongoing project, but most of the time your entire budget is used up in the design portion of your digital strategy leaving very little for anything else.

When planning a web design you should split your budget out like this:

  • 10% — web design and development
  • 20% — initial web copy creation
  • 70% — inbound marketing programme

Ed: Memeburn always does its best to encourage discussion around digital issues. If you would like to write a rebuttal to this, or any other opinion piece on the site, you are more than welcome to send it to submit@memeburn.com.

See also: 2 very good reasons a smart designer is essential to any website

Author | Daryn Smith

Daryn Smith
Daryn Smith is the Executive Director of Product and Marketing at MPULL, a Marketing Software startup based in Cape Town. He has lead Marketing teams in Africa for Global brands before joining MPULL, and now merges two of his passions Marketing and Tech. More
  • Simon Espley

    “The reality is to make a website work, some things should not be pretty.” – SO true!

  • Willa Roos

    Hi Daryn,
    As a graphic designer myself, and I’m sorry to say this man, your article is inaccurate, unfair, and totally uninformed. Looking at the title alone, you shouldn’t ‘trust’ a designer with your site’s design …. If a designer has not been briefed properly on, not only the style, but the function and goals of the website, you can’t expect us to guess what your “priorities” are when it comes to the design. You grossly generalize the entire design process, the fact that the majority of good designers spend a GOOD amount of time researching the target market, and the reasons we “love consistency” for the sake of the client’s brand. Further, any designer worth her salt should know that a design is far more complex and considered than ever you’re aware of, we DO NOT make things just to “be pretty”. Lastly, I highly doubt that “someone in marketing”, while designers do need copy writers and other input, will have the knowledge and skills to create a successfull website design at the very least, not even to mention the mobile development, user testing, cross-browser testing, and good ‘ol blood sweat and code that goes into a website that’s beautiful from the outside to boot. You sir, need to give us designers a LOT more credit.

  • Matty

    Here’s my 2 cents. :)

    The role of a web designer is to ensure your call to actions stand out, your content is clearly showcased and your brand is portrayed in a way that is consistent with your corporate identity.

    A web designer is responsible for the design of the website and ensures that the design doesn’t hinder other aspects of the website (content management system, website copy and call to actions, for example). This involves collaborations with professionals who specialise in website development, copy writing and inbound marketing.

    Perhaps the article’s title is incorrect/misleading? I agree that a web designer shouldn’t be made to create an entire website (design, copy, code and marketing) all on their own… perhaps that’s what you were going for with this title?

    Nevertheless, I found the title misleading when reading the article, as it renders the points incorrect. :)

  • Daryn Smith

    Thanks for the reply Willa. Marketing Managers need to take responsibility for revenue they need generate, not only from a website, but from ads and other tactics. I totally agree, that if the brief from the marketing person does not specify this, it is the marketers fault that a website becomes a white elephant. Design is a super important part of the process, it goes way beyond the look of the site, but it should be part of a bigger process that looks at how to gain customers online.

  • Daryn Smith

    Thanks Matty – this is the exact point that I am trying to make. You should not give your website to a designer to take care of from start to finish, they are an important part of the process that includes working out how to maximise ROI from your digital marketing investment.

  • Si

    This article is ignorant and completely nonsensical. You make broad, sweeping generalizations that (if you hire a competent designer) are completely untrue. I could get into detail here, but honestly don’t think it’s worth the time.

  • Just adding my voice to the list of people that think this is the most ridiculous article I’ve read in some time, and that Memeburn should be ashamed about publishing such a load of drivel.

  • Myka Hecht-Wendt

    “To get the best results when looking at web design you need to get someone in marketing to do your website design” is a lot worse than getting a junior writer to slap together the web copy. Good luck.

  • memeburn

    Hi Rich… thanks for the comment. We try to include a variety of views and opinions from different writers on the site — we’d also be happy to publish a piece that argues the opposite.

  • Daryn Smith

    Maybe the title should have replaced the phrase “design your website” with “take responsibility for your website” – it is the marketing teams responsibility to ensure ROI not the designers.

  • Good to hear from a like minded marketer. Design is there to prettify the business sense we marketers put around a website. I love my designers but design is just one piece of the bigger business jigsaw puzzle.

  • jeffikus

    I think a point to consider is that should not be tagged as “design” or “development” because clearly this is an opinion piece column. This is not a technically minded article at all – it makes broad generalizations on an industry that are not true. Secondly, the writer has a clear bias towards Marketing (70% of the budget as mentioned in the article) as he works in the marketing industry (see his profile on your site – “Executive Director of Product and Marketing”).

    What people are upset about is that the article title and content is misleading and misrepresentative of the design industry towards business people. Remember most of your reader base are business people who are looking to you for advice on what to do – this article provides a negative view of designers which is why people are taking issue with it.

    There are valid points in the article but really guys, this should not be positioned as a serious or technical article in my opinion.

  • I see the title has just changed, but to be brutally honest the title has tried to change the focus, but the content has remained the same, and I stand by my comments below.

  • Actually, it is Product Managers who should be responsible for the website. They are responsible for taking user needs, business goals, marketing requirements, and technical needs into consideration, take a holistic view, and then make sure the business develops an experience that meets both user needs and business goals. If a marketing team is responsible for the website you get a disproportionate focus on things like inbound marketing, while ignoring user and technical needs.

  • I just typed a whole piece that argues the opposite and discredits this article (and posted it in these comments). I see, however, that it has been removed.

  • Daryn Smith

    I see it has also been removed, I did get a chance to read it before. Thanks for the long reply.

    The title I suggested was purposely controversial to stir up debate, I’m not sure if many people would have read an article about the things you should look for when selecting a web design agency.

    I agree with your points – there are many fantastic designers out there that have many skills and sub-contract to others when they need to.

    Every day though I come across sites where the entire site is made up of an image or there is no META data in the site etc etc.

    By writing this article I was hoping to get marketers to pay attention and check to see if they have a white elephant or a ROI generating machine.

  • Clint Hendricks

    If your web designer is not focussed on ROI then you hired the wrong person, it’s all about results but that does not always mean hard sell. This article seems to suggest that marketing is the only way to generate leads but the fact is that you end up with generic headlines and ugly content that gets lost in bad design. You should consider partnering with your designer and also investing more in the UX/UI of the website instead of slapping together 10 landing pages that say the same thing in different shades of big red buttons.

    The article itself is a clear sign that there is a perception that all designers do is make things pretty but in reality there is so much more to it than that. The responsibility is on the shoulders of all the stakeholders and not just the designer, you can only create something special when everyone involved contributes!

  • Daryn Smith

    Thanks Rian – great comment!

    That is the point I was trying to make – you cannot give the entire website development job to a designer… at best it should go to a digital agency that has skills in all the various elements that are required.

  • memeburn

    Hi Wesley. Disqus flagged your comment as spam for some reason — we’ve approved it from our side so it should show up now.

  • Daryn Smith

    I see your post is live again – I replied a little bit higher up in the thread.

  • Daryn, I hear you – but I have a huge issue with how you’ve made your point. By generalising, you’ve simply created a negative perception of design, and some of the points you’ve made are simply untrue. In your comments, you are now beginning to expand on your points – you’ve even changed the article’s title – but the article, by itself, misses the mark in a dangerous way. Just because there are bad designers, doesn’t make the design industry bad. There are also some crap web marketers out there – bet you wouldn’t like it if I published an article titled “Why you can’t trust a web marketer”.

    Edit: I see my original comment is back

  • Daryn Smith

    Thanks Clint – I think prize #1 would be to have these people working internally together. So replace your traditional PR manager, Events Manager, Brochure Manager, Corporate Gifts manager etc – with a digital team responsible for marketing and that use data to determine what to do next.

  • Saw so, thanks.

  • Gareth

    Thanks for the laughs!

  • But you say “designers have the wrong priorities when it comes to web design” and ” you need to get someone in marketing to do your website design”. That is simply not true. Good designers think about user needs as well as business goals, and they are trained to create layouts and experiences and graphics that meet those needs. They might not be responsible for the revenue, but I don’t think this article is an accurate representation of a designer’s role.

  • Good ‘ol Disqus. Thanks.

  • mike

    1 reason why you can’t trust a marketer… the URL remains the same :) haha!

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  • Quintin

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and challenging article… but as a web designer who has dealt with many business and designed dozens of effective (and, if I were to be honest with myself, not as effective as they could have been) websites, I both agree and disagree with your points.

    At the moment, the term “designer” is generally understood to mean someone who can create graphics in Photoshop. “Web designer” means someone who can create graphics and code them in HTML / CSS and/or Javascript and JQuery. But these aren’t definitions of designers – they are technicians.

    To me, the task of a designer is to deeply understand a business, and then create something to aid the business’ goals in that particular medium. Designers should ask questions, make it their business to understand and appreciate a company and its business model, as well as it competitors and the market it is operating in, and only then start planning the actual finished product.

    To address some of your points in the article:

    1 – I believe I’ve already addressed this with the above.

    2 – I disagree. I think that good designers will use the colours included in your identity. Some brand identities are rigid, and some are more fluid – it’s also the responsibility of the designer to understand how much play they have in this regard.

    3 – This plays into user experience and may or may not be accurate.

    4 – Good designers have at least an understanding of good copywriting, even if they are not qualified to do the copywriting themselves, and should be able to guide clients in creating content. Planning out an effective content strategy should happen long before any actual graphic work is done.

    5 – What are your sources for this? Most good web designers in my circle are well versed in CMSs and include it as part of a standard package in their offerings.

    6 – Agreed – although this can be addressed in various ways.

    I think it’s more useful to talk about what the responsibilities of a designer should be – whether they are “designing” the graphic artwork only, or designing or architecting how a user will reach the site, how they will interact with it, and how to technically achieve these goals as well.

  • Sharky

    Hi Darren,

    Wow, I can’t believe how hysterical the design community has been about this post. I completely hear your point. I’ve seen way too many projects completely screwed up because they were left solely in the hands of a designer. Sure what they make looks great, but so often it’s completely impractical.

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  • guys, the best way to save your credibility at this point is to admit you purposefully wrote an article full of outdated, ill informed waffle, in a bare faced attempt to boost your advertising hits

    …unless you were being serious with this

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  • Tom

    This is the worst article I’ve ever read in my 15 years of Web browsing. This is absolute garbage, plain and simple.

  • Jho

    Very generalist comments here.

    While I do agree with parts of this article I would say this applies to generic junior graphic designers? Maybe practising agency-side?

    I am a senior creative working client-side and have done so for over 12 years. I understand the product and audience better than most sales guys in our business and the marketing, product and ecommerce managers come to me to determine the most effective visual method to communicate via digital… (strategy).

    There is no magic to web design what generates sales in print will do so in digital. If the content is enaging and targeted. Only difference is designing for digital is a bigger project (automated triggers, landing pages, modules etc etc) a better supported experience that’s measurable.

    This article may have been on the money 5 years ago. These days designers have skills in coding, seo, marketing, strategy etc. Most run side businesses and are experienced in generating traffic and quality leads = sales.
    This is a massively growing trend from what I’ve seen being active within the indursty.

  • Smallz

    What would be cool is if any designer on this thread published a link of a website they did themselves without any outside help/brief from a marketer, product manager or business owner. In many cases this could be a website promoting themselves. Tell us the objective of the website so we can discuss and show the writer of this article he is wrong about designers!

  • Well then Daryn, you should have said that! You are article is distasteful to most in the design industry. Spoken like a typical marketing person with no idea on the complexities and technicalities behind designing a website. You almost have the condescending attitude of “anyone can design a website”.

  • Your point did not come across then

  • Craig

    ‘7 Reasons you shouldn’t write articles about topics you clearly know nothing about’

  • WOW, this is stunningly bad and bias writing.

    You have, and can do, better than this Darren.

    At the end of the day I think your main misconception is that you think Graphic Designers are some web version of Fine Artists where our principle goal is to “make it pretty” this is furthest from the truth you can get. A Graphic Designer is person who makes art for a business or functional purpose which in the case of any website the end goal is help the business create revenue either via traffic or to gain new clients, or direct payment for a service. Each requiring a different design approach but always with the end goal in mind.

    Have to say, from your previous articles I would expect more research from you than just your own solitary view point, have you actually met and asked any respectable designers and asked them about the process involved?

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  • Sean Park-Ross

    I was going to write an article here titled: “7 Reasons Why This Article is Bad” But 7 would not be enough by a long way. Just Wrong.

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  • iNetGlobalSolutions

    Great tips and very insightful!

  • deadlyfingers

    Found this article totally inaccurate and offensive. Its just a broad brush stroke smear at the web design industry. No point is true of any decent web design agency. One of the worst articles of ‘advice’ I’ve ever read. I would agree that you could have the best looking site and without marketing and SEO its not much use. But that should never mean undervaluing the power of design. 10% design – seriously!? This is a massive error of judgement.

  • Terry Gherman

    Here’s a few of points right of outright fallacy (there’s more, don’t worry).

    “This is the worst mistake a company can make as designers have the wrong priorities when it comes to web design.” — Wow, I mean WOW! Do you truly believe that designers only care about making things pretty?

    “For example, on one page you may refer to “product categories” and then on another it may be necessary to refer to the same thing as “product families”.” — This is not about your companies’ need to be ‘sometimes inconsistent’. Rather it’s about proper category management and generating the right search results. A good designer will know this and resolve it for you.

    A GOOD designer put the needs of their client ahead of their need to make things pretty—which essentially what you are saying. This is why designers are infuriated with your article.

    For designers the TRUST of our clients is so very important. When you say that they should not trust us, you cross a line.

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