Meet Webstars* Design Team - 5 Minutes With Jez
Thanks Jez for taking the time to talk to me. Can you start off by telling me a bit about yourself and Webstars*?
Jez - We are a 24 strong digital agency based in Shoredtich, London near the infamous ‘Silicon Roundabout’. We also have two offices in Romania (Bucharest and Iasi). We have been in business since 2003 and have worked with a fantastic variety of clients over the past 10 years.
We design websites, software applications and apps for clients including government, corporate, not for profit, consumer goods, fashion, professional services, social enterprise and clients in the creative industries.
I started the company by accident (it’s a long story!), and it has transformed from a budget web design agency 10 years ago to a sophisticated, multi-disciplinary agency today. From our technical roots, the company has developed a strong creative offering alongside our bespoke CMS and e-commerce solutions (which have been developed over the past 8 years).
I know it’s probably difficult to say, but what has been your favourite project?
Jez - Wow, that is a tough one! We work on such a variety of projects it's hard to single one out. I guess there’s a natural tendency to choose a recent site, so it would have to be the Safe Campus Communities website for Universities UK and the Home Office. The site aims to provide Higher Education establishments in the UK with best practice advice and support in tackling radicalisation on their campus.
The site is responsive, so it works really well on all devices, and it has a clever bit of coding that identifies the role of the logged in user and delivers content based on their profile (role, location etc.). This means that users are delivered information that is relevant to them, and cuts out any irrelevant (or confidential) information (if only all sites did that!). As a registered (and verified) user you can also contribute to the site to share best practice and debate the latest issues in the forum.
Non-registered users can see some content on the site, but it’s when you’re logged in that you really see the full functionality. The site launched the day before the tragic attack on drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May, so it has received a considerable amount of press focus and will hopefully help to reduce the threat of radicalisation in Universities through the heightened awareness created.
Choosing a web design company to work with can be a tough decision, what questions should our customers be asking?
Jez - Firstly, how do your objectives match the case studies and testimonials of the agency? You should review the work the agency has done for other clients, and see if they can demonstrate their capability in delivering successful projects that are similar to yours. They don’t need to have worked in the same sector, but need to be able to demonstrate their achievements on similar types of site (e.g. e-commerce, lead generation, event booking, delivering high quality video, responsive design etc.).
When it comes to budget, it’s often tempting to go for the lowest quote when selecting an agency. I hesitate to use the old ‘you get what you pay for cliché (despite the fact that it’s true!). However, it’s more useful to think in terms of return on investment than absolute cost for the project. Ask the agency to demonstrate projects that have delivered a considerable return on investment for their clients, and consider what value you are likely to derive from working with the agency (remember, a 200% return on a budget of £50,000 is far better than a 20% return on a budget of £5,000!.)
Good communication is what makes a project run smoothly, so you need to be confident that the chemistry you have with the people who will be working on your project is excellent. In addition, the agency should be able to demonstrate what processes they have in place to ensure the smooth running of the project, and again client testimonials will help here. It’s worth asking to speak to a couple of their clients, as this will also give you a good insight into what it will be like working with the agency.
One thing to avoid is asking an agency to provide visuals for your site at the pitch stage. There’s no way that an agency can develop a visual approach that will best achieve your objectives without first immersing themselves in your business in order to map out an effective site architecture and user experience plan. If you want to see how creative an agency are then look at the work they've done for other clients, and ask them to develop an outline strategic plan for your site – you’ll find out a lot more about how the agency thinks, rather than whether they can create pretty pictures!
Without giving too much away, what are your top three web design tips to help build an effective web presence?
Jez - We love to give things away, as the more knowledge our clients and potential clients have the better sites that will be built.
I guess the most important issue prior to building a web presence is to understand your own business, and make sure your site reflects what you do. Far too often companies have sites built that are very pretty, but really don't communicate their skills or unique proposition clearly enough to potential clients or customers. The days of building pretty sites that don't work hard for clients is long gone, and the form and function balance is essential.
Secondly chat to your agency about return on investment, do they have any ideas for creating features or functions that will enable you to sell more, either directly or indirectly, or to increase your brand exposure.
Finally, think long term. How scalable is your web solution going to be, can you easily develop it with your business, will it stand the test of time in terms of technology and does it deliver content that the user can consume easily.
I know you guys keep on top of industry trends; what’s going to be the next big thing in web design?
Jez - I guess the next big thing has to be increased mobile adoption. For years we have struggled to explain the importance of mobile web including mobile e-commerce. For the past few months we have only designed responsive sites (where page assets adapt depending on the device you’re using to view the website) but far too many sites do not work well on mobiles. In a few years, more people will be using mobile devices to access the internet rather than desktop devices, with certain countries and demographics already getting close to mobile dominance. Responsive design can also cater for high resolution retina displays appearing on many new desktop devices.
Following swiftly on from responsive design is UX design, designing the interface and controls that users interact with on your website. Users are used to slick easy to use websites and applications to make processes easy to understand and use will become increasingly important.
From a "geeky" perspective further adoption and development of existing technologies such as html 5, css3 and schemas (html tags) will take on increasing importance. The three leading search engines have come together to launch new web standards and we feel they will become increasingly important when marking up pages; see Schema.org for more information.