WEB DESIGN: Join the gold rush - Some traditional design agencies have been slow to realise the potential of designing for the Web. Fiona Keating takes a look at a burgeoning new design sector which shouldn’t be ignored

It is not surprising that the Internet revolution is often likened to the Gold Rush. The stampede into Internet business has created a whole new industry made up of companies and individuals with wildly varying experience and backgrounds.

It is not surprising that the Internet revolution is often likened

to the Gold Rush. The stampede into Internet business has created a

whole new industry made up of companies and individuals with wildly

varying experience and backgrounds.

Web design is one of the most explosive areas of this new territory,

and, as with other areas of Internet consultancy, it is not necessarily

the design fraternity that is reaping the most rewards.

According to New Media Finance, a specialist newsletter reporting on the

Web sector, some design agencies command client budgets in excess of

pounds 300,000 for a Web site. These top agencies might be capable of

generating annual turnover of pounds 5m over the next two years.

New Media Finance also claims that the size of the Web design sector

could be worth pounds 100m, assuming that there are around 100 dedicated

Web design agencies.

Scott Ewings, creative director of Crown Communications, believes that

any design company not including the Internet in its remit does so at

its peril. According to the Design Business Association, fewer than half

of its 240 members offer Web design services, so it seems that

technology-based companies are picking up a considerable amount of Web

design work, rather than the traditional design agencies.

Web design has been driven by technology from the start, explains Daisy

Cresswell, head of new media at design and communications agency

Imagination, where the multimedia department has grown rapidly from six

to more than 20.

’Traditional designers are scared of the technology,’ she suggests. ’As

a result, there’s a hell of a lot of trash out there.’ But Cresswell

believes that Web site design should be the domain of the traditional

designer, rather than the computer programmer. ’As the Web develops in

terms of its design, and as more well-designed sites come up, it might

encourage more design agencies to think about moving into new media,’

she says.

Presentation skills

With so many companies offering a Web site design service, it can be

very difficult for clients to know which company to choose. One way is

to look at the design company’s own Web site.This was a tactic

remembered by Eventer Design Group when it decided to create its own

online presence.

’Prior to designing our site, we had a good look at other design and

multimedia companies’ sites,’ says David Ward-Streeter, Eventer’s

managing director. ’Overall, we found them uninspiring, with blocks of

text, no movement or any interaction - a bit disappointing for what is

supposed to be an exciting industry.’

Eventer’s Web site was designed around a ’virtual agency tour’, which

included a conference room to view the company’s work, a press cuttings

folder, even a kitchen to read postcards from the staff and reviews of

recommended bars and restaurants.

According to Matthew Bagwell, a new media designer at Imagination,

clients need to find people who are capable of managing their brand

within relevant media. ’A lot of technology-driven companies are able to

offer Web solutions, but they might not understand brand management,’ he


Bagwell believes that the very best Web design can be simple, with fast

delivery by using uncomplicated graphics and informative, strong


’We understand what the user requires, rather than gratuitous eye

candy,’ he adds.

In the future, says Bagwell, what you might see is a continuing

convergence of traditional disciplines into Web media. ’This includes

online television, channel Web sites, more animation and video. In

short, a more interactive environment.’

Arbiters of taste

Not surprisingly, companies from a traditional design background see

themselves as the arbiters of good taste and aesthetics. They often view

the Web as the province of marketing and are concerned with designing

critically-acclaimed sites which are often reviewed in the Internet


But traditional design agencies have only recently become more aware of

the Internet’s potential, suggests Richard Mellor, creative director of

Hyperinteractive. ’People from design backgrounds are learning the

skills or teaming up with the right people to do very pertinent and

ideas-oriented work,’ he says.

Hyperinteractive built the D&AD (Design and Art Direction) Web site.

’Its audience is visually the most critical you can imagine, and

certainly the most seasoned,’ says Mellor.

A Web site needs to have clarity, as users will be a mixture of Net

novices and more experienced visitors. Ease of use, in the form of

well-planned and well laid-out pages, is important.

Good navigation around the site is necessary to allow users to find what

they want quickly - making it a pleasurable, rather than a frustrating

experience. A well-designed site directs users to the information they

need, while both branding the company and opening up the potential for

new business.

Content is the key to good Web site design, with text and graphics

integrated to maximise the effectiveness of the message - although Nigel

Salter, director of new media at design company Stocks Austin Sice,

believes that strategy is sometimes more important than visual


’Some of the best-looking sites are among the most confusing and least

effective,’ he argues. ’Define who you’re trying to speak to and what

you want from it.’ This might be difficult for some clients who have

little idea of what they want or need from the Web. ’Everybody feels

they must have a presence, but ask them why and they say it’s because

other companies do.’

Lack of strategy and a clear idea of the site’s purpose are a common


Instant impact

Designers need to take on board the challenges of the Internet. Site

’hits’ are very short, with an average visit lasting just eight


Something can be visually attractive, but the message is lost simply

because it is not responding quickly enough to the user’s request.

Also, the palette of colours available on the Internet is limited

compared with the print medium; downloads of graphics can be slow and

visual representation is on a computer screen, not an A4 page.

Jeremy Keohane, head of new media at Bamber Forsyth, insists that many

Web sites are just linear reproductions of printed articles, such as

annual reports. Even a year ago, it was not unusual for companies simply

to scan in their brochures and use that as their Web site. ’Whereas

corporate literature can be persuasive in nature, with the Internet you

have to be more informative,’ says Keohane. Understanding the power of

new media as a communications tool is the name of the game.

The traditional design sector’s new competitors in the new media arena

are gathering rich pickings from the blue-chip companies that approach

them to design their Web sites. AKQA has designed sites for BMW,

Microsoft, and Durex. Ajaz Ahmed, director at AKQA, believes that one of

the reasons for the company’s success lies in focusing on the marketing

value of the Internet: ’Relevance, reliability, performance and

engagement are among the most important elements in successful Web

design - and this equals brand value.’

Site costings

New Media Factory is part of a new breed of Web design firms which are

merging new technology with design. According to Beverley Nolan, its

marketing consultant and project manager, the company creates three

basic types of Web site.

First, the basic site which acts purely as an online brochure and costs

around pounds 5000. Further up the price scale, at pounds 10,000 to

pounds 20,000, greater technical capabilities are added on - such as a

database, which is very useful for companies needing to store large

amounts of information. For the top price of pounds 40,000, New Media

Factory provides a Web site that can deal with online commerce


The Web is growing at an exponential rate, perhaps reaching 200 million

users by the year 2000. This means an abundance of opportunities for Web

designers who are quick to realise the Internet’s potential. Some

traditional designers might have been unwilling to take on the mantle of

the anorak, but there are many easy-to-use software programmes which

dispense with the complexities of programming. In the future, designers

will be called upon to create sites which are not only visually

appealing, but also information driven.

If this golden nugget doesn’t appeal to those from a traditional

background, then new media companies will gladly pick up the pieces.


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