Anatomy of a Successful Graphic Designers Website

Having a website is unquestionably the most effective marketing tool you can have as a graphic designer (or any company for that matter), especially if utilized correctly. A successful online presence demands having a website where visitors can learn, easily identify and clearly understand how you can help them.

In most cases, an award-winning portfolio just won’t cut it when a visitor stops by your site. Your website needs to capture their interest for enough time and provide the essential information for which they will want to take things to the next step. Below are 9 essential elements that your design company website should have in order to increase your rate of being contacted, meet your visitors (prospects) needs/desires, gain trust in a “faceless” internet and grow your business online.

A homepage

While most of you just read “a homepage” and thought, “Well duh! Of course I need a homepage!” — it is important to remember that your first page is the most important. This is where clients will decide whether or not to continue exploring your website or leave.

Make sure your homepage is concise and to the point. Focus on how you can help your visitors. Intrigue them into wanting to learn more and how they can benefit from your services. Focus on them not you! Think about it… how many designers and studios out there state on their homepage that “We are designers and we create logos and websites’? Differentiate yourself.

About us

In a world where everything is online, having an ‘about’ page is a must. It provides a “face” and personality to an otherwise, “lifeless” website. You want to convey that human interaction feeling. This helps in building trust with your clients, which is extremely important. Include information such as photographs of yourself or your team, credentials, and background information. Give your visitors a reason to work with you.

Make certain the photographs are warm and welcoming and that you don’t ramble. Be sweet and to the point. This is also where you can differentiate yourself further from your competitors, but make sure not to sound arrogant or bash your competitors! Instead, sound confident and tactful.

Services

I find that a lot graphic design company websites mix their services into their ‘About Us’ page, making it harder for your visitors to learn what you do and can offer them. When identifying your services, be clear and use terminology clients can understand.

Stating your company builds websites using the CSS and PHP means nothing to non-techies. A better statement would be “We build websites based on the latest web standards providing the best possible solution to your company”. Sounds much better, right?

Client list

If you’re a new business this section might be difficult to include, but having a client list leaves a huge impact on your visitors. They like to know that you are a professional and have experience. It also helps your visitors feel connected and confident in your work, especially if you have completed work for similar clients in their market. Like your mother always said, “Your judged by the company you keep.”

You can also provide a link to the clients samples, which would further help your visitors navigate around your website.

Portfolio

When showcasing your portfolio provide samples of your highest quality and don’t show everything — Leave room to be desired. :) Also, if it’s a certain type of work your after, you should place more emphasis on it. If you don’t enjoy doing logos, why would you show ten logos… just to get ten more? Focus on what you enjoy or specialize in — In most cases, this is your best work anyways.

Provide a statement or two about your samples. This helps your visitors understand your design process and builds trust based on understanding. Even listing the project goal or overview gives meaning and provides an understanding to your portfolio. Remember, design is about communication and problem solving.

Also you might have noticed I keep saying “samples” instead of “work”. The word “work” just doesn’t sound inviting or enjoyable. “Samples” sounds more like a scientific approach to design, as if the designs have meaning (as I hope they do).

Testimonials

A good majority of my freelance work comes by referrals, so why not carry that same idea over to your website. You’d be surprised how important client testimonials can be to your visitors. Even providing a link underneath the brief statement in your portfolio section would be great place.

Contact Information

The more pages you have your contact information on the better, especially having its own page. Provide all the details in which you would like prospects and clients to contact you and make sure it’s easy to find.

Contact Form

While the above contact information makes it possible for a visitor (prospect) to contact you, a contact form makes it easy! The less steps it takes for someone to get in touch with you the more likely there are to connect with you. Provide at the very least an area for their name, email address, and message area.

You might want to create a telephone number area, but I would not make this field mandatory. Some people are a bit tentative to putting their phone number on the web.

Blog

If you’re a designer/developer and haven’t jumped on board yet with blogging, then what are you waiting for? Now I’m not saying you have to go all “pro-blogger” on me, but even if you post every few weeks about a creative design process for a logo you completed or an article you thought your clients might find interesting about ‘naming their new business‘– it helps to bring more personality to your website and lets your visitors get to know you better on a more personal level. Every company should have a blog.



Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Mike Smith says:

    Nice article. I could say YES to every one of those :)

  2. curtismchale says:

    Great post but I think you missed a custom 404 page with search and a way to contact very prominent. The 404 page if often neglected and offers a great way to take something that’s bad and turn it into a place your customers can interact with you.

  3. Great list Brian. I haven’t really considered the inclusion of a Client List on my blog, but now I may include one. I was so busy concentrating on not cluttering-up my site, that this great aid got lost in the detail.

    Lately, however, I have started the process of collecting testimonials. Easier said then done, as past clients can be hard to reach. I’ll get there in the end though.

  4. Interesting article. I’ll have to keep it mind as I develop my own portfolio, haha. I agree with the “Custom 404″ suggestion. That’s a definite must for pretty much any website now.

  5. @Andrew Kelsall Getting client testimonials has been pretty easy for me. I usually do it at completion of success project. By then, they are more then happy to give a testimonial. :)

    - Cal
    —————-
    http://www.mayhemstudios.com
    http://www.mayhemstudios.com/blog
    http://twitter.com/mayhemstudios

  6. Brian says:

    Curtis,
    Great suggestion! Failed to remember that one… Thanks for reminding us :)

    Corey,
    Thanks for the comment. Glad you found it useful

  7. @mayhemstudios
    I was referring to projects that I had done in the past, where I haven’t asked for a testimonial. Peoples’ contact details change, as well as personnel within companies.

    Now I’ve decided to pursue them, like you said, it will be easy to get them :)

  8. @Brian Check these out. 60 Really Cool And Creative Error 404 Pages: http://bit.ly/Fuw8

    @Andrew Kelsall Maybe because I’m a Media Ho. I was thinking ahead on all my projects and made sure I got testimonials. ;)

    - Cal
    —————-
    http://www.mayhemstudios.com
    http://www.mayhemstudios.com/blog
    http://twitter.com/mayhemstudios

  9. Hey Brian. Great list. =D.

    Another thing you might want to consider, especially if you’re a branding expert or specialize in redesign, is that you would want a case study page to show your clients before and after + detailed analysis of your process.

    -Fred.

  10. I coulda sworn I already commented on this. Anyways, it’s a great list. I know adding some of these to might site as so far quadrupled my traffic (my new site design is only a week old) and now I am getting RFPs everyday instead of just a couple times a month.

  11. Marnie B says:

    Tops! It’s dugg. :)

    (Hm, I really should get on Digg more!)

  12. This article came right on time, although I’m not a company. My intership is almost over and I need to get back to the market and get hired, so after some digging I came to the conclusion from this article, I’ve only started now but better late than never! Great article, not only for companies but for graphic designers in general!

  13. hanzo says:

    Great article!
    comes exactly in the right moment!!!
    thanks a lot!

  14. nice article useful list thanks..

  15. David Airey says:

    Great round-up, Brian.

    I’d include a couple of other things, which I’m sure you’d agree upon, but don’t mention:

    1/ Legibility – this happens less often nowadays, but some designers are overly-concerned with aesthetics, and don’t want their website text to take up much room at all, leading to 7pt type that causes squinting and strained eyes. Keep those type sizes large enough to read without having to manually increase it – you do well here, Brian.

    2/ Ease of navigation – If a visitor can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll be off before you can say, “Here it is…”

    Have a fantastic xmas and new year!

  16. Arif Gangji says:

    All good points…a few things I’d clarify:

    1. If you are a freelancer then the portfolio and bio are very important.
    2. If you are a firm and not focused around your core management team, then case studies and past results (including client list) become more important.
    3. If you are in the middle, you need it all :) Management bios, case studies, good client list, etc.

    Sometimes people forget what they are and therefore put the wrong type of content on their site. i.e. If you are a freelancer and focus on graphic design, why put up an adwords case study if that’s really not what you want to focus on?

    Great job…good stuff here, I just posted something about 404 errors a while back: http://www.neonrain.com/blog/2008/11/12/404-not-found-why-does-this-still-exist/

  17. I totally agree with David Airey’s points. Too often I go to a designers site and I can’t read the text or figure out the navigation. Be creative but not at the expense of function.

  18. Jeff says:

    Great post Brian.

    There are many great points in here. One other point to consider is to build a site that reflects your personality and/or design “aesthetic.” If your portfolio features a lot of color, etc it probably doesn’t make sense to build a black and white site, etc.

    I like the point on Case Studies: this is one site that I feel does a nice job with this: http://www.tenfoldcollective.com/

    Jeff

  19. Paddy says:

    Great tips there Brian!

    Contact and about details are a major point for me. If it takes more than 2 seconds to find out just what are you looking at or to find out how to reach the designer then it’s an instant turn off.

    Good stuff! :)

  20. Matt Gio says:

    Great post! I totally agree with each and everyone of those

  21. Studio3k says:

    Great article. We’re redesigning our companies website for 2009 and these are great pointers to keep in mind along the way. Thanks.

  22. ChrisHebert says:

    Thanks for the useful information.

    The ease of navagation is what some designers overlook. This can be very frustrating for a newbie user.

    If I feel as if I am going in circles and unable to locate what I am looking for – I leave the site all together.

  23. Really interesting article. Thanks for this…

  24. v-render says:

    I am in process of my webfolio development , this article guided me ! thanks for such informative article ! :)

  25. rama says:

    Great Post! I’m still doing some low budget projects to fill out my portfolio, and in 2009 .. i’m all rock and roll! Thanks for reminding me to get testimonials from previous clients.

  26. Steph D says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I am in the process of re-inventing myself and replacing my stagnant website is part of that plan. Your writing provides some excellent foundation points to building a successful site. Thanks!

  27. [...] Week of 1/7: Transfer tasks to calendar, install contact-management software, create database; develop an outline for your website; weekly [...]

  28. austin says:

    hey dude, loving the site, thanks for sharing. just thought i’d be a pedantic bastard and let you know in the portfolio section it says:

    “When showcasing your portfolio provide samples of your highest quality and don’t show everything — Leave room to be desired. :) Also, if it’s a certain type of work your after”

    the second to last word should be “you’re”, thought you’d like to correct it.

    respect

  29. Wizely says:

    Great article that recognises there’s more to a Graphic Design site than graphic design! I especially like the advice on focusing on what you will do for clients – too often portfolio sites are a passive ‘catalogue’ that forget to sell!
    And how many fantastic individual styles are let down by bland and boring copy!
    I’d just add that, although a good home page is of course vital, it pays not to ignore other landing pages and different paths that you can use to target different kinds of potential clients – be it print v online, freelance v agency etc.

  30. Pim says:

    Wow, man! Amazing! I am definetly going to use this list for a new redesign of my website. Thanks a lot!

  31. [...] their business and services, display contact information and showcase their work all on a one successful single page portfolio [...]

  32. Thanks for a great article – some useful tips in there.

  33. [...] need samples compiled in an organized fashion. The Design Cubicle has an awesome post on the anatomy of a successful graphic designer’s website. Your portfolio needs to include a number of elements for prospective clients, [...]

  34. Andy says:

    Some great pointers there Brian, I took some notes and will definitely apply them to my website that I’m currently building. I’d got to the stage where I was stuck for ideas as to where to put what, now the ideas are flowing freely!

    Cheers,

    Andy

  35. PamLMartin says:

    Good tip about the phone number thing. You will have more success without it. I find that requiring a phone number greatly reduced the amount of people who give me their contact info. When I limit myself to a first name and an email address I am much more successful. Thanks for the business tips.

  36. Zoran says:

    this is a coco website

  37. Candace says:

    Thank you for your help!

  38. Keith Davis says:

    Good stuff.
    Nine useful things to check…
    I’m currently looking at adding a blog to my site, or more correctly, starting a WordPress based site based on a CMS model.

    I was thinking of calling the blog page “news items” or “articles” rather than posts or blog.
    Or… do you think that people expect to see a blog page called “blog”?

  39. Amazing article… a question for all these 404 error pro’s.
    I created one on my site, so if someone types my site address slash somethng weird it shows… but what if they have another slash in there? then the css file isnt in the right spot and the page basically freaks out a tad… any advice?

  40. Good info for the fresh-out-of-the-gate designers out there!

  41. For some internet big boys like google and facebook don’t really bother to show off their client list or portfolio. Some of the website, show off testimonial instead. Of curse it is depend on the website. Maybe for some company need to put career page to find new employee.

  42. Tony hurst says:

    I was feeling out of my depth trying to design a website until I came across this article. I am just starting out creating graphic T shirt designs as a major career change so i need all the help I can get!

  43. sandor says:

    Hello Brian, I was crawling the net for ideas on building a cool PDF-portfolio, but I’m happy I didn’t find it right away, or I wouldn’t have found your blog! I like what I read here, and at Dribble.
    Regards from Holland.

  44. Joseph Ku says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this helpful article, it has helped me review my existing site to identify areas of improvement. All website owners should read this post!

  45. Josep Ku says:

    One small suggestion on this site, after having posted a message, I wanted to scroll up to the top of the page, because this is such a long post, it takes a long time to scroll up. Although you have useful links at the footer, a ‘Return to top’ button would definitely help the online view shoot up to the top :)

  46. Brian says:

    Joseph,
    Actually there is a ‘Back to top’ link on the bottom black footer that will quickly help you jump back to the top of the page. :)

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello:


POWERED by FUSION