Ugly code hiding behind a pretty website is still ugly

posted by Lauren Rauseo on: 06/07/12 in category: websites, working with a freelancer | tags: ,

In all my life, I have never been able to fold a fitted sheet. I mean, seriously, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s not symmetrical, or if it is in actual terms, then it’s not in practical application. From the moment I gently lift the corners and let it slowly fall as if I’m running through a field with clothes pins in a Tide commercial, the entire thing ends up in a messy heap on my living room floor.

Then one day, the lady who cleans my house folds my sheets for me and leaves them neatly stacked in my closet before I can close the dryer door behind her. What the heck? I think. How does she do that? So I carefully unfold the bundle of threads she had so nicely put together, and examine her process. Want to know what I find?

My cleaning lady is a hack.

As it turns out, all she does is skillfully fold the flat sheet (anyone can do that!), but only about three-quarters of the way through. Next, she makes a big, ugly mess of the fitted sheet, as I outlined above. Finally, she places the folded pillow cases and the messy fitted sheet heap in the center of the nicely folded flat sheet, and then finishes the remaining folding of the flat sheet around the fitted one. The end result is an immaculate looking stack of seemingly tidy sheets.

This is all well and good when it comes to folding your linens, but when you apply the same hodge-podge approach to your web design, you may end up in some dirty laundry.

I’m talking about what happens when you hire a sub-par designer to build your website.

Lots of people say they are website designers and developers these days. And it might be hard for you to tell the qualified ones from the not-so-qualified ones. Here is a quick checklist to make sure you’re on the right path.

Does she mainly do print design and dabbles in web now and then?

Nothing against print designers (most of us started out that way!), but designing for print is NOT the same as designing for web. Much like graphic design is not the same as interior design. Each industry has its own characteristics and quirks. You can only learn and become an expert in working within those quirks by doing it over and over again. I design websites. I have also bought a few pieces of furniture and a rug for my own house. This in no way qualifies me to design your living room. Ask the designer to see the last few online projects she completed. If she is unable to produce more than one example, it’s probably because there isn’t more than one example. (P.S. If she is forthcoming with the fact that she’s an online newbie, and you are comfortable with your site being one of her learning-curve projects, then great! Just ask her for a discount.)

Ask her about her code.

What does she use to build websites? Flash (noo!)? Tables (double noooooo!)? Standards-compliant HTML and CSS? PHP? (Yes, yes!) With a content management system or without one? Ask her if her methods have changed in the last few years and why. One of the so-called quirks I referred to in #1 is that web design is constantly changing. If she is still designing sites the same way she was 10 years ago, run in the opposite direction.

View the code

Visit the sites she designed and see if they look good to you and are in line with a style you like. Do they function properly? Does the contact form work? Are there broken links? You can even view the source code yourself if you feel so inclined. You might not be fluent in HTML, but you can sort of tell if it’s well-organized or just a jumbled mess of characters. Here are some more tips about what to look for in the code (and how to spot a bad web designer).

Talk to her past clients.

If her code is no good, chances are that it has caused a problem for the client at some point in time. Talk with her past clients, and ask them how they liked working with her, what type of support she offers post-launch, if they would use her again, and what their site visitors have said about their website.

So, the moral of the story is…

Even if it looks nice on the outside, if your actual code looks like my fitted sheet, your website is in trouble.

About the Author

Lauren Rauseo is your one-stop shop for print design, websites, HTML email, and more. When she's not busy working on client projects, Lauren enjoys running, doing yoga, drinking a soy white mocha, and having a dance party in the living room with her kids. Shake it off, people, just shake it off.

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Are these neatly folded sheets a facade?
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