let's talk about artist websites

Part 1 of a series...

Today I started thinking...working with artists and instructors, I've known many who have had avoided putting up websites because it's just overwhelming.  In the past, you either had to pay someone a lot of money to create a site from scratch for you, but how many artists do you know who want to spend that kind of money on a website?

The majority of small business owners don't have lots of cash to throw around, and what if you pay someone to create your site and you hate it?  What if you want to add new photos, or add events to a calendar?  In the past you'd have to pay a web designer significant up-front costs to do it for you, and then ongoing maintenance costs to update the site.  But...NO MORE.

But we as artists have something going for us.  We are ARTISTS.  That means that even if you don't have the particular skills to program a website from scratch, you DO have a good eye for aesthetics.  What if there were companies out there that would provide a template or a framework, and you could fill in the rest?  If you look at the web page below, you'll notice the only thing I did was add my logo, and four photos of my work.  The rest of the layout is created automatically by the template.

This website, created with Squarespace.  Simple fonts, lots of white space, clean contemporary design.

Thankfully, there are services out there that offer you the ability to create your own website without knowing anything about programming.  Most will allow you pay month-to-month, with little or no up-front costs.  I paid annually on mine to get a 10% discount, with another 10% off coupon, and the site with some basic eCommerce costs me $14.40 a month...one jewelry sale and it's paid for.   Prices generally increase with the numbers of products you have in your "store," but some services allow you to embed an Etsy "Mini Shop" in your web page if you'd like, which could potentially save you money.

All of them offer a free trial, so you can play to your heart's content, adding your own photos, and even switching templates to find what works for you.  When you're ready to commit, don't forget to do a quick Google search for discount coupons!  Squarespace even offers a one-year 50% discount for certain college students.  

So who are the players in this new and exciting world of web design?  

You might have heard some of the names on TV or on the web lately.  Companies like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, BigCommerce, Jewelspan, and others.  We'll take a look at all of these options in depth.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Company offers a variety of free, professionally-designed templates
  • eCommerce is integrated
  • Templates are mobile-friendly ("responsive" or "responsive design")
  • Company will let you use your own domain name
  • Company integrates search engine optimization
  • Ties into Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
 Wubbers University Shop created with BigCommerce

Wubbers University Shop created with BigCommerce

Additionally, these companies' offerings are well-suited for websites of any size...from a website with big pretty pictures selling only a few items, to a production jeweler selling hundreds of items.  Others, like BigCommerce, specialize in "store" type eCommerce sites where you can sell hundreds or even thousands of items.  

You'll need to decide what your marketing goals are, and that will determine the service to try.  Do you want to simply show off your work?  To wholesale your pieces?  To sell tutorials?  To sell your jewelry?  We'll talk more about that as we focus on each service in this series of blog posts.

And since many of these companies offer similar services, the good news is that they're ramping up their customer service and support to earn your business.  Companies such as Squarespace and BigCommerce have video tutorials and "knowledge bases" that can answer any of your questions.  

So what's the main thing to look for when choosing a provider?   Your jewelry or art will be shown in the best light with a company that offers templates created by DESIGNERS.  I've realized over the years that there are five types of people who do web design: 

  • Graphic designers with little to no web design experience
  • Programmers who don't have a clue about design
  • Rare designer/programmers who understand both
  • Your friend's or neighbor's high school kid
  • People with some tech experience who have more time than money (YOU!)
     

Graphic Designers

A major challenge for a traditional graphic designer who just decide to take up web design is that they usually aren't familiar with web standards.  For example, the current width guideline for custom-designed websites is around 960 pixels.  Wide banners and graphics are designed to meet those standards so they work well on the majority of computers.  Also, when programming a traditional website, there are important things to know about compressing graphics and taking advantage of web-friendly graphics formats so that they load quickly.  This is ESPECIALLY important when you are wanting to make your site mobile-friendly.  And many traditional print designers are not familiar with these concepts.

The nice thing is that the new web services resize your graphics for you.  So having graphic design skills are not critical.

But do you fall into this category?  Your graphic design skills can help you create a beautiful site. If a friend who is a graphic designer with no web experience offers to help, you might ask if they'd help with designing your logo...you can handle the rest.

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Programmers 

Programmers present another issue.
Programmers are left-brained and logical, and most likely won't see the little details that creative people do. To the right is a clip from a friend's website that was done by a programmer.  She makes beautiful and whimsical glass beads, wants to sell online, and requested a site from a programmer that would be easy to update with new products and events.  She mentioned one day that she felt like she was "bad with technology" because she couldn't update her site.  She gave me the login, and I checked it out.  I realized that it wasn't the artist at all...it was the programmer that had delivered a relatively unusable site that didn't meet her needs.  It made sense to the programmer, but nobody else!

On this example, little details like having a little more space to the left of the menu items, and using fonts and colors to differentiate between category levels can make a big difference, and the majority of programmers don't notice those details.  

In a nutshell, if you run into a well-meaning programmer friend who wants to do your website, don't jump at the opportunity.  You may risk harming a friendship later when you realize that your site isn't what you hoped for.  Did you know it's almost harder to break up with your programmer than it is a boyfriend or girlfriend?  In a nutshell...I would not recommend letting your programmer friend touch your artist website!  You'll have a much better eye for design and style.
 

Designer/Programmers

This is where I fit into the categories, and I know that this is a pretty rare skill set.  It comes from my experience with Apple as a Systems Engineer in Higher Education.  I had a background in graphic design before Apple, and we were on the forefront of programming early web pages for the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.  

But from that experience, I can tell you that just because someone "has done web design," it doesn't mean that they're up to date on their skills.  In 2012, I had to go back and re-learn web design from scratch.  

So when I volunteered to do a friend's website, I was learning a whole new skill set.  It took me about 40 hours to create her new website, and it's kind of a pain to update.  It took me about 8 hours to create this site on Squarespace, and I can easily update to my heart's content.  That's 32 hours I could be using to make jewelry to sell!  That time is valuable!
 

Your Friend's or Neighbor's High School Kid

Don't do it.  This is your business, your image, your passion.  Remember...you might be a little apprehensive about doing this, but you CAN create your own beautiful website!
 

Artists with Some Tech Experience – YOU!

Here's probably where the majority of artists fit.  Can you navigate MS Office?  Have you played in any graphic programs?  Have you retouched your photos?  Better yet, do you have photos, or are you able to take your own photos?  

Congratulations!  You are qualified to create your own website!!
 

So gather up those photos, and start thinking about the sections for your website.  We'll talk more tomorrow!