The title of this post isn’t really completely accurate. It’s the best title I could come up with though, so it will do. My post today is about the difference between “design firms” that do web design and web development companies that specialize in web development (and standards, accessibility and usability).

I had a meeting today with a company that has had a website for 6 years that has never generated any business for them. They just noticed that they are not listed in any search engines for popular keyword searches. Their website is pretty much flash and images, with poorly written code (no doctypes, alt tags, etc.) generated by whatever design program the firm used. The company that created their website is a very successful design firm that specializes in print design and show displays. The designers there have art degrees in graphic design and years of experience.

The problem is that these types of designers know absolutely nothing about how the Web works. They are very talented print designers and even make great looking websites. But that doesn’t really matter, unless you really just have money to blow… because these websites never get any visitors. They don’t get listed in search engines and aren’t accessible to those with disabilities or on alternate platforms or browsers.

I don’t know how we can solve this problem either – most colleges and universities are still teaching this type of web design in their art and graphics departments. It’s not neccessarily the designer or design firm’s fault for doing what they’ve been taught. But increasingly, companies are questioning why they aren’t getting results from their websites.

In comes self-taught designers like myself. I had formal training in graphic design, page layout, etc. but threw all my knowledge out the door when I started learning web design. I knew it was a completely different beast because I also have experience in software development. I treated web development more like software development (user interfaces, interaction, etc.) than a static format similar to print design.

I’m not neccessariliy complaining… it is actually getting me a lot of business I might not otherwise have had. I’ve had two new clients recently come to me after they noticed they weren’t getting the results they needed with their current website.

So if you’re looking for a web designer or web developer anytime soon, be sure to ask questions about usability, accessibility, search engines, etc. while you’re asking questions about design and portfolios. It’s just as, if not more than, important.