In a few words, I’m a classically-trained graphic designer who began designing and developing websites in the mid-1990s. I live and work in Pflugerville, Texas (just outside of Austin), where I provide custom WordPress web design and web development services for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Early in my career, I aspired to be a design “rock star”, which led to 5 years of full-time employment as an art director, designer, and illustrator, with 3 internationally-recognized design firms in Houston.
When I opened Oddo Design (in Houston), I quickly made the transition from print to interactive media (pre-web, using HyperCard, SuperCard, and Director). As an early adopter, I began applying the finer points of graphic design to this new medium and learned to code — not only because I loved it, but also to avoid dreaming up concepts that were impossible to implement. In 1994, I pivoted again, and began designing and developing custom websites, exclusively.
My work was featured in Smashing Magazine, and in several books — most notably “Shockwave Studio: Designing Multimedia for the Web” (published by O’Reilly Media in 1997). I have also received awards from American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Dallas Society of Visual Communications (DSVC), New York Art Director’s Club (NYAD), Houston Art Director’s Club (HADC), and Print’s Regional Design Annual.
The Evolution of Web Design
In the early- to mid-1990s, front-end web design was little more than a few text blocks and images optimized for dial-up access. A few years later, I was busy creating complex interactive media presentations primarily for broadband users (thanks to Shockwave, and then Flash). Eventually, slimmer, fast-loading websites were back in vogue — but with a mobile-friendly twist.
Today, websites and web-based applications are, in many ways, far more sophisticated. They are often dynamically generated to deliver a more personalized experience, and by default, they must work seamlessly across an array of devices and screen sizes.
The Introduction of Content Management Systems
At one time, even the simplest of text changes required a technical skillset. Before long, one could create and edit a web page without reaching out to a “webmaster” — if your company could afford the high cost of building or licensing a proprietary “Content Management System” (CMS) and paying a team to maintain it.
Eventually, open-source alternatives made CMS’ more affordable — especially for smaller businesses and individuals. They became easier to launch and use, and as they matured, so did their template and plugin architecture. This made it possible for non-tech-savvy individuals to launch a simple, yet attractive blog or website without the need to hire a web designer or web developer — depending on the level of customization required.
Why I Recommend WordPress
Technically, a CMS is not required to launch a website. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider whether you should even use one at all. Some clients who have a CMS, rarely log in to use it. Others frequently self-publish content or hire a marketer and/or content provider to do the work for them. In either case, a CMS makes it faster and easier for writers, designers, developers, SEO specialists, and others, to collaborate.
WordPress in particular, began life as a simple blogging platform in 2003. Over time, it has evolved into a full-blown CMS. Today, over 60% of websites that use a CMS use WordPress. This is significant because its closest competitor (Joomla) only has a 4% market share. And perhaps surprisingly, mass-marketed platforms such as GoDaddy Website Builder, Squarespace, and Wix only have a 3% market share or less. Source: W3Techs.
Why does market share matter? First of all, the number of installations is a testament to WordPress’ flexibility and scalability. You’ll also have a larger pool of web designers, web developers, and technical resources to choose from.
And, you’ll find no shortage of tutorials and technical documents to help you along the way. Finally, since WordPress is open-source software, your website belongs to you. Consequently, you may move your website to any hosting company you prefer. Not so with proprietary platforms like Squarespace and WIX.
The Disruption of Web Design
Ten years ago, a client pointed to a predesigned WordPress theme as a source of inspiration. At that time, I realized that many “web designers” weren’t really designing anymore. Professional amateurs merely reused the same, or several, industry-specific, predesigned themes for each client. Practically anyone could spin up a generic-looking website with zero design skills.
Nothing I have seen, has disrupted web design and web development like WordPress. Its theme and plugin architecture includes over 3,000 predesigned themes and 50,000 precoded plugins. Many are highly-customizable, and some, very sophisticated. Almost all are free or reasonably-priced, and significantly decrease the cost of building a new website.
Before WordPress matured, most of my time was spent in Photoshop, meticulously crafting the exact look and feel for each custom page template. Once my mockups were approved, I sliced them up and used HTML to stitch the entire site together. If my client could afford a CMS (which was rare), I handed my HTML files over to a web development firm for back-end integration with my client’s preferred CMS.
Reinventing My Design Process
To better compete with freelancers and agencies who essentially resell predesigned WordPress themes, I streamlined my process for creating new websites and my process for customizing websites. I also created a WordPress development framework, that consists of commonly-used files and code snippets to save time in production.
To be clear, all of my work was (and still is) custom-designed and firmly based on each clients’ strategic objectives. Instead of using predesigned themes, I designed and coded simultaneously — without the use of Photoshop. I often sketched out rough wireframe layouts before presenting fully-functional mockups of key pages to my client.
However, another disruption has been unfolding for the past 5 years.
Page builders include a library of precoded, highly-configurable, drag-and-drop modules. They reduce the amount of coding required to build a custom website. Page builders are also generally easier for clients to use.
If I had my way, I would manually code all of my websites, as I once did — without a page builder. After all, I love to code as much as I love to design. However, page builders have come a long way — and one in particular is too good to ignore. If you haven’t heard of Divi, it is actually a design framework intended for designers rather than a development framework for developers.
Divi’s precoded modules are configured by the designer using a GUI (graphical user interface), rather than code. However, Divi does not preclude a web developer from writing/using custom code when necessary. It is as flexible as WordPress.
Compared to the development framework I created, Divi’s design framework allows me to design and build more rapidly — from functional wireframes, to functional pages, to visual design and production. In other words, Divi allows me to focus more on the user experience and worry less about code. My clients also love Divi because its “Visual Builder” is the closest thing to a WYSIWYG editor they’ve seen for WordPress.
That said, many web developers are vehemently opposed to page builders — perhaps for obvious reasons. And, in case you’re interested, I wrote about the pros and cons of page builders like Divi a few years ago (“Page Builders for WordPress: Understanding the Controversy”).
Am I a Good Fit for Your Next Project?
Until now, I’ve taken for granted that you know the difference between a web designer and a web developer. Simply put, a web designer designs and a web developer codes. I am both — a web designer and web developer.
That said, one of the biggest differences between myself and many other web designers and/or web developers is that everything I do is grounded by my clients’ strategic objectives. Before I converse about design and development regarding a new website, I listen. I inquire about your target audience; your primary products and/or services; your competitors; your success metrics; and more.
However, if this isn’t the time for a new website, I’m just as happy to improve and/or maintain the one you already have!