Designers – Web Site Must-Haves (From a Journalist’s P.O.V.)

This morning, I was sitting down to blog and went into my bulging grab bag of business cards and promotional material collected from local designers at various events, stores, etc. I pulled out a few that I’ve been wanting to post about, but I came across an annoying occurance that I find all too often among indie designers: the missing and/or lacking and/or suspended account web site.

Look, as an independent business owner of sorts myself (trust me, trying to make a living writing is about as independent as you can get) and as a writer/journalist, I can tell you that having a functional web site is SO KEY. Just so freakin’ key. If you don’t have one that works – and don’t worry about it being fancy or looking super flashy – you are doing yourself and your product a major disservice.

Why? Because writers and buyers and people like me who are constantly looking for new, interesting and unusual ideas search the web all the time (more than I want to admit), Googling all kinds of combinations of search terms. If your web site comes up in a search – or just happens under that writer’s or buyer’s or journalist’s nose at the right time, that person could choose to contact you or feature you. At the very least, your name will stick in that person’s head.

If the inquiring mind goes to your web site and finds it inadequate, lacking in basic information or totally confusing – then that person will likely just abandon your site. If you don’t even have a web site to begin with, well, I just don’t know what to say about that other than, stop reading this and get one. Stat.

Why can’t they just send me an email, you may be wondering. Well, I often do that when I want more information from a designer. But in the vast majority of cases, I take the time to contact designers when I already know a little something about them. The reason for this is simple. I usually contact people when I already know I want to write about them. I either have an assignment to cover them or know that designer would fit perfectly into something I’m working on. But say I’m just researching, browsing around, etc. A solid web site is just the way to convince a writer like me that I want to know more.

I’m not saying that a web site is the ultimate ticket to a smashing career. Nor is it a way to avoid any other forms of marketing or self-promotion. But it certainly is a key, ultra-basic thing you need to have working for you in today’s world.

Here are the key (extremely essential) things I want to see when I visit a designer site (and remember I am saying this from a writer’s P.O.V.):

  • A picture of your product. It doesn’t have to be a studio shot with a model or anything fancy. Just simple shots of your products.
  • Your location. This is essential. Many local publications, blogs, etc. that you’ve probably never heard of are constantly looking for local, undiscovered talent to feature or mention in upcoming issues. Even if you only offer an email address or web form as contact information, mention where you’re based.
  • Product description. What do you sell or make? If you mostly make jewelry, fine. But don’t forget to mention that you also make pillows or tank tops or whatever. You just never know which item will be the one that sells or attracts attention. For someone like me, it’s really helpful to have this information spelled out. Like, “purveyor of canvas handbags, vintage bracelets and funky tees made in San Francisco.”
  • Where to buy. Where is your stuff? If you aren’t in any stores and don’t have an online shopping cart, don’t despair. It’s okay. Just say that. Something like, orders are accepted via email or telephone.
  • Biographical information. You don’t have to tell your life story or be super witty, but say something about yourself. Where do you live? Where did you grow up? If you have professional training, mention that. If not, how long have you been designing? What do you like to do? What are your style parameters? What inspires you? What stage is your design venture in at the moment?

If you’ve got these basic elements, no one will abandon your site for lack of information. If you put the site together in a clean, simple way, no one will abandon it for lack of professionalism.

If one particular designer had even two of the above must-haves in place this morning – instead of an annoying “we’ll have our web site updated by June 2006” message on the home page – that designer’s bags would be up here right now. Not that this blog is like a hotline to fashion success or anything, but hey, it’s coverage of some sort, right? And I also happen to write for many local publications. Who knows when I might decide to use that designer for a bigger feature somewhere else…?

I guess my perspective is this: you don’t have to pay for expensive PR or promote yourself like a dog or kiss major ass or compromise your aesthetic, but just make it easy for people who want to find you and learn more about you to find you and learn more about you. It’s not that hard. And it makes people like me happy. Because then I get to write about you.

That’s my lecture for the day. The only other lecture I will be offering today is for my dog. It will be on the topic of “sitting still by the parking meter while I go in this store.”