Web Design's New Business Role with Paul Williams

Good Web design is essential to every online property. Whether generating leads or selling products, an attractive and functional design will keep users on your site. On the other hand, a poor design or difficult navigation will chase users away and most of them will never come back.

Paul Williams, President of ISITE Design, was kind enough to spend a few minutes with us to talk about the changing landscape of the business of website design. Williams has helped several major brands - including Nike, Nintendo and GE - improve their bottom lines with his wealth of experience.

As a Web design firm, what has contributed to your success?

We've been around for 13 years. In that time, ISITE has morphed from that agency you would come to with a brochure and wanting on online version of it, to a business consultancy. Our key differentiator is coming in and changing the conversation. These days, it's not so much about design but the basis of their business - what their user research and personas are telling them. We develop a close relationship with our clients. We help knit the online channel to their sales methodology.

For example, when clients think about changing their sales methodology (which is happening a lot these days), it's a perfect time to rethink their online strategy as well. In a sales cycle, people are validating what they see on the Web. Our clients are building out their two- to three-year plan and we help get those plans together. They are thinking about the future, and the priorities of their online channel.

Are most of your clients these days actually focused on their long-term design needs rather than just an immediate "fix"?

That's a key qualifying question for us [when working with a client]. We want them to think about it as a business process with us. Very few other agencies are doing this, but it's an area that is rapidly growing.

Do you find design these days is more focused on usability or aesthetics?

That depends on the target audience. Brand-forward, or brand-first is not necessarily wrong. But as an ecommerce site, you better be focused on conversion and usability. Overall, the "why" is taking place of the "how." The strategic approach is what sets up the long-term relationship and repeat projects. Sometimes it paints us out of a job -- we tell them they need to build out their own team.

Where is the tipping point for a company to create their own design team, rather than outsourcing?

What is the role of the website? How well is my company set up to put together a design team? Companies might have a webmaster, but they need to rethink their processes. For them, it depends on the industry, the website objectives and the availability of talent.

How often should a company reassess their design and consider redesigns?

It depends. One of the major travel sites, for example, is literally updated every hour with continuous improvements. That's not practical for every business. But if you're in a business focused on conversion on the Web, you need to be constantly measuring and updating. A common theme is improvement of current initiatives to improve after launch, rather than building new ones.

Paul Williams, ISITE DesignPaul Williams, president and co-founder, launched ISITE Design in 1997. As president, Williams leads ISITE Design's corporate strategy and plays a key role in client strategy, design, and analytics. Williams was recently recognized by the Portland Business Journal as one of Portland's top executives under 40.