When I look at a lot of Web sites these days, two things jumps out at me. First, many sites look absolutely stunning. Beautiful mastheads, delicious AJAX everywhere, blinky, swooshing Flash and Web 2.0-style graphics adorn tons of Web sites. Competing with these gorgeous Web sites requires not only great graphic design skills, but you’ve got to be a coding genius as well. The second thing that I notice right away is that many of these sites contain little if any useful, informative content. Opinion blogs are everywhere, virtually anyone who can type has a blog, but finding great content is just getting harder and harder. It almost appears that many of these sites’ purpose is simply to show off the fact that they know how to code. Now I’m not trying to stand on my high-horse and look down on anyone’s efforts… I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a great designer, nor do I claim to be even a novice Web coder. Heck, I can’t even figure out how to add bullet points to the list of Web links in the upper right of this page to make it easier to read. (In my defense, WordPress was a lot easier to figure out than Drupal is). But I’ve always tried to make content my priority, putting the design of the site a distant second. It’s not that I don’t want the site to look great, but I’m more concerned with functionality and content – after all, I think you come here to read, not just to watch navigation items slide out from under a graphic when you mouse-over them. Think about Google. Not much of anything Google does actually looks good. Heck, their home page is about as drab and visually baren as you can possibly get. But, you don’t care because the content you find there, the reason you went there to begin with, is rich beyond belief. You get what you came for with little effort or question. The reason I bring this topic up is simple. If your clients are looking for spectacular design, but really have nothing to say, the site is ultimately going to fail. And if the site fails, you as the designer will ultimately pay the price. You’re not only going to lose the business (lets face it, clients are always going to blame you for their shortcomings in this area), but you’ll also be left with nothing for your digital portfolio. You don’t really want to show another potential client a great site design and follow it up by telling them the site failed miserably. No matter what you say, they’re going to wonder if it was your fault. Before you accept a design job for a client that involves a Web site, consider what the client intends on putting on the site with regard to content. Ask a lot of questions. Find out how dedicated they are to updating the site. Find out WHO will be updating the content, and how they intend on doing it. Is a CMS going to be used, or will they be editing standard HTML to perform the updates? How often are you going to be required to be involved in these updates? Those are just a few of the questions you should ask before accepting the role of designer and/or Webmaster. When you’re designing for print work, the job is done when the piece gets printed. But when we’re talking about Web work, it’s never that easy. Clients will always expect “minor adjustments” that may require hours and hours of work on your part. If you don’t get answers to those questions up front, and agree on fees for those tasks ahead of time, the client is either going to be upset when they see the bill, or you’re going to be doing a lot of work for free. Neither are an appealing option. My point is this. You’re a great designer, don’t let those skills go to waste on a dead-end project. It’s not ALL about the money – tempting as it may be. You’ve got to have something to show for it beyond the money. A handful of cash isn’t going to land you the next job or project, but a successful site in your portfolio will.