Your website is probably your best marketing tool. Everyone looking for a firm starts online, so you want to put your best foot forward. Here are five tips to keep in mind when designing your firm’s site:
1) Keep it simple. When you’re considering all the fancy bells and whistles you can put on your site, remember the purpose: To attract clients. You might think a slow-mo, super-arty opening page is a great way to represent your artistic abilities – and your designer friends might agree – but your clients don’t want to see that. They want to see examples of your work, straight on without a bunch of fancy motion. The website for Shepley Bulfinch is a good example of this – clean, big photos that slide past only when the viewer clicks to the next slide.
2) Have someone not familiar with your website pretend she’s a potential customer and have her walk through the site. Ask her if she’s persuaded to use your firm, and if the site was easy to navigate. One of the most common problems with architecture firm sites — other than the long, slow openings mentioned above — is clunky navigation caused by an overly minimalist design. Here’s an example of a site that I personally find difficult to maneuver through (for example, see if you can find the contact information, which you think would be an essential element of any site).
3) Hire a writer or an editor. Face it, many architects chose design because they are visually oriented people, and writing is not their strong point. Honor that fact by letting your marketing staff or some other trained writer prepare the copy for your site. And just like there’s more to design than drawing straight lines, there’s more to good writing than correct grammar — find a writer who can eloquently express the benefits of working with your firm.
4) Show the design process. Keeping your clients in mind, consider explaining the design process. For example, you may want to show a series of photos showing how a structure emerged from design meetings to drawings to construction. At least show the drawings that correspond to the photos of finished projects. Why? Because drawings are fun to look at, even for non-architects, and they are a tangible connection between the architect and the completed structure. Observe how Upwall Design shows off their process in this series of slides.
5) Update your site regularly. Post new projects, new staff information, and any other such info as frequently as you need to. Clients won’t be impressed by your portfolio if everything is five or six years old. Similarly, keep up with software. For example, if you’re using Flash — and a lot of people think you shouldn’t use Flash — make sure you have the latest version installed.
Above all, remember that your site is a sales tool, so the people you want to impress are potential customers. Put yourself into their shoes as your first step.