An Interview with Cameron Brister Regarding Website Design

When I first began working for Louisiana Delta Community College, I met Cameron Brister, one of the IT men for the school. He helped me solve a few problems with my MAC laptop. As I’ve grown to know him through our work at Delta, I’ve found that he is a skilled technician in the MAC and PC world and a fantastic website designer.  As I thought his services might be valuable to my writing friends, I asked for an interview.  If you are a writer, storyteller, artist or folksinger as I am, you need a quality website. Visit SquarePlanIT  and you’ll see the kind of work Cameron can do for you. He’ll promptly answer your emails or calls if you have any questions. Here are his responses to my questions:

Question 1: You design fantastic websites. Tell me about your training for this. First, thanks for the compliment! I actually have no formal Web / graphic design training. Everything I’ve learned has been self-taught, with the help of a few friends in the field. I’ve been in the Web/graphic design business for almost four years now, and by far the best “training” has been practice itself. I love to learn new things and new ways to accomplish said things, so I’m constantly learning new and more efficient ways to accomplish a given task.

Question 2. What do you like best about your work and website design? The great thing about website design is that I’m usually free to make any creative decisions I want. Most clients come to me with a need for a website with certain types of content, but they have no idea where to start in terms of layout, colors, etc. Frankly, most of them don’t care, as long as in the end their content is displayed in an effective and easy-to-navigate manner. Most projects afford me a very high level of creativity in the design and execution of the project, which is really nice. Another thing I really like is to see my work actually being used. It’s great if I create a top-notch website that the client and I are both happy with, but it’s even better if it’s a high-traffic website that many people from around the country (or even the world) see.

Question 3. What do people need to know or have done before they contact someone to design their website?  Do you have guidelines for prospective customers? Great question. First and foremost, people should have a clear goals that they want their website to accomplish, whether it’s an E-Commerce site (think Amazon.com), an informational site for a business, a portfolio site (possibly for an artist or photographer), or something else. If it’s E-Commerce they’re after, then the focus will be on effectively and  prominently displaying products in a fashion that will promote sales. If it’s an informational site for a business, the focus will be on company history, services, how to contact them, and maybe a portfolio. Additionally, they should have some specific content in mind that they want to make available to the world. I do have a somewhat standard set of questions I ask potential clients to help me get a better idea of what they have in mind. It turns out that these questions help the client just as much as they help me, because often times they haven’t even answered these questions themselves.

Questions such as:

  • Do you already have a business identity (logo, colors, etc)
  • Do you have a domain name (example.com)?
  • Do you have a Web hosting account, or should we provide website hosting?
  • Will you require custom email addresses with your domain (ex. hello@example.com)?
  • In what timeframe would you like to have the project completed?
  • What features would you like your website to have? (selling products, update the site yourself, contact forms, etc)
  • Have you considered a budget for this project?
  • Do you know of any websites with a “look and feel” similar to what you have in mind?

Question 4.  What do you think are the key things that make a website work and attract traffic?  Another great question, and one that most people don’t think about, at least initially. The single most important thing that makes a website attract a lot of traffic is content. By content, I’m specifically referring to text. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing all use the text on your website to index content and determine relevant keywords on your site. They then use this information to return relevant results to people searching for keywords. For instance, a link to your website/blog might be returned to someone who is searching for “Southern Author and Musician”, whereas my website (SquarePlanIT.com) might be returned to someone searching for “Louisiana Website Design” or “Monroe Website Design”. Of course, there are so many variables that go into a search and its corresponding results such as location, previous search history, and pages you’ve “liked”.

Question 5. What are some common mistakes people make when they make websites? There are so many factors that go into building a great website, both on the client’s end and on the designer’s end, that there are many mistakes to be made, some worse than others. For instance, without the client providing good text content, the Web developer is unable to include good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) that encourages search engines like Google to index your site. Also, some Web developers can create beautiful websites, but they’re made up mostly of images, and as I said previously, search engines base their indexes off of text. Also, the more images you have on your site means your website takes longer to fully load, and search engines also take page load speed into account when returning results. They’re much more likely to return results with faster page load times.

Question 6. What are some of your favorite websites and why do you like them? I appreciate both good design and simplicity. If a website incorporates both it’s even better! A couple of websites that I really like in terms of design and simplicity is http://shiftcreative.com/ and https://stripe.com/. In terms of pure simplicity, I don’t think you can beat Google’s homepage. It has everything you need and nothing you don’t (basically a search form!).

Question 7. What trends in the future do you see for websites? Right now, the big push for websites is mobility. People tend to say “everything is going mobile, to phones, tablets, etc”. While they are correct that these devices are used more now than ever before to interact with the Web, I think it’s incorrect to infer that desktops and laptops are going anywhere. Don’t believe me? Ask businesses, and more importantly, their IT managers. You can’t beat a full size computer, be it a laptop or desktop, in terms of power and usability. It’s not practical to type a report on a touchscreen device. In fact, right now I’m typing this on a 27″ iMac. I do think, however, that websites will become more like Web applications and will become much more powerful and akin to current native programs, such as Microsoft Office. Google Docs is an excellent example of this. While Microsoft Office won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, I can certainly see a shift “to the cloud” where applications will be offered as a Web service as opposed to a program that must be installed on your computer.

*This interview may be freely reproduced in its entirety without written permission as long as credit is given in the article to Rickey E. Pittman at  http://www.bardofthesouth.com/ and to SquarePlanIT  at http://www.squareplanit.com/

Here’s a picture of Cameron and his beautiful wife, Amelia.