“I’ve designed websites for people on every continent except Antarctica and Australia,” Elizabeth Gleason explained recently to a prospective client. Elizabeth Gleason Design Studios, LLC, in Jamestown New York. “What I like best is working with interesting and successful people who want to get connected to the world on the Internet.”
Many people have discovered that it is hard to get some jobs without experience, but it is also hard to get experience without a job. Elizabeth Gleason Design Studio “started” long before she launched her own business by working for somebody else to gain the experience she needed. The business model is not new; many of today’s most successful CEOs started in the company mail room or on the night shift at the loading dock.
“Originally, I did interior design for a local company that had an international market. For instance, I worked on the design for Chiquita Banana’s corporate offices in Mexico,” Gleason said, explaining the value of gaining practical experience. “Later, for another large corporation headquartered in Jamestown, I designed more than 1,000 print ads for their marketing campaigns.”
Few professions have developed as rapidly as graphic design. The World Wide Web itself, in a user friendly form, only came into existence less than 20 years ago. The Internet, and opportunities for better website and graphic design, continued to evolve through the so called Browser Wars of the mid and late ‘90s and complicated battles for standardization and dominance among competing giants and upstart techies like Microsoft, Netscape, Adobe and others.
“Making a website do what a client wants it to do, takes a lot of preparation by the client and careful collaboration afterward” Gleason explained. Even the terminology of website design can evoke playful images. A website, for instance, has a front end and a back end.
A website’s front end is what people see when they pull it up on their computer screens. It shows the world what the client wants people to see. The back end is the technology, programming language and everything else “under the hood” that makes the site run and do what the client wants it to do. And there is often something in between. “I teach clients how to operate their site, some of the back end stuff, like loading in pictures, adding text and reading feedback from their viewers.
Creative design of websites is a sophisticated art form. Gleason completed a Fine Arts degree at Jamestown Community College and a baccalaureate program in the study of Roman and Mayan art and the work of the grand masters of European art. “A lot of techies with enthusiasm and a reasonable eye for ‘what looks good’ try to do web design,” Gleason warned, “but the final product might not quite live up to what the client really wanted.”
One of the best aspects of web design Gleason recalls was “getting in the door.” There are companies that will pay an employee to learn the languages, technology and skills of web design and allow a serious worker to gain valuable experience. However, if experience is the best teacher, true creativity takes a lot of practice and mistakes, which can not be done at the expense of a client. Even a new degree in web design might not provide enough of what a person needs to launch a business.
Elizabeth Gleason Design Studio’s website, http://www.elizabethgleason.net/, demonstrates many of the creative qualities Gleason refers to, in her logo, ‘evolving concepts into design…’
“One of the most important aspects of a website design,” Gleason advises prospective clients, “is to know your brand, your identity.”
“Who do you want people to think you are?” Gleason asked. “It isn’t something everybody thinks about. I can often help clients define and refine that concept.” That includes, for instance, a logo, pictures, text and even the typefaces and color schemes a client wants. The art is applied in assembling all the parts with style, eye appeal and a user friendly way for viewers to navigate among pages, links and responses.
The hardest part of web design is “…telling people the truth,” she says with a sympathetic smile. This is a case where the customer isn’t always right. And that is the good news. On reflection, few people would tell a specialist, a surgeon, for instance, how to do their job. “People deserve the benefit of all those years of a web designer’s experience for the price of the work.” The final result is a truly artistic collaboration between the client’s front end and the designer’s back end.
Gleason maintains a workbench of 20 or more design projects ongoing at any time. “When I complete a design component and send it to a client, I request a 3-day response time from them to help keep their project moving forward. I love working with so many different people and keeping such a wide variety of projects moving along.”
A commitment to the community is a hallmark of many successful local businesses, a commitment harder to find in some of the “Big Box” stores and nationally distributed companies. Gleason has made a pledge to complete two web designs a year at no charge for local not-for-profit agencies whose mission is to serve the people of the community. This year, Gleason provided websites for St Susan’s Center at http://stsusancenter.org/ and the Child Advocacy Program at http://capjustice.org/.
Security is a critical issue for any website. Gleason advises and helps assure protection against on-line hackers for all internet users. As social media continues to expand, every website is more exposed to the public. But, as in any good neighborhood, people simply put good locks on their doors. “Becoming more socially engaged and making good friends on line is one of the great benefits of an Internet presence,” Gleason promises.
For more information about Elizabeth Gleason Design Studio, log on to www.elizabethgleason.com or call 716.969.8833.