Is Having a Website Still Worth It?


In a year where anything in person remains on pause, designers—like everyone else—are leaning on their digital presence to remain top of mind for potential clients and partners. But for resource-strapped studios, there are hard and soft costs to consider in maintaining a website: Hosting fees, content churn, writing and photography expenses, and hours spent in a content management system all add up. With Instagram serving as a de facto portfolio for many designers, is having a URL still a value add in 2021?

“A website is important, but it’s not the first or last step in how you create opportunities,” explains Caitlin Hyland, a cofounder of the consultancy Morgan & Hyland. Both trained architects, Hyland and her partner, Chris Morgan, have carved out a niche creating websites for architects and designers, with past projects including work for Part Office and Escencial. The bottom line, they say, is that a website cannot stand alone: Instead, designers should treat them as a part of a communications ecosystem, with social, email, and online events playing complementary roles.

For Leyden Lewis, the AD100 founder and creative director of Leyden Lewis Design Studio, a website is a crucial platform for potential clients to develop a more in-depth understanding of a firm. “We also use our website to archive press and share content that we may have decided is not in sync with our current social media,” he tells AD PRO. But social remains a gateway: “We use Instagram to reveal ‘moments’ and to direct back to our website for a more comprehensive experience.”

Elizabeth Vereker, brand director at Studio O+A in San Francisco, also believes in this multifaceted approach. She sees the firm’s website as an “open door” to the studio—one that is both documentary and aspirational. Rather than focusing on pure portfolio work, O+A lends digital real estate to long- and short-form text, illustrations, and other forms of content. One of the site’s features, “Newsstand,” offers space for the company’s designers to share favorite books and articles. This is especially valuable for young employees to develop their own POV, she explains, and gives greater insight into the ethos of the company. “By sharing the places we visit, recounting the conversations we’ve had, and highlighting books we’ve devoured, we are sharing how we think, and how we create,” she says.

Morgan & Hyland assert that the ultimate benefit of a strong website is that it is a blank canvas. Unlike other channels, where content must conform to a third-party platform, websites allow studios to “design everything about the interface surrounding [their] work,” Morgan says. “What do you want to communicate? Use your website to present your work on your own terms.”

Whether your firm has four employees, like Lewis’s, or employs dozens, like O+A, a few universal guidelines will help you get the most from your website, Hyland explains. “Make it easy for visitors to see your best work right away,” she says. Having an iPhone- or Android-friendly site is also essential, particularly as Americans have increased their time spent on mobile. And help people continue the conversation. “It could be as simple as a newsletter sign-up or a link to your social media profiles,” she says. “Give visitors a way to stay connected.”

Still, maintaining a website requires time. Lewis explains that in addition to the labor involved in documenting and visualizing work, the rapid evolution of UX design and technology requires constant attention. “Reassessment of one’s website is crucial to prevent appearing outdated in today’s market,” he says. For his team, that means all hands on deck: Every staffer contributes to the upkeep of the site. At Studio O+A, Vereker updates the website at least once per month using the help of a head writer, communications manager, and occasional brand designer.

But for those willing to spend the time and effort, rewards await. Vereker says that one value in O+A’s site is that it acts as a tool for recruiting and retaining top talent, since it helps to communicate company culture and the studio’s priorities. And a website can be the threshold between a designer and their next project, Lewis says: “Just recently we were told by a potential client that they had researched our studio through leydenlewis.com.”



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