What to Look for in a Great Website Designer

Finding Your Web Design Mojo

So you have finally decided to revamp that old and outdated website you have been tolerating for so long. Well, if so, your current website is most likely a stale, boring static site that leaves visitors with little reason to venture past the first page. With so many web design firms to choose from, you are probably wondering where to turn and what questions to ask.

Building a new website is a major step in improving and growing any business, and choosing the wrong developer could not only be costly and frustrating, but it can seriously damage your brand. As a former web designer and business consultant, I am here to help and want to get you up to speed on what to look for before you move forward.

Although you may already have a functioning website, most business owners are not familiar with the nuts and bolts of what it takes to deploy a successful site. Sure, you probably already know what you want in a website and what works (and looks) best for your company, but might be on the fence about what direction you want to go. Asking the right questions and having a prospective vendor address your concerns up front, will better arm you in making the right choice for your all-important online presence.

When you decided to upgrade your website, you, like most of the business world, started by researching various companies so you could find a web designer that will meet your needs. However, now you just require a little guidance in determining if they are the right fit for your business needs.

Here is a 7-point checklist that will guide you through your search and have you asking the right questions to find that perfect partner for your website project.

1. PORTFOLIO — What Does Their Portfolio Look Like?

While having many websites in their portfolio is a plus, you want to see the type of quality in their designs. Ask to see examples of their work. Request a list of websites that are active, so you can check out their functionality. Ensure their portfolio includes sites that match the features you are seeking in your site. Check out the versatility of their portfolio and get at least a couple referrals. Do they specialize in particular genres? Have they built sites similar to your site?

Look Through Their Design Portfolio

2. PROCESS — What Does Their Process Entail?

When you hire a web designer, you want to make sure they are not going to split before the job is finished. Take some time to dig into their policies and procedures. Did they adequately explain how their design process works? Ask them to explain how they structure their project and describe the types of management tools, workflow management, and milestones used to see the project through to completion. A well thought-out design plan will be a confidence builder in knowing you have the right design team who can finish the job. How long will it take for your design team to launch your new site? Will they guarantee a bug-free launch?

3. EXPERIENCE — What Software and Technologies are They Providing and what is Native to Them?

In the web development world, experience not only matters, but it is also essential. Start by asking how long they have been in business and how many websites they have launched. Have they completed any projects for big-name brands you would recognize?

Depending on the type of website you require for your business, different technology will be utilized. Some web developers stick with a particular kind of design structure or software and may not possess the type of expertise with the software to develop what you need. Describe the site you are looking for and ask what software platforms they will use to make that happen. Discuss the options you want on the website and find out how they will make it happen. Do they sound sure in their answers, or are they taking a wild stab in the dark? You may not fully comprehend all of the feedback they give you, but this will provide you with a good idea of their knowledge base.

4. VISION — What is Their Vision for Your Project?

What is the web designer’s vision for your project as compared to yours? Do they have a clear indication of what you want and the ability to transform your vision into a successful website? Ask them to provide reference sites similar to yours or create a mock-up of their design plan. Depending on your budget, some designers use design templates that you can test out for functionality. Of course, you have your vision of where you want to go with this, but they may have insight and perspectives you may have overlooked. It is always good to get a firm understanding of where they want to take it as compared to your vision.

5. RESOURCES — What do they do when they run into Design Obstacles?

Design obstacles can sometimes slow a project to a crawl, or even doom it obsolescence. How does their design team overcome these barriers? Have them demonstrate some of the technology sites and blogs they follow and explain how they utilize these resources to develop and deliver a final product. Run a search for them on various platform sites where they provide expertise. Sites such as Stack Overflow, Quora, Github, and Doctype all offer programmers and designers a forum from which to collaborate on design concepts and solutions. Search the sites and see what comes up. If they are frequent users of these sites or industry experts, there will be links to their contributions.

Creating and Engaging Web Experience

6. CONVERSION — Do Their Sites Engage Users to Take Action?

Some web development firms concentrate solely on design and may not have proper processes in place, or even the desire to promote your website or business. If this is a need that concerns you, ask them about their ability to market your website to your customer base. Your business most likely has marketing and promotional needs that provide a unique benefit. Is the web designer you are working with fluent in the types of marketing techniques that work well in your industry? Find out if they have CMS (Content Management Services) which they can provide to help keep your website updated with fresh or customized prepared content. Updated content is key to driving traffic in many situations. Many design firms have inside content developers or use a third-party marketing partner. Do they have the team in place to write creative and engaging content for your site? Ask for examples of their previous work and success rates.

7. DIRECTION — Give Direction or Don’t be Picky?

Typically, everyone who wants a new website has a unique vision or direction for its design and functionality. You can choose to drive the project, or you can allow the designers to use their expert judgment. In any case, describe what you are looking for on your site and listen to their response. Web design is subjective, and many times the design you envision in your head is not always what they have in theirs. Do they listen to what you want, or are they talking over you to “tell” you what you want to hear?

Provide reference sites and guidance for your expectations in a finished product. You do not want someone just to tell you what you want to hear only to build out a site you do not like or want. For an undertaking such as this, you want the right partner that will work with you every step of the way and ensure your demands and expectations can be reasonably met or exceeded. You can make a choice to provide them guidance for the entire project, or only offer input for parts of it and let their expertise guide the rest.

The web development industry continues to change, and as the business world becomes more interconnected, many firms are outsourcing their work to foreign countries to save a buck. New “economy” web design companies are advertising on places like craigslist and through email marketing. It is not always easy to have confidence that your web design partner understands your needs and how your market operates. Getting answers to all of your questions and concerns on this checklist is an important first step in determining with whom you want to work.

Building a quality website is a project that consists of many moving parts. There is coding, content, SEO, imaging, scripting, and more. It makes sense to spend a little extra time asking the right questions to help you make an informed decision and provide you the assurances and confidence you need to move forward with a great web designer.

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