What to Look For In Your Web Designer?
Choosing the right web designer for your next web project is no easy feat if you’re unfamiliar with the world of web design. Even if you manage to decipher all the industry jargon, it can still be tricky to work out what one designer can offer you versus another. To help you out with your search, I’ve compiled a quick list of the essential things to look out for.
Before we start, it’s important to understand the distinction between web designers and web developers. A designer will produce the outer graphic style and layout of your site, while a developer will build the inner skeleton and bring it to life on the web.
However, the distinction between the two disciplines is becoming ever more fuzzy, and in most cases a freelance web ‘designer’ will be able to offer you both services (though make sure you check with them before you sign up with them!).
Experienced (or not)
Real-world experience has long been touted as a means of judging ability in web design (as in most fields of work), but some argue against this notion.
It’s certainly true that having a portfolio of successful paid projects demonstrates ability, and longevity in the industry shows resilience in the competitive industry of web design.
However, it also stands to reason that older, more experienced designers are more likely to be self-taught (having started earlier when the web was a more Wild West affair) and stuck in old design process habits that work for them, but not necessarily for you. In contrast, a younger, less experienced designer may have studied a university degree in web design, and will likely be more receptive to the latest web design trends and best practices.
Don’t be tempted to dismiss a designer outright because they don’t have experience – judge them on their ability and knowledge first.
Committed to meeting your needs – not their own
It’s important you don’t pay out for a designer and end up with an artist. An artist will go out of their way to impress you with their skills and will deliver design work that’s stunningly beautiful, but ultimately meets none of your needs whatsoever.
A designer understands your website is a business investment – they strive to identify exactly what you need out of your web project, and produces work which is both beautiful and functional.
When liaising with candidates for your web project, take note of those who seem more eager to understand your business and your goals for the project. These are the keepers.
They also will be able to offer search engine optimisation services (either by themselves or with the help of an outside contractor).
Ask your candidate if they ‘hand code’ their sites, and check that they validate their finished code. Steer clear of those who only use WYSIWYG editors to build sites, and approach Dreamweaver users with caution (especially those who only use the design view).
A great portfolio
As intuitive as it may seem, don’t let the style of the designer’s own website influence your initial judgement. A slightly tatty site may simply indicate they’re too busy creating fantastic sites for their clients to keep their own web presence up to date.
Look at their portfolio for a much better indicator of the designer’s style – particularly the more recent examples. Ask them about the goals their clients wanted to achieve, and how those goals affected their design choices.
If you don’t feel their style is a good fit for you, and the context behind the design doesn’t talk you round, it’s probably worth going with someone else instead.
Most designers will be able to provide you with references, or even the contact details of the clients featured in their portfolio.
Get in touch with these referees personally – be sure to confirm they were happy with the quality of work they received, and ask whether they would use the designer again in future. Find out whether they’re still using the designer’s work, and if not, why not. It could be something completely harmless or it might flag up a gap in your candidate’s skills.
Of course, if the designer in question doesn’t have much experience, they won’t have the client references; in this case, try getting hold of the tutor or institution where they studied and developed their web design skills.
A compatible personality
This may seem like an entirely superficial point, but I’d argue it’s probably the most important of the whole bunch. Being able to build a great relationship with your designer is essential, as you’ll be working closely with them throughout the project, and potentially afterwards as you’ll likely need upkeep or technical support at some point in the website’s lifetime.
Don’t go with a developer you don’t personally like. Perhaps they just make you feel vaguely uneasy, or there’s a distinct lack of rapport between you and them. If they do turn out to be a bad fit and you grow to resent them, it’ll definitely affect your communication and the project work will suffer.
That said, don’t just go with someone solely because you have a laugh with them – you won’t be laughing if they deliver you a tenth-rate website – and never give the job to a close friend or family member. They may be cheaper (or even free), but if the job they deliver is not up to scratch, you’ll either have to accept it and see your business suffer as a result, or create a personal rift out of a simple business disagreement.
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