How do I choose a web designer?

Posted on 01 Sep 2016
Reader Question:

Doctor Digital, I need a website, how do I go about finding a designer?

Doctor Digital Says:

In every businesses life (yes, every business) there comes a time when a website needs to either be made, or significantly remade. Web design, UX and functionality moves very quickly, and even a site made 3 years ago would by now be needing a tweak. Starting from a blank canvas can be very daunting, so let’s break it down and make it more manageable.

The first question is do you need a designer? There are a number of super simple template driven web design programs available now that even web designers are using to build sites for their clients as they are so user friendly and frankly look amazing. If the main function of your site is for information, or blogging, or simple inventory, and there isn’t a need for complex actions such as vast catalogues or logistics, then this could be a cost effective and rewarding experience, plus ensuring that you have control of content and back end.

Have a look at www.weebly.com, www.wix.com, www.squarespace.com these three examples are the major players in the DIY website space, and enable you to do everything including set up email, buy domains, set up stores and carts attached to Paypal, and all are optimised for mobile devices which is of course critical these days. The benefits of using a DIY site are they are functional, low cost and usually charged by subscription or as part of a freemium deal, you have full access to the backend, and they are easy to edit so you can update frequently without having to go to a third party. The downsides are that you are doing the work, and if you are super time poor, don’t rate your creative skills, or need complex functionality, then a designer is probably a better option for you.

Web designers can either be freelancers, or part of an agency that specialises in digital design and build. To find one that suits you, the best way is to look around for websites you like, and see who built them. Ask your business peers for recommendations, and use your social media networks to hook you up with someone who comes strongly recommended. It is always best to work with a local provider so you have access to them when you need it for updates or problems. If you go freelancer, they are often cheaper, but usually are strong on design or build, and often not both – so be aware of who you are working with. They will sometimes build from code, but usually be using a template site like the ones above or Wordpress, so make sure that you understand the requirements for updates and content changes and are able to do these yourself, as having to rely on a third party every time you need to do something to your site can be tedious at best and a disaster at worst. Mobile functionality should be mandatory in design, but make sure you ask before you commit, just in case it isn’t – or you are charged for a mobile build as an extra.

To get the best out of your designer, you need a strong brief, which means you really need to know what you want in terms of functionality, and have a clear style guide for your brand. Any designer can only work with what you are able to articulate, and if you aren’t clear, it’s hard to expect them to be. When working with a freelancer or an agency, make sure there is a contract with a clear timeline of deliverables and revisions, that you own the IP of the finished product, any URLs are registered to your business not the designer, and you are clear on what the process is in the event of a dispute. Have a schedule of payment that is split across the design timeframe with a final tranche of payment on satisfactory delivery. While all of that sounds a bit stern and serious, you risk manage for the bad times, not for the (usual) scenario of fun harmonious working.

Your website is the digital footprint of your business, it is the greeting your customers get when they first meet your brand and it is not a side of the desk, bargain basement project. Put some time, energy and a reasonable budget into it, and give your business the best opportunity to please and engage your clients so they will come back, share, and convert to sales.