How to Choose – And Hire – a Web Designer

As you scour the internet for a web designer, you realize it can be quite intimidating…

You know that a professional web designer is the best way to perfect your branding, increase your conversion rates, and garner attention, but how do you know if your designer is qualified and charges a fair rate for the work?

Keep reading for some key items to consider when choosing and hiring a web designer.

Make Sure You Ask The Right Questions

How do you evaluate a web designer?

Chances are, you’ll stumble on a designer’s site, check out the portfolio, and decide whether you like the work visually. While this is often a good start, there are other things you should consider, so ask yourself:

  • “Does the designer have experience working with websites with similar functionality to mine?”
  • “Does the designer often create a clean and intuitive navigation?”
  • “Are the websites in the designer’s portfolio still using the design?”
  • “Does the designer need to do branding work? If so, are they experienced with branding?”
  • “Does the designer need to work on your conversion rates? If so, are they qualified?”
  • “Does the designer offer testimonials/referrals that are easy to get in touch with?”

Remember, when asking these questions, think about what you want your website to accomplish—because an effective website is more than just a pretty picture.

For example, if you want to generate qualified leads, does the designer have experience with that? Or, if you’re using WordPress or Drupal, does the designer have demonstrated experience with those platforms? Don’t just take their word for it—if you don’t see matching projects in the portfolio, ask for links and referrals.

Once you’ve settled on a designer, how else can you ensure a successful project?

Communicate With Your Prospective Designer Effectively

When you approach a prospective designer, it’s your job to describe what you want, and trust me, there’s no such thing as too much information!

What kind of information should you give your designer?

Well, if there are a few websites you absolutely love, you should provide them as examples. On the other hand, if there are some colors that give you a rash, you should tell them that too – but keep in mind that just because you don’t like orange does not mean it’s not the best color to use to get users to do what you want them to do. You’re not decorating your living room—you’re creating (hopefully) a revenue-generating portal.

In general, here’s a list of some key information you should give each prospective designer so they can give you an accurate price quote and determine whether they can complete your job:

  • What’s your budget? Whatever it is, state it up front. You need to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  • What feeling do you wish your design to convey? This helps the designer choose art, typography, and site architecture with that aim in mind.
  • What’s the main objective of your website? Do you want more sales? Subscribers? Traffic?
  • What special functionality do you need? Are you trying to sell products in an online store? Do you need special contact/prospect screening forms?
  • What happens after your site is launched? Do you need your designer to stick around for potential updates? Do they offer a maintenance program?
  • What are examples of websites you like? Tell your designer what you like about each one.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, this is the type of thinking and communication that flushes out the true marketing partners—which your designer should be, if they’re charging a decent rate—from the order-takers. Sometimes what you think you want isn’t necessarily what you need, and a good designer will be willing to push back when necessary and offer the benefit of her experience.

Warning: Don’t Say These 3 Phrases to Your Potential Designer

When you find a designer you like, you should treat them and their work with respect. After all, you want them to take your project and do a great job, right?

It’s easy to come across as disrespectful if you don’t give some thought to your inquiry, and designers have to look out for clients who may be “problem children” before taking them on. The interview is a two-way process.

While most designers can roll with the punches, here are some phrases you should try to avoid:

“This ought to be simple” or “I’d code it myself if I only had the time.”

First and foremost, you’re hiring a designer for their expertise, and assuming your project is simple conveys, “I’m not really willing to pay your rates for this project”. Instead, tell the designer what you’re looking for and let them decide on the complexity.

“I’m poor, without any money, so can you design my site for free?”

Remember, designers create websites for a living. If you’re low on funds, you should consider checking out a theme framework like Thesis because it gives you “point and click design controls” for $87. You can always hire a designer to create something for your framework once you’re more flush. Most designers also don’t mind answering emails asking them how best to position yourself for a custom design in the future, either—at least I don’t.

“I want a website. How much will that set me back?”

While this might seem like a great opening, it can sometimes be a red flag. “I want a website” is not nearly enough information, and can be an indicator that you’re not a great communicator yourself. Creating a website isn’t a one size fits all approach, which is why rates vary greatly. Plus a designer also needs to know if your requirements are in their wheelhouse; if not, they should be willing and able to provide a referral to a studio that specializes in the work you need.

Now that you know how to find a qualified designer, and communicate effectively with them…

Is your prospective designer right for you?

Only you know the answer to this question, and listening to your intuition, making sure there is a good personality match, and checking references already puts you ahead of the game.

Professional website designs can represent a significant investment, so, before choosing any designer, you should do some research. If you’re working with Thesis specifically, you can start with the Thesis Theme Designer Directory.

The Bottom Line

In summary: Communicate, communicate, communicate—both verbally and visually—and don’t hesitate to ask questions and demand the same level of communication. If you don’t feel right about the match, don’t hesitate to move on until you find a designer that feels right. Getting in a rush now can cost time and money in the long run.

About the author: Cynthia LaLuna is the founder and Creative Director of Rowboat Media, an Atlanta-based digital marketing and web design agency serving small businesses and professionals. Click here if you’re looking for a web designer.