How to choose a web designer

How to choose a web designer

Question for you: would you do business with a company that didn’t have a website?

For most people, the answer to this questions would be “It depends”, closely followed by “...but probably not”. As potential customers, we want to check out a business online before we buy from them or sign up for their services. Word of mouth might get the business on our radar but we want to confirm for ourselves that they are legitimate or a good fit before whipping out our Visa cards.

Any business, no matter the size or industry, should have a website that represents them online. A good website will attract and convert customers whereas a bad website will instantly repel prospective customers.

And do you know who plays one the biggest role in a website’s success? It’s not the business owner, the social media strategist or the copywriter. Nope, it’s the web designer.

Whether you’re looking to upgrade an existing website or build a brand new site, a web designer will take your project from start to finish.

But how do you choose a web designer? What factors should you consider when evaluating prospective web designers?

Once you have a good understanding of what a web designer does, you’ll be able to make the right choice for you and your business.

If you’re getting ready to build your business’ first website and this is a totally new experience for you, you’ll probably start by asking your friends, family and contacts for any recommendations. This is a great way to get some names on your list and review the web designer’s recent work.

You might also search “web designers + [your city]” and see what comes up. This works too!

As you are researching web designers and coming up with a list of professionals to interview, you’ll probably notice that not everyone offers the same services or design package. This is because the term “web designer” means different things to different people. Some web designers come at it from a technical background: they have a great understanding of the development aspect of a website and have picked up design skills along the way to expand their services. On the flip side, other web designers are creatives first who started off on the design side and moved into the technical part along the way. There’s no right or wrong approach to web design but it might impact what services they offer or what’s include in their web design package.

Here’s a simple breakdown of the different roles that fall under the term “web designer”:

Web Designer

A web designer is the project manager of a website design. They might design and customize a template if they’re using a platform like Squarespace (or a theme if they’re using WordPress), or if it’s a custom build, they’ll design from the ground up. They will work with the client to determine the pages included on the website and what their layout looks like. From there, they will set up the site navigation (i.e., menu) and cross-link any web pages or content. They also integrate all brand elements like the colour palette, typography, logo, etc. They will plot out where the email sign-up forms are located, how social media is integrated on the site, if a sidebar makes sense, what to include in the footer, connecting a blog, etc. A web designer might do both the website design and development, or sometimes they only do the web design and hire out the development part.

Web Developer

A web developer takes the designer’s mockups and brings them to life. Sometimes this is through custom code but often it’s through a Squarespace template (or WP theme). The web developer is responsible for all technical elements of the website, not just for building out the design. This includes security settings, social media integrations, email opt-in forms, software setups, content upgrades, etc.

Graphic Designer

The graphic designer creates all graphics and design elements for a website, and often any corresponding marketing collateral. They take care of all branding elements such as the logo, colour palette, typography, social media graphics, photography or images, illustrations, etc.

Digital Consultant

The goal of the digital consultant is to drive traffic to the website, increase engagements and convert to sales. They take care of all website marketing as part of the overall marketing strategy. This means connecting the website efforts to marketing on all online platforms such as social media and email marketing. They will set up a website for search engine optimization (SEO), advise on content marketing, recommend a social media strategy, etc.

As mentioned, sometimes a web designer has all the above skills so it’s a one-stop shop. However other times the web designer only covers part of the project and will recommend another professional to fill in the gaps.

When it comes to choosing a web designer for your project, don’t exclude remote designers. While it might be tempting to only consider working with local web designers, you might find that the best fit is not located in your area. That’s okay! With tools like Skype, phone, email and screen sharing, you will have a great experience either way.

A big part of choosing the right designer means deciding who will be the best personality fit for you and your business. Once you’ve identified a few web designers whose style you like within your budget, you’ll want to take a few meetings to get a feel for what it would be like working with them. You should get a good vibe from them, trust them with your project, and get a feel for how they communicate with clients.

Here are other points to consider when choosing a web designer:

Design & development process

Understanding a web designer’s design process will give you an insight into what it would be like working with them. They should provide a basic project breakdown that shows the various stages of a web design project and basic timeline, usually on the services page of their website. Their design process should be structured, documented and organized. Usually they will have a “Getting Started” guide and a client questionnaire that explains their process in greater detail and outlines any business systems they follow.

You should also ask if they do all design/development in-house or if they hire out as needed. If so, ask what that looks like and who they work with.

Be sure to talk about SEO and website marketing with the web designer and ask how they set up websites to meet marketing and business goals. Just because a website looks nice doesn’t mean that it will necessarily convert.

Review their portfolio and testimonials

When you look at a web designers’ portfolio, do you like their past work? Do they have a distinctive style that you like? Is there diversity in their projects? You should be able to see if they can create a website that fits your vision, whether that’s through a fixed or flexible style.

Most web designers will also include testimonials on their website so that you can see what past clients have to say about working with them. Make note of any specific comments on communication, project management skills, advice or recommendations, etc because that will tell you about the overall experience, not just the work completed.

Business inquiries

Take note of what and how much they ask about you and your business. A good web designer should have a full understanding of your business, what sets you apart, what your goals are, how you plan to include your website in your overall marketing efforts, etc. They will need this information to design a website that accurately reflects you and your brand.

Pricing and billing

Not every web designer puts their prices publicly on their website and sometimes you’ll need to ask them how they price their services. Either way, they will often have a set rate for a base project and any additional services or features will be charged either by the hour or on a per-project basis. This might be for things like email newsletter integration, private web pages or client membership sites, e-commerce, extra web pages (beyond basic ones), software add-ons, etc.

You should also have a clear understanding of how they charge and bill for their work as well. Almost every designer will require a deposit up front but be sure you understand how and when they collect the remaining amount. They should also communicate their payment methods (e.g., email money transfer, PayPal, cheque, etc.) so that you know how to transfer their fees.

Post-project

Something that not everyone considers at the start of the project is what happens when a website design project wraps up. Who will maintain the website once the project is complete, you or the web designer? Some designers do their work and then hand it off to you without touching it again whereas others offer a monthly retainer or an hourly rate for website work. If you go that route, what would that pricing look like?

You should also inquire about whether the web designer provides a basic training session or tutorial showing you how to update text, edit graphics or photos, or make other simple changes to your website in the future.

Finally, ensure that all technical elements are in your named and owned by you and are not the property of the web designer once the project wraps up. This includes your domain, Squarespace hosting, email marketing account, all logins, etc. Some web designers will keep design elements and login information on file for a period of time after the project but you should have all the original files in your possession to edit or update as needed.

Final Thoughts

A good website is an integral part of your business’ success and the right web designer can set you up for success. It’s important to have a good understanding of the different services a web designer provides and what their style is like before you sign on with them. The process of reviewing web designer’s past work and interviewing them for a project takes time and effort, but it is something that should not rushed.

When choosing a web designer you want to work with, you’ll want to consider what their work will look like but also how they communicate with you as the project unfolds. They should be able to create a website that reflects and supports you and your business, within a budget and timeframe that works for both parties.

Shameless plug: if you’re interested in web design services, be sure to check out my Design and Development package. I also offer website consulting if you want to talk specifically about digital strategy, and am available for hire for website work and updates - shoot me an email to inquire book time in my schedule.

Now it’s your turn to tell me what you look for in a web designer and what factors help you choose one designer over another? Were any of the recommendations on this list new to you? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments!


Interested in learning more about what it takes to get a website up and running? My free 7 day e-course will walk you through everything you need to know. Sign up for it today!


Charlotte O'Hara

Vancouver