What to look for in a web designer

What to look for in a web designer

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Do you need to find a web designer / developer but have no idea what you're looking for? Here are some tips on how to find the right person.

The web industry is a flooded and highly competitive market. What makes the task of finding a quality developer even harder is that a very wide variety of people call themselves web designers or developers, even when they’re not fully experienced or qualified.

In general, web designers have different and specific fields of knowledge – you often won’t find out what these are unless you ask. Many professionals in this field come from backgrounds such as graphic design, virtual or office assistant, marketing, software or web development. Their starting point has a profound impact on what they can offer you in terms of expertise.

So, what should you be looking for in a designer?

1 Coding skills

Coding skills are really important, even if you have a stock standard and basic website. Here’s why:

  • Things can always go wrong with websites, and often the only way to fix these is by coding. It could be an update that has caused something not to work, or a parts of your website that conflict with another. Only a person with a reasonable amount of developer experience will be able to solve these problems efficiently.
  • You may need unique features. There are many tricks and useful plugins that can be used to avoid coding, however these don’t always look or work as you want them to without modification. That’s where a skilled developer comes in.
  • Your unskilled designer may outsource coding when they can’t do it and there can potentially be problems with this. In order for a third party to assist with coding, often they will need access to your website to do so. The company you have hired to design or maintain your website could be doing this and you may not even know. If you’re paying them to work on your website then you expect them to do so, not pass the work on to someone they hire to do so.
  • A designer without coding skills can’t really design your website as effectively, or ensure it functions well. They can offer you great looking websites but it’s often a basic website template they’ve worked out how to modify without coding.
  • A lack of coding skill also leads to coding errors and errors can create problems for your web pages. I’ve seen this before after website migrations and it can impact anything small from the setting up of headings and text, to broken links, images and click functions.

2 Design skills

In contrast to the former, your website developer also needs to have a firm grasp of best design practices in order to give you the best product.

  • Images need to be the right sizes and dimensions for different things. You do need a web developer that can create images that reflect your brand and also work well on your website. Ideally, they would be able to provide assistance with graphics and icons, a favicon that reflects your brand, and even sourcing images if they’re publishing your posts for you.
  • Your website should have a consistent colour scheme and style to reflect your brand. Your developer will need the skills to design the elements effectively and then ideally the coding skills to apply your specific styling.
  • Whoever designs your site should always ensure the design aspects are looking equally as good on any sized device. A poor layout can drive people away.

3 Marketing knowledge

Your website is a vessel for you to raise your brand awareness and reach potential clients/customers. Having someone with an understanding of marketing will really enhance your website.

  • Whoever you hire should have a great understanding of your brand, what you hope to achieve with your website, and who your target market is. Without knowing these things your website will not perform as well as it should.
  • Do they have any experience with other websites in your industry? This would be a great way for you to guage whether or not they understand your industry and can represent you as you need.
  • They need to have a clear and concise marketing strategy for your website. Each page must be designed to effectively target the right audience, especially if you have potential clients/customers who visit and also clients/customers who need to visit your site for specific reasons (login, help documentation, etc). The client and potential client areas must be designed to attract the right group and give them what they need.

4 SEO

SEO basically means how search engines find you, what they know about you, and how brilliant/important they think your content is. It’s becoming increasingly important that your website has quality SEO. What you may not know is that there are a number of different aspects to SEO and when someone claims to know SEO, they may only know part of it.

  • Does the developer include basic SEO with pages and posts? This level of SEO is not hard for pretty much anyone to do but some designers won’t do any SEO.
  • If they do include SEO, what exactly do they do? You should find out because it will impact how search engines view the quality of your website and content.
  • Do they offer any further SEO services? There is plenty more that can be done for SEO beyond the basics and a good developer will be able to do this for you.

5 Professional standards

Although this may seem obvious, the process will go much smoother when the person you’re working with adheres to a level of professional standard.

  • Do they have good written skills? If they’re writing content for your website, they need to have an articulate grasp of the English language. 
  • Do they complete tasks in a timely manner? I know this may sound strange, what is timely after all? Basically, if they seem to be making ‘no progress’ on tasks and are not communicating progress with you, I would start asking questions. It’s common for people to engage someone to build their site, pay for it, and wait years for not much to develop. A good developer will regularly provide you with updates, ask you questions and also establish some sort of timeline for completion.
  • Are there appropriate means of communication in the event of a problem? A good developer should have systems in place for you to contact them if/when you need to.
  • If they break something, do they attempt to fix it as soon as possible? Yes, this happens to even the best developers but what matters is how they react to the situation. Do they put off having to fix it, do they ask for more money in order to fix it (sometimes this is a reasonable request), or do they simply neglect to return your communication.
  • Are major changes applied to your live site or do they set up a staging or test site? It’s important to test applying significant changes on a test site so there is as little disruption to your website and the visitors on your site.

6 Cost

Ok, this is a big one. How much you should pay is not an easy question. The reason is because I’ve seen people charge anywhere from $25 per hour to $200 per hour. You would think that the least skilled would charge less and the more skilled charge more however in my experience this is absolutely not the case.

  • What’s included in the price or quote that you’re given? This is super important. Sometimes companies that have a set price for products will be charging you more by the hour than you realise. They also won’t like to modify the scope without charging you more. The main question I’d ask is “What is your hourly rate?” or “how many hours of your time does this package include?” 
  • If the hourly rate is really ‘cheap’, I would be questioning their background and training as often you’ll find those trained in the industry will charge what their time and expertise are actually worth. As I’ve said above, you want someone with a wide variety of skills and knowledge, not just someone who knows a few things.
  • Many companies that charge the higher rates still don’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge to do the job to the fullest. You really need to learn as much about the company and the backgrounds of staff as you can.

Final points

You may think it’s impossible to ensure someone meets all of the standards above, especially when clever marketing can hide a lack of skill or knowledge in certain areas. The best way you can determine if the company is the quality that they claim is through referrals. Speak to their former clients – ask them about the price, processes and what was required in the job. Find out if there were any problems and how those problems were handled. Would they recommend the company to their family and friends?

If referrals aren’t an option, be sure to look at the company with a fine tooth comb and be sure to look behind their marketing strategies. What’s written on the box is designed to make you open it, not to accurately describe what’s inside.

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