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How To Choose a Good Web Designer…or At Least Avoid a Bad One.

How to choose a good web designer

Choosing a web design company is like playing the lotto if you don’t know what to look for. If you don’t know the warning signs of a poor designer, you could very well end up with a lot of stress and frustration as you deal with poor service, empty promises, and unjust bills. Take time to empower yourself with the following knowledge, and learn to weed out rubbish web design companies.

Your Web Designer Should Have a Good Looking Website

Shopping around for a website designer is one of those times that judging a book by its cover is in your best interests. A web design company’s own website is its book cover, so naturally if their website bores you to tears, stimulates the gag reflex, or infuriates you with confusing navigation…chances are you can expect more of the same for your website.

Even if you’re an analytical type without an ‘eye’ for design, so to speak, it can help to check for glaring typos, things not lining up, broken links, and the like. Those are signs of sloppy work, and point to bad design.

Website Price isn’t always a Good Indicator of Quality

If the web design company’s client liaison rocks up at the meeting in a Ferrari, there’s a very good chance they’re overcharging you, but it’s not always so easy to realize when you are being fleeced. There are no set guidelines for website quality, nor are there any recommended industry pricing structures. Web design pricing varies greatly…because web design quality varies greatly. Websites are art and technology wrapped up into one bundle, but not all artists are skilled, and not all programmers know what they’re doing.

If I may use a fine art analogy here: R 1 million is a ridiculous price to pay for a Tretchikoff print, but an incredible bargain for an original Van Gogh. Both are art, but they’re not in the same league, so the prices should rightfully be worlds apart.

Therefore, if you don’t know anything about web design, you cannot use price alone to justify your choice. Consumers that insist on always going for the cheapest quote are contributing to the worldwide problem of skill-less designers that flood the market and give the rest of us a bad name. I’m not suggesting that you ignore price, but where possible, try to compare apples with apples:

Comparing Apples with Apples

If you’re looking at 2 very differently priced quotes, it helps to ask questions that will help you determine where the difference lies. It might be that the higher quote is simply higher because the designer is very busy and in a position to charge a higher fee and be more selective about their jobs…but, it could also be higher because you’re getting a lot more. Maybe the cheaper quote is for a template instead of a custom design. Maybe the cheaper quote has a bunch of functionality left out. If you aren’t able to recognize where the quoted specs differ, you could even show each designer the other designers quote (not necessarily the end total, but the specs), and ask them to explain where the functionality differs.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True…

After comparing functionality and quality of work, you may realize that you cannot afford exactly what you want. you may be tempted to go for something that sounds all inclusive like a rubbish wix site, but please don’t. You already know that if something sounds to good to be true, there’s a catch.

You will never get a quality website if all you’re prepared to pay is peanuts. If you really can’t afford what you want, it’s not the end of the world – you could always ask for something smaller or less complicated to start off with and build on to while you save up. Better to have a solid foundation, than get all the functionality you want cheaply and have it all fall apart.

Your Web Designer Should Have a Portfolio

If the web design company does not supply examples of their work or some form of portfolio, it can mean one of two things.

  • Either the company is just starting out and has no work to showcase yet – in which case prepare to be the guinea pig.
  • Or they are not confident to display their work because it’s not very good – in which case the work they do for you will likely be more of the same.

Also a ‘client list’ is not a portfolio. A web design agency that has a bunch of client logos on their site they’ve allegedly done work for, but no links to the work itself is a red flag. How many of those clients on the list are straight up fabrications? You will never know. I’ve also seen web designers list big name clients when they had nothing to do with that client’s website, but rather played some minor role in an insignificant side job.

So if their website doesn’t have examples of their work, ask to see some before making commitments.

Good Service is Hard to Find

We all want to deal with people who respond promptly and keep their promises. Service levels are vastly different from company to company, and if, like many of your countrymen, you’re tired of being jerked around and faced with utter ineptitude on a daily basis, it’s important to sift out any web design companies that are likely to give you gray hairs.

Tomorrow is Another Day

The first kind of web design company you will want to avoid is the long-winded kind: Should you ask for a quote or a question, and the web designer doesn’t get back to you within twenty four hours (taking into consideration weekends & public holidays), then you can expect this kind of service for the entirety of the job. They’re either too busy to take on any new jobs, or they’re lazy and do not feel that you are important enough for them to reply promptly.

Tell Me Lies. Tell Me Sweet Little Lies.

The second kind of web design company you will want to avoid is the silver-tongued kind, the kind who send a charismatic sales person to butter you up to make up for their own skill inadequacies. Please keep in mind that many web design companies will simply tell you what you want to hear:

Yes, we have the skill level to do that.“, “Sure, we can meet that deadline.“, “Of course, you will be number one on Google.“, etc.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell apart someone who can do the job, from someone who simply says they can. If you have any doubts, why not ask for references or testimonials. If they are as good as they make out, surely they will have one or two happy customers to vouch for them.

Your Web Designer’s Location Almost Doesn’t Matter

If your web designer’s offices are in a very exclusive area / office park, you can probably expect to pay “exclusive” prices. They have rent to cover after all. Besides that consideration, having a half-decent internet connection completely negates any need for having an actual meeting. Without physical meetings, the geographic location of the designer is irrelevant. In fact, for several reason’s it’s better to start your relationship off with your web designer online instead of requesting a meeting:

At the end of the day, the web designer isn’t going to be sitting in your office doing the work, so no matter how much of a good show they put on for you in your board room, you have no idea how they will actually perform when the job commences…unless you’ve been dealing with them digitally all along. If they’ve responded to all your emails in a timely fashion, and in a clear and thorough manner, then that is indicative of how the relationship will continue. On the other hand if all you know of them is the lunch they treated you to at the Mugg&Bean, you can bet your ass, they will be off schmoozing other potential clients after you’ve paid the deposit.

When you send an email with instructions, you want your the web designer to already be at his/her computer to make the changes, as opposed to having to drive back to their premises and prepare themselves for work mode again.

A Good Web Designer Gives Options

A good web designer will take the time to find out about your company and your customers, and prepare a design that is aesthetically aligned with your industry and target market. If the purpose of your website is to make you money in some way, then your personal preferences are far less important than those of your customers. Ultimately, the website needs to please your customers, and needs to be designed around what they want, not you.

That said, you are still the client, and a great web designer will want you to be as pleased with the work as your customers are. Find out from your potential designer if they give multiple design options for you to choose from. If not, are they willing to tweak their design according to your preferences. Maybe they do both. Maybe they only give you one design and if you don’t like it, tough. These are things you will want to know before approving that quote.

A Good Web Designer is Not a Jack of All Trades

Having been in the industry for well over a decade, I’ve had some clients that expect me to be able to create animations, edit videos, write content, market their website, build website apps, manage their social media campaigns, translate their website into different languages, and more. I know where my limitations lie, and when there’s something I’m not great at, I’ll make it clear to my client, what portion of the job will be outsourced to a professional in that particular area. I may even refer them to an industry peer directly.

If you need more than a website, don’t assume your web designer can do it all. A Jack of All Trades is a Master of None. If it’s a massive company, fair enough – they may have professionals that will handle different parts of the quote, but most web design companies won’t be able to handle everything, so ask them to be clear about where their strengths lie. That way, they can either outsource other parts of the job, or you can source multiple vendors yourself.

On the other side of the job, it’s also important to note that a marketing company will be (hopefully) great at marketing your website, but they’re not a one-stop shop that you can trust with quality design work, and solid coding. Most marketing companies can put a website together, and most designers can market a website, but in all my years in the industry, I’ve never seen one company do both equally well.

Ideally you’d want to start off with a good designer that has a firm grasp of SEO. That way you get a W3C compliant website that is cleanly coded, responsive, and search engine friendly. Then if you want to take your website to the next level on the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages), a good marketing company could step in who will create content, market your website organically, and create advertising campaigns.

Good Designers Respect Deadlines, and So Do Good Clients

The last factor to take into consideration is the web designer’s ability to work within given realistic deadlines. A good web designer should be able to provide you with at least a rough timeline if requested. I say ‘rough’ because from personal experience, clients themselves hold up the work process more often than not.

Let me take this opportunity to point out that while your web designer is waiting for feedback, approval, content, etc from you, there are likely other jobs scheduled that may need to be postponed if you don’t deliver what is needed promptly. Treat people how you want to be treated.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:31

If you are not convinced the designer can meet deadlines promptly, why not give them a smaller job to do first and judge from that.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” – Luke 16:10

Article by Roxane Lapa of .COZA Web Design
This particular article was written in 2006 or so, and first appeared in the article section of www.coza-web.co.za, but we’ve revamped it in 2018, and moved it here for a wider audience.

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