“Digital design is like painting, except the paint never dries.”
I am a self-taught web designer, and I have worked on multiple websites myself in the past fifteen years.
It’s quite natural then that loads of creatives ask me how they can choose the best web designer as well as recommendations.
I do believe, as a DIY designer myself, that it is important to know how to be satisfied with the work and be able to retain a website for, at the very least, 6–12 months without wanting to completely change the look of it.
In a nutshell, your discussion with a web-designer is an interview.
Especially when it comes to freelancers, small businesses and creatives, you want to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
You can easily get a feel for the style from past projects, but you need to be able to anticipate the way they may tackle the challenges that could be arising from working on your website.
Just like everything else, having a preliminary chat to set expectations is key, yet, it may not be enough.
However, I believe the ones who can truly tell us what makes or breaks a great relationship are the web designers themselves.
This is why we asked our resident expert designers in the Collective for some help on the subject.
Make sure they know the basics
There can be a lot to talk about before even getting to start a project, yet something most people glance over is UX.
Usability or UX (user experience) is a process whose main objective is to design a system that offers a great experience to its users. In a nutshell, it has a visitor in mind.
When it comes to logistics, you want to hear are things such as mobile responsive, adaptable images, easy to load website etc.
Ana Santos, UX consultant, and my go-to expert reminds us how user experience is that it can only be done with users.
“The first step to incorporate user experience into your projects is to really understand your users. In order to do that, you need to do research. There’s no shortcut. In order to improve the experience a user has with your website, you need to understand their goals, their pain points, their mental models, how they navigate on your website, etc.”
If you are thinking UX is not THAT important, think again: “If your website is lacking basic usability principles, it’s easy to improve it by having an expert review it, however, it is still not a replacement for testing with real users” adds Santos.
You have to be able to feel like the designer has performance in mind, and should be able to share their opinions, experience, and approach. If the designer does not even know what UX is, run for the hills (keywords to look for are responsiveness, adaptability, easy-to-load, etc).
Bonus brownie points: make sure the designer can help you set up Google Analytics for your website.
It’s a very straight-forward process, but it will be surely helping in the long run, as it allows you to check-in things such as bounce rate, unique visits, page views, time on site, search engine rankings, conversion rate, etc.
Do your research
Let’s say you found a few people you trust and want to schedule a call with them.
Before that, I recommend you look at their portfolios quite carefully, especially if you manage to get your paws on a website that currently uses their work.
Remember to ask the designer what kind of input they have been giving aside from colour schemes and theme structure. Some people are very clear on their goals, others need a tinier extra push, and that’s okay too.
If you need a designer to recommend you the best experience for your user, be sure to know how they helped their clients in the past.
Remember, after all, designers are just humans, like you and me.
“Being honest, transparent + respectful in how you communicate with each other makes a big difference.” highlights Marcy Angeles from Dragonfly Ave “Also being clear in how you deliver feedback so as designers, we can better understand where to make improvements and adjustments when needed. As clients, don’t be afraid to ask questions and give input.”
One of the most fundamental differences among designers is their approach to post-project changes.
Every website will change over time. Some people charge hourly for these changes, while most will show you how to use a platform such as WordPress to edit at your will.
Relationship building is key
A good designer should be able to provide a clear handover for you.
Ideally, you want someone who can really take the time to set up a tool that lets you (or anyone with access) manage the site — this will prevent you from waiting endlessly or getting an invoice for basic changes.
Ask what your content-management tool allows you to do: add new forms, change animations, or create new types of page layouts.
Overall, streamlining decisions is essential.
“Finding a great designer who is a true expert is key, because they will guide you through the entire confusing process — so you don’t have to know what you’re doing, but you will have to make a lot of decisions” shares Tracy Raflt from Little Beast Design.
“When you reach out to a designer, make sure you’re ready to be committed to the process so you can get the best results. Keep communication with your designer open and honest, stick to the deadlines that your designer gives you for reviewing work and submitting content, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous finished product that you love!”
Remember though, if your site includes a content-management tool outside of WordPress or Squarespace (or are built on a custom platform_, certain types of changes will require a professional developer or designer.
Another tip to find a great web designer is to check references and always hop in for a discovery call.
“I suggest jumping on a call with your designer before providing a deposit so you can see if you’re a good fit for each other” adds Marcy Angeles “ Design is an investment, you want to make sure you’re investing with the right person!”
Or better yet, meet possible web designers through referrals: people you know and trust who have worked with them in the past.
“A knowledgeable, expert designer + a committed client + open communication & honesty + sticking to deadlines = design success.” — Tracy Raftl
Your website is your online home, and as such you want it to be a place every visitor is welcome.
To recap, here are some of the things to look for when talking to a designer:
- Approach Usability and UX
- Their portfolio
- The workflow and editing processes
- The actual person
I’ll finish off by sharing a few tips from Marci Angeles when it comes to what makes a great website:
“My top website essentials would be clear and specific website goals purpose, an email opt-in with a lead magnet to collect emails, copy that speaks directly to your target market, clear call to actions that help lead your visitor to the action you want them to take, and an ultimately great visual experience.”
Thank you to our Creative Impact Collective and Resident Experts for their advice on finding a web designer, take a look at the collective online.
My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.