Website design is a relatively new career field (when I say new I, of course, mean in the last 20 years), and is changing so rapidly that it can often be tough to find a web designer who not only understands website design but also has a firm grasp of modern concepts relevant to web design and how to implement them - and with experience applying them.
Ultimately, this list is not exhaustive, as it is incredibly difficult to name all the reasons you should or should not hire a specific web designer. This list is, however, a basic set of points that could be red flags if your web designer does not check them off. By all means, if a prospective web design partner doesn't meet one or two of these points, it is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if he or she raises red flags on three or more, that's the time to start considering the possibility that you may need to get a second or third opinion. Here's the 6-point shortlist of things to make sure your web designer understands before signing on the dotted line!
1. Your web designer should understand SEO
Albeit a widely-overused buzzword, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an integral component of your website. If your website matters (and I would contend that your website does in fact matter because you're investing money in creating it) then SEO is not something your web designer can simply remove from the equation. Your web designer should know some pretty basic acronyms, like SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages, CPC (Cost per Click), CPM (Cost per Thousand Impressions), SEO of course, and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). It is incredibly hard to be a successful web designer and not run into those acronyms on a daily basis, so if your web designer doesn't know what they are... pass!
Acronyms and definitions aside, your web designer should be able to explain the reasoning behind why blog content is a valuable tool to build your website's rankings on search engines, and also what structured data is and why it is important to implement. If you're not quite sure you're getting a straight answer, get a second opinion - heck, send us a message and we'll give you the 411 on whether you're being fed a load of BS.
2. Your web designer should be able to teach you
Now I'm not advocating here for turning every website design project into a full-fledged course on web development. Your web designer should be able to explain to you in simple terms what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Anyone who is an expert in their field, understands their field so completely that they can distill concepts from their work into digestible parts. If there is something you do not understand, and your web designer cannot explain it to you... pass! If for example, your web designer tells you that they plan to implement a parallax feature on your website, but cannot tell you what parallax scrolling is, or give you a good reason why they are using it, that's a big red flag. For the record, studies have shown that the use of parallax scrolling has a positive aesthetic effect on user experience when used properly. It does, however, also have side effects... For example, I wouldn't recommend using parallax on a website for those with motion sickness.
Understandably, web designers can be hesitant to explain all the minute details of their work and how they add up to the bigger picture. After all, your understanding of web design concepts does not affect the quality of the web designer's work nor will it necessarily make your website more successful. If your web designer chooses to keep the conversation strictly on whether or not you want to accept their work, it's not necessarily a red flag. Use your gut! Don't be afraid to tell your web designer that you need some understanding to feel comfortable. Ultimately, if you have a great customer experience with your web designer you could very well be sending them additional business in the future, so they should be keen to build a relationship of trust with you.
3. Your web designer should be upfront with the price
It seems these days that everybody is chasing everybody else for the sale. I hate being sold. That's why discussing the price is a pain point for me whenever I'm talking with prospective clients. I've been on the other end as a Marketing Manager, and constantly being sold on this SaaS or that POS. Your web designer should know their price and should be upfront with you about it. Web designers worth any salt will stand by the quality of their work, and any web designer not striving to build their reputation with every project doesn't have the drive and dedication to deliver the best possible website performance. Your web designer should at least be able to make you feel that they are going to work tirelessly until the final result is perfection or damn close.
Begrudgingly I will wear the sales hat very briefly in this article if only to point out that at Keddy & Associates, all of our standard pricing is on our website. You can visit our website without the fear of being funnelled into an unsolicited sales pipeline with endless email spam and dead-end follow-up phone calls. If you want to reach out to us to chat, we'll chat. If you don't want us to bother you, you're not going to hear from us. It's that simple.
4. Your web designer should be able to accomplish the entire project themselves
I know web designers will hate me for this one, and maybe the title is just veritable click-bait. Essentially what I'm saying here is that your web designer should understand what's under the hood of everything they use when building your website, and should have a grasp of all aspects of what is required to accomplish your project. The most efficient web designer is one who has a wide breadth of knowledge in marketing, graphic design, and programming. They shouldn't be waiting for an email from a graphic designer for a component of your website. They shouldn't be outsourcing some of the coding of your project to another designer.
Now, this likely goes against the business logic most successful web design agencies employ to keep themselves profitable, but the truth is, if your website is worth a 4-figure price-tag and includes regular monthly fees, then you should expect that your designer knows and understands every pixel and every character of code under the hood of your website - because they put it together themselves. That is not to say that your web designer shouldn't use templates or plugins from outside sources when building your website. That would be ludicrous! Your designer shouldn't be reinventing the wheel by any means and should be using pre-assembled code, but they should be completely versed in its use.
5. Gauge your web designer's motivation level
In the end, there is always a give and take. Don't let there be too much take and not enough give! If your web designer is requesting a deposit (anything up to and including 50% is commonplace and is to be expected), they should already be armed with a plan. Don't simply give your money to someone who says they will design a website for you without explaining to you what their plans and/or vision are for your website! If your web designer is keen on the sale, they will have done some research about your business and should have a rough idea of the first 3 to 4 things they are going to accomplish right out of the gate with your funds. The most motivated web designers will already have a timeline in their head for when they will deliver the project to you completed and will communicate that to you.
6. You have homework too...
Don't by any means that this list as the only resource when considering your web designer. Do your research! Find out more about the web designer, including past projects they have worked on (and get references), and how much of their time they spend working on web design. If it is just a hobby, they are only going to live your brand part-time. If they dedicate 40 or more hours a week to web design, they are in demand by other clients, and they are committed to making web design a part of their reputation. All too often, we let sales types control the narrative and we answer almost all of the questions they ask of us. Make sure you're asking the right questions too!
I will never advertise myself as the perfect web designer for all projects, however, I will share with you the list that is my skillset. There is nothing more troubling than signing an agreement with someone who cannot see their truth. I will admit, I do not know anything. Any web designer who tells you they know every programming language and everything there is to know about web design is a guaranteed liar. If they believe it themselves, then they have given up on learning and adapting to the changing marketplace. If they don't believe it, they're trying to make you believe it! Let us be the example, by saying that we didn't capture the photos featured on our website Instead, we use this awesome site called Unsplash (unpslash.com), where no license is required to use any of the creative works posted. Trust comes from honesty. We're not perfect here, but if you need a second opinion, our chatbox is your open-door policy.