Web design horror stories haunt every crevice of the Internet, and anyone who has ever had the itch to hire someone to build a site. Remember Wolf from Pulp Fiction? When Vincent and Jules made their mess, he was right there to clean it up, with every detail precisely orchestrated in one glorious swoop. He made the impossible seem easy.
That's how I feel sometimes. The client comes to me, and I have to Winston Wolf my way through a mess of a site, and help emotionally mend his or her shattered dreams of a perfect website.
Asking the right questions, and having a prospective designer address your concerns up front will better arm you in making the right choice for your website direction. Here is a 7-point checklist that will guide you through your search and have you asking the right questions to find that perfect web-design partner:
1. What does his or her portfolio look like?
While having a lot of websites in a portfolio is a plus, you want to see the type of quality of your potential partner's designs. Ask to see examples of his or her work. Ask for a list of websites that are live and active so you can check out their functionality. Make sure to check on your mobile device as well.
Ensure his or her portfolio includes sites that match what you are seeking in your own site. Check out the versatility of his or her portfolio. Does he or she specialize in specific industries? Specific products or platforms?
A portfolio is important, so start there, and can typically be found on his or her website.
2. What does his or her process look like?
When you hire a web designer you want to make sure they’re not going to split before the job is finished. Take some time to dig into the flow of any potential partner's process. Did he or she adequately explain how his or her design process works?
Ask for an explaination on how he or she structures projects and describe the types of management tools, workflow management and milestones used in seeing the project through to completion. A well thought-out design plan will be a confidence builder in choosing the right design team that can finish the job.
My process varies for different projects depending on the language we’re going to develop and design with, if we’re using an open-source content-management system, and if we’re building from scratch or upgrading a current site. However, in each scenario, I have a process that I follow with tools and systems in place internally and externally for clients, and target dates for high-level milestones.
This is what you’re trying to uncover when inquiring about the process. Some sort of framework they follow. This is helpful to stay on task with the target launch date, helps you follow progress and shows a level of experience that is necessary to do a successful job.
3. What software and technologies will be provided?
In my opinion, skill is subjective. You can find a very technical developer, but he or she may be lacking the skills to articulate your vision. An exceptional designer can understand the vision you have in your brain and translate it almost precisely.
Depending on the type of website you require for your business, different technology will be utilized.
Some web developers stick with a certain type of design structure or software and may not possess the type of experience with the technology you’ll need. Describe the site you are looking for and ask what software he or she will use to make that happen. Discuss the options you want on the site and find out how the designer will make that happen.
Does he or she sound sure, or is he or she taking a wild stab in the dark? You may not fully comprehend all the feedback you get, but this will give you a good idea of the designer's knowledge base.
Lastly, ask if he or she has won or been nominated for any design awards. A good designer will be recognized for his or her skill by the industry. For instance, I was nominated twice by the CSS International Design Awards this year. Obviously, this isn't a deal killer, but it's nice to find a designer that has been recognized by his or her peers.
4. What is his or her vision for your project?
What is the web designer’s vision for your project as compared to yours? Does he or she have a clear indication of what you want and the ability to transform that into a vision on how he or she will develop a successful website? Ask for reference sites or a mockup of his or her design plan.
Of course, you have your own vision of where you want to go with this, but the designer may have insights and perspectives that you may have overlooked. It’s always good to get a good understanding of where he or she wants to take it and compare it to your own vision.
5. What does he or she do when obstacles appear?
Design obstacles can sometimes slow a project to a crawl, or even condemn it altogether. How does the designer overcome such obstacles? Have him or her demonstrate some of the sites and blogs he or she follows and explain how these resources are utilized to develop and deliver a final product.
Run a search on various platform sites where he or she provides expertise, such as Stack Overflow, Quora, Github and Doctype, which provide programmers and designers a forum from which to collaborate on design concepts and solutions. If your potential designer is a common users of these sites, there will be links to his or her contributions.
I’m involved in multiple Facebook and Slack groups for web designers. If I run into issues, this is typically where I turn for advice. It’s very helpful to have a large pool of resources and peers I can bounce ideas off.
6. Is he or she up to date with the current trends and designs?
Web design is constantly changing. Less than six months ago, flat design was in and parallax was fading out. Recently, I’ve seen a surge of parallax design and flat design fading out. Mind you, this is my perspective. Others may not see trends this way. This is a perfect example of perspectives and how the design process is subjective.
Ask about current design trends and review the designer's portfolio to make sure he or she understands what’s current. Most of the time, a good web designer will help you flush out your vision of the site and provide insight to what’s current.
7. Should you give direction or not be picky?
Everyone who wants a new website usually has a unique vision or direction for its design and functionality. You can choose to drive the project or you can allow the designer to use his or her best judgment. Web design is subjective and many times the design you envision in your head isn’t what the designer will have. Does he or she listen to what you want, or talking over you to “tell” you what you want?
Provide reference sites for any potential designer and guidance in your expectations. You don’t want someone to just tell you what you want to hear. For an undertaking such as this, you want a true partner that will work with you every step of the way and ensure your demands and expectations can be reasonably met or exceeded. You can make the choice to provide guidance for the entire project, or simply provide input for parts of it and let his or her expertise guide the rest.
There’s always a margin of error in web design, no matter who is designing and how skilled that person is. Getting answers to all of your questions and concerns on this checklist is an important first step in finding the right design partner.