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How To Choose Your Perfect Website Designer

So you’re looking for a decent website designer?

We get it – it seems such an easy task… 

That is, until you start looking properly and before long you just get so overwhelmed by all of the options that you’re tempted to abandon it in a haze of confusion.

What may have started out with just a few requirements, can easily become a never-ending list of criteria which you’re not entirely sure you even need.

But there lies the key.

Start With The End In Mind…

If you know what you’re trying to achieve with your website, this will identify what you actually need from your website designer. Once you have a clear remit of the functionality your site will need, this will help you to find the best designers to provide it.

Here are some key considerations for you to think about…

  • How would you like your site to function right now?
  • How does your website need to evolve and grow?
  • Would you like to manage the content editing yourself?
  • Do your site visitors need to interact with your site? 

The reason why choosing a website designer is so difficult is that your options really are endless.

A simple site with only your basic information and contact information is known as a “brochure site” – just like picking up a small information booklet about your business. These are super simple and most website designers can produce you a nice brochure site without breaking the bank

Or do you need a website building with specific functionality?

This is where some extra thought is needed because building out some functionality is a sizeable task for your designer. One thing to avoid is accidental technology lock-in whereby lots of time and money are spent on creating a site which either isn’t perfectly fit for purpose or has been so heavily invested in, that it’s too costly to get out of afterwards. You’ll also need to think about the ongoing costs of upkeep and maintenance too.

Do your research on the web designers local to you!

There are three aspects of web design your website designer may specialise in:

PURE-PLAY – a pure-play web designer focusses on branding and the overall look and feel of your site. The user experience is their prime concern with aesthetics usually being created in software such as Photoshop to create the imagery, colour palettes and impact they had envisioned. 

FRONT-END – The website’s front-end is where your designer will develop what the user sees and creates how they navigate that. This will usually be done using languages such as PHP, Javascript, HTML and CSS where they can really look in detail at your site needs and create them very specifically in the code they write.

BACK-END – As the name suggests, this is where all of the pieces work together behind the scenes. They are the swan’s legs swimming busily while the swan appears to be effortlessly gliding along. If they are working well, all of the elements of your site such as scripts, API’s and databases will be talking to each other producing seamless functionality.

You’ll often find that most designers specialise in one of these – and may be familiar with one or two of the other elements – but are rarely experts in all three. Using an agency will usually ensure all three factors are covered with the expertise needed but asking a few questions will help you to establish their overall competence levels.

How To Define Your Design Needs For Your Website Designer

Have you ever decorated a room with someone? You can see it all in your head perfectly and start describing it to them but not very clearly.

You tell them it’s going to be blue and purple with loads of light.

In your head, you’re envisioning a calm room to rest in with duck egg blue walls, beautiful natural light streaming in and pale purple sofas to lose yourself in.

But your image was communicated so badly that in their head it’s a setting worthy of Willy Wonka, with electric blue walls, vibrant crushed purple velvet furniture everywhere and harsh spotlights raising the temperature of the room there’s so many of them.

Your ‘relaxing’ room now feels so awful, it’s the last place you want to be.

Being super clear on the look and feel you want from your website and how you communicate that is crucial.

Any means of getting specific will bring you closer to the outcome you’d like so you’ll need to do a little homework. How much easier would it have been in that decorating scenario if you simply had a picture you could share?

  • Collate websites you love and note what you particularly like about them,
  • Share sites which you really wouldn’t like and what frustrates you about them,
  • Sketch out the basics to give an outline for your designer to work with

Once you have this in place, it will make identifying the right website designer much easier. Even the best of designers can’t pluck ideas from nothing, so your prep work will really help to formulate your site planning.

The initial conversations will give you a strong feeling of whether your designer is the right one. They’ll be asking you LOTS of questions and engaging with you so be prepared for this. Some people want to be closely involved with their web designer – some want the least amount of engagement possible but whichever you are, pay attention to the early signs:

Signs Of A Good Website Designer

  • During your chats, your designer will be able to work out and communicate with you exactly how achievable your requested features are.
  • They will ensure you are clear on what can and cannot be done – their language won’t be hazy and they won’t use jargon without explaining it to you.
  • They will establish the level of involvement you’d like to have during the process…
    • Will you want to be involved in the choices at every stage? 
    • Which design aspects are most important to you?
    • How will you want the feedback to be shared? 
    • How will you choose what to incorporate or omit in terms of budget?

Signs Of A Poor Website Designer

  • Those early chats we mentioned? If they are vague about how they will approach any design problems or don’t have clear design processes they can outline with you, it’s probably best to carry on shopping around.
  • They don’t provide you with a design process in writing. This provides clarity and minimises the frustrations which come with blurred feedback and engagement, so if they avoid the written process, either request it or take your business elsewhere.
  • Listen to how they communicate with you – if they are vague, use too much jargon or lingo, this is how they approach things as a rule. This is the working relationship you’ll have with them too so ask yourself if you’d like how you engage with each other.
WordPress is a favoured platform for Hellcat Digital
WordPress Sites Make Up 14.7% of the Top 100 Websites in the World (Stats from 2018)

How To Define Your Business Needs For Your Website Designer

It’s all well and good having some pretty pictures at the ready and some great sites you like the look of…

But if you haven’t defined the scope and budget properly, it’s easy to omit key pieces that you may need from your website either now or in the future. This could cost you a LOT of wasted resources in terms of re-work and budget.

Some points to  think about: 

  • What is the website’s role within your business?
  • How does your business get customers?
  • How is marketing done within your business?
  • How will your site need to drive leads and sales?
  • Are there any inventory requirements or orders needing to be taken?
  • Is bookkeeping functionality required?
  • Will your website form part of marketing or sales automation processes?
  • Will your website need to integrate with other software?

You can see how a lack of thought on any of these aspects could leave quite a significant hole in your website meeting your business needs. Get this right though, and you could have have an all-singing, all-dancing website which frees up a lot of time in your business and facilitates the growth of it. 

With this in mind, give some extra thought to some of the finer details – assess them once against the current needs and again on the mid term, ensuring they satisfy both sets. 

It can be tempting to want to duct-tape a site for solutions right now, but if you’re going to invest your time and resources in this, try to take the longer-term view looking at the following: 

  • Choose your domain names carefully thinking about how they will clearly identify you to potential traffic as well as how you’ll set up your email services,
  • What value can your site add to your business with each lead? How much are they each worth? Looking at how the site will slowly build up sales conversions will give you a good indication of how much to invest in it treating it as an investment, not a cost.
  • Look at current as well as medium term needs within your business – aligning your website with all of that will save you redevelopment money in the longer term 
  • Avoid the design getting too complex – using integrations will cut down on both design coding and costs and will keep your site more versatile.
  • Steer clear of designers who don’t work with integrations – if they can’t build out the features that you need, they may talk you out of it – work out whether it’s genuine advice or deflection. Talk through the current and mid term logistics with their suggestions.
  • Be open to change – having a clear idea of what you need from your site is a fantastic start, but once you start exploring your options, there may be a better way of approaching some of your processes – a good designer will make a clear case of how and why you could do it differently.

Defining The Budget And Scope Of Your Website

Going back to the point we made on this being an investment – you’ll need to know how much money is available to spend on this right now.

If the funds aren’t quite there yet you’ll need to decide whether a custom website designer is what you need or maybe you need to wait a little longer until you’re financially there. This isn’t something you want to cut corners on. 

Think about the following:

  • Existing cash flow – look at the value of a single new lead 
  • What is it costing you to have a poor/no website?
  • Prioritise the cost of the priority features and functionality that you can get started with – you’re unlikely to be able to have everything you want straight away – what can wait?
  • Amortise the amount over the site’s life expectancy to give you a monthly cost – if the budget is £7000 with an expected functional life of 4 years, this works out at around £150 per month. Will it pay for itself and is this an amount which fits well with your business costs?
  • Allow for ongoing costs in your budget – there will be hosting fees as well as maintenance costs. You’ll need content adding in regularly if you’re blogging for instance – this will need your time, your staff’s time or your designer to implement, so these costs will need to be allowed for too.

How To Find A Great Website Designer

As with anything you’re investing in, you want to know you’re getting good quality. Now you’ve identified which type of designer you need, it’s time to find them.

Before you jump into Google or respond to the first ad which pops up, have a think about these points:

  • Agencies are more likely to get through lots of clients so will spend a fair amount on advertising. Good website designers will have plenty of ongoing work so may seem harder to find but bear in mind that you’ll usually get less time or personal service from a heavily advertised agency.
  • Be a good client! Good quality website designers can be selective so will choose to work with good clients regardless of the budget, so thinking that a large budget makes you an attractive option isn’t always the case.
  • Design ping-pong where you’re forever discussing the design is a waste of everyone’s time – keep it specific from the start.

Where To Look Locally For A Good Website Designer

Hellcat Digital provide a range of web design services to clients all over Rochdale and the North West.
Hellcat Digital Web Design Services in Rochdale.

Yep – we all know you can jump into Google but that only gives you a certain amount of insight as to what you’d get from a designer or developer.

Good quality local web designers are often thriving on referrals – they don’t tend to advertise as a rule and marketing is rarely their forte either but a local designer is what most people prefer for their website needs.

Here are some places to search for a local designer:

  • Ask local businesses you trust for referrals – if they have a great site, ask who built it and pick their brains on the service quality,
  • Do a very specific search in Google with search operators. Like this.
  • Look for local meetings or groups which they can be found at – most designers like to keep their finger on the pulse re skills so will be present at forums and meetups of this nature.
  • Use directories and listings in your local area – this will often be the extent of a local web designers advertising

Should I Use A WordPress Developer For My Website?

The beauty of WordPress is its versatility as it’s a platform which most people can get started with and build upon. It’s also handy for keeping your budget down as the DIY element of it with themes and integrations, facilitates you being able to maintain or update the site yourself once it’s built.

The downside to it being a ‘starter site’ as well as being able to potentially offer the full scope of your website needs, is that all manner of people call themselves “WordPress Developers”.

They could be a developer who offers a full range of skills of which WordPress is one of them, or perhaps they can only work with WordPress.

This is where that local search and attending meetings will reap the rewards as your job is to work out whether their level of expertise meets your needs. 

Attending local WordPress meetups, attending WordCamps (which are big gatherings of designers using WordPress), checking out community support forums of WordPress.org will all help the genuine experts to stand out to you.

Where Do I Find A Website Designer Who Uses A Specific Platform?

Similar to WordPress, there are many other platforms your designer can build a website with. If you’re looking at hosted sites there are Shopify, Weebly, Wix, Bigcommerce, Squarespace amongst many others.

There is an interesting article showcasing the best website builders of 2019 by Tech Radar.

What’s crucial here is that you understand the technology of your specified platform as they all have their own strengths and pitfalls. They appear to offer a lot more for your money than you’d get from a custom site when looking at design vs functionality, but really read the small print as all the little additions soon eat into your potential savings.

Make sure you also research the detailed costs and provisions you’d get from your platform – if you use the support forums of the platform and places such as Experts Exchange, it will make it easier to identify the better quality prospective designers

Where Do I Find A General Website Designer?

Whilst local may be your first thought, great web design can also be sought from a global talent if you’re happy to negotiate some of the initial challenges of working remotely.

There’s a huge range of sources where you can find website designers – lots of internal platforms offer their own site where you can use reviews etc as a gauge for the quality of your potential designer. 

For smaller test projects before you commit to a single designer, sites such as Fiverr or Upwork offer a variety of qualities but with a little trial and error, you could source a great designer.

If you’re looking for indicators of expertise, then you can check out who is providing in depth answers on sites such as Github, StackExchange or HackerNews.

For a sharper developer with a different angle offering creativity or outstanding flair, Dribbble, ThemeForest and CreativeMarket will highlight who would be a better fit for the more bespoke design you may be looking for.

Using these sites as opposed to a generic Google search will give you much more tailored results than the minefield that Google will present you with.

How To Ask A Potential Website Developer For Proposals

OK – so now you’ve identified a few prospective designers which could be a fit for your needs, you’ll need to send out a proposal.

The clearer your proposal, the higher the chance of attracting better quality designers.

What To Include 

  • One of the most important pieces of info is the budget. Don’t be tempted to trim the budget so you get a better rate – the budget you propose lets the designers know whether what they charge and can offer, are within your scope.
  • Keep it super simple. Outline the core features you’ll need as the follow on discussions can cover the minutiae, but at this stage, they just need the main elements you’re looking for.
  • Sound like a great client! Make it easy to work with you with a clear outline, a clear budget and a simple call to action too such as asking “are you interested in the project?” 

What To Avoid

  • Don’t waste people’s time – if you’re serious about working with them, then approach them for a proposal. If not, don’t send out feeler emails for the hell of it.
  • Don’t suck the life out of them with a lengthy list of questions! This is just an opener to see if you’re both a fit – if it’s a yes, the additional questions can follow afterwards.

Ask Your Prospective Website Designer For Portfolio Examples and References

This is one area of life where first impressions really do matter. How the website designer engages with you at the start is likely to be the best you’ll get from them.

The start of the project requires lots of conversation and interaction, but then it wanes so what you get in the beginning is a good gauge of your designer at their most interactive. If they are tardy or uncommunicative, there’s a strong chance that’s how they roll.

Asking them for examples, testimonials and references will really identify their quality, so pay close attention to how forthcoming they are. Use this stage to work out who you’ll eliminate rather than just who you’ll opt for.

Requesting A Project Plan And Contract

By now, you should have one or two strong candidates, so you can ask for a contract and a project plan from the designer that you opt for.

The purpose of this is to firm up exactly what has been discussed so that all parties are totally clear on what has been agreed. The contract should cover:

  1. All of the agreed costs, 
  2. Outline of responsibilities, 
  3. The remit of the entire project and costs, 
  4. All expected deliverables and significant deadlines, 
  5. Who owns the intellectual property rights 
  6. An adjudicating body.

The project plan pads out the contract by covering the finer details. This will help you all to manage your expectations and deadlines, communicating clearly who is responsible for what and by when. This is also a good time to ensure all of the technical documentation is in hand too, ensuring the website will be fully yours.

Out of courtesy, let the designers that you didn’t opt for know that you won’t be using them. They’ll be grateful for the update and not only will you save yourself lots of follow up calls, but you’ll be keeping the channels of communication open should you decide to use them in future.

In Summary

As daunting as finding a website designer may initially feel, once you’ve thought about exactly what you need you’ve eliminated most of the confusion.

Understanding all of your needs such as what you want, and when will really help you match them with the prospective designers.

Follow our process above and all of your confusion around what’s in a great website designer will simply fade away!

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