So you’ve decided that it might be best to leave web design to the professionals, have you? Well, the unfortunate thing about web design professionals is that not all of them are exactly professional. Some of them are working from wildly out of date knowledge, and, well, some of them are working from their parents’ basement.
How can you protect yourself when you decide to hire a professional? Well, here are some guidelines.
Qualifications are Meaningless.
Web design is a new enough industry that what qualifications there are have ended up being largely stupid and meaningless. I’ve never met a good designer who has a
qualification in web design – a qualification in proper graphical design is, of course, something else entirely. You can guarantee that most people with web design qualifications did them at a community college to try and get rich during the dot-com boom. These people know nothing about web design.
What you should pay attention to when you’re looking at web designers is which of their skills they think are important. If they’re marketing their Flash expertise to you, you
probably don’t want to hire them. If they can competently explain what XHTML and CSS are and why they’re good for your website, then they’re a better candidate.
The easiest way to tell whether the designer you’re considering is any good or not is to take a look at their portfolio. Good designers will have a diverse portfolio, with plenty of attractive sites that they’ve built for all sorts of customers, and they’ll be able to explain to you why they built each site the way they did.
If the designer doesn’t have a substantial portfolio yet, you shouldn’t write them off there and then – but do say that you’re going to need to see something before you commit
yourself. A good designer will happily do a first-draft design for one of your pages just to show themselves off. If you’re happy with what they’ve done, then the chances are that they’ve got the rest of the design in their head, ready to code up and send to you.
Usability is Vital.
You should make sure that the designer you’re talking to realises that they’re building your website for users – all users, no matter how they want to use it or which web browser they have. Amateur web designers have a tendency to come up with things that they think are impressive-looking, either visually or technically, while ignoring who the website is actually for – your visitors.
Some questions to ask the designer include: Which browsers are you going to test with? (They should reply with ‘as many as possible’). What is the purpose of my website? (They should be able to explain the point of the site simply).
Setting a Price.
Many web designers simply have no idea what kind of price to charge for their services. If you post a project to a freelance site where designers can bid on it, you’ll get bids ranging from $50 to $5,000. Both ends are pretty obviously ridiculous. At one end, you’ve got kids with no experience and Indians who don’t speak English; at the other, you’re paying pointless committees to have meetings for a week.
Your best bet is to find someone professional but independent, experienced but not corporate, and with a price that reflects the quality of their portfolio. As with all things in
life, though, don’t be afraid to negotiate – and never agree to let them do however much work it takes and pay by the hour.
Finally, beware of web designers who are trying to sell you a whole package, together with a domain name, web hosting, and the rest. Operations like this are almost always flawed in one area or the other, since designers aren’t really very technical people on the whole. They’ll either be web hosting specialists who think design is so easy anyone can do it, or they’ll be designers who are reselling some cheap hosting package for a premium. On the web, it’s better to buy hosting yourself.