How to Hire the Right Website Designer

Lego Computer Guy

by slackware / Flickr

Today’s guest post is by Eliana Berlfein, a website designer based in Boulder, Colorado.

A website is a big investment in your career as an author, and often the most visible aspect of your platform. While you might be able to handle it on your own, many authors find it worthwhile to hire design help that’s reliable and competent. But you also want someone who is just right for you.

Defining “website designer”

There are primarily two parts to building a website. There’s the design part and the technical or development part. The design part usually includes designing the look and feel, the layout, and the navigational structure. The technical part involves code to turn the design into a website. Sometimes the design and development overlap. So the term website designer can be confusing.

Sometimes the designer is referred to as the website designer, while the technical person is referred to as the website developer. But often “website designer” refers to one person who does both. That’s how we’ll use the term in the following questions.

These questions will help you determine if your potential web designer is right for you. The questions assume you are talking to an individual rather than an agency. If you are interviewing a team of people, the questions may vary.

1. How long have you been designing websites?

If someone has been creating websites for awhile, there’s a good chance that they will be around for the long haul. Being in business a long time is not enough to prove they’re competent and reliable, but it’s a start.

2. Can I see your portfolio?

Looking at someone’s portfolio can provide you with a lot of information. You should be looking for a few things.

  • Do you like their design style? It’s important that you like their style, because the design they do for you will probably have a similar style.
  • Do their sites function well?
  • Are their sites easy to get around? Is there a lot of clutter, or is it clear how to find what you’re looking for?

3. Are you primarily a designer, programmer, or both?

Some people can create a beautiful design as well as expertly code your site. But most people excel at one or the other. In some cases, you only need one set of skills. Make sure your web designer has whatever skills are needed to get the job done right.

4. Can we meet and talk (virtually or in person)?

Creating a website is a joint effort between you and the designer. You will be having a lot of conversations over the course of the project, and it’s important that you can communicate well with each other and that you are comfortable with their communication style. The only way to get a sense of that is to have a conversation.

5. Will we sign a contract?

Verbal agreements are not enough. You should receive written documentation that spells out the scope of the project. You should know exactly what you’re getting and how much it’s going to cost. This protects both you and the web designer, and is essential for preventing misunderstandings. If the designer is billing by the hour, you should be given an estimate along with some agreement as to what happens if the process takes longer than the estimate.

6. How are website updates handled?

It used to be that you had to hire your website designer to update your site for even the smallest changes, unless it was built with an expensive proprietary content management system. A content management system, or CMS, allows you to update your site without knowing any code or programming languages. These days there are a number of free systems that nearly anyone can use without special knowledge, such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Of these systems, WordPress is the easiest to use. If you want to update your site yourself, ask your website designer if they use WordPress or another content management system.

7. Who owns my site after it’s completed and paid for?

You should have full ownership of your website. Make sure you get all of your login information so that if somewhere down the line your website designer is no longer in business, you have access to your site.

Some companies build their websites with proprietary software. This may work well while you are hosted with them, but you will not be able to move your site anywhere else, since it needs the proprietary software to run.

WordPress is a very popular platform, so I recommend using it if at all possible. If you want to move your site or change website designers, you’ll have no trouble finding someone else who can take over.

Posted in Digital Media, Guest Post.

Eliana Berlfein of Sidewalk Cafe Design is a website designer in Boulder, Colorado. Her focus is on building websites for authors that will increase their visibility, help build their platform and increase their book sales. Eliana has been designing and developing websites since 1997. Her mission is to make the Internet a more beautiful place by creating stunning websites. Want more tips on how to hire the right designer? Visit Eliana's site and request her informational download.

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Anittah Patrick

Great suggestions. I would add that it can be immensely helpful if your designer understands natural search. It’s great if your website looks pretty, but if it’s not or barely visible to the Google spidey-friends, it may as well not exist. How can you tell if your designer understands natural search? Look at the websites in his or her portfolio, and see if you can find them in Google by searching the name of the company, one of its principals, or a keyword that you’d expect to be able to use to find said website.

Jane Friedman

Fabulous tip, Anittah. Really appreciate you sharing.  🙂

Carol Buchanan

The primary purpose of any website is to communicate the site owner’s message clearly and simply. Second, it should be found easily. As Anittah Patrick says, it has to be visible to the “Google spidey-friends” (great phrase), and search engines read the text that accompanies graphics: the Alt tags and the file names, not the site name embedded in the pretty pictures. Another aspect to site design is for the site designer or coder to put the right keywords into the Meta tags, and for that the site owner has to be heavily involved. Site owners should be prepared to… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Thanks, Carol! Great elaboration.

Rosemary Carstens

Eliana: You’ve made some great points here. I’d only add that every writer or artist today needs a web presence, starting with a website or blog or both. It’s an essential tool in our trades and lets potential editors and clients know we haven’t fallen behind the times, are flexible, and open to new and innovative ideas.


Great advice. The bit about contracts is so important: it’s really helpful to have everything written down for both the designer and the client.

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