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.

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