Questions to ask before working with a web designer

without comments Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

by Scott de Fasselle

wondering what to ask a web designer graphic

You’ve decided it’s time to invest in improving your web site and you’re interviewing web designers to find the right fit. We know this process can be a bit overwhelming. There are lots of options out there. What services do you really need? What should you expect? And, most of all—where should you start?

You should “shop around” and meet with two or three web designers. But be sure to ask these important questions when you interview a web designer so you can compare professionals apples-to-apples, and get past the technical buzz words that many in the web industry use to sound like they’re on the cutting edge. A knowledgeable, experienced web designer listens first. After all, this project is about your site.

Here’s a short list of the questions you should ask a prospective web designer.

Now that you know the questions, we’ll dig a little deeper and explain why you want to ask them and what to listen for.

May I see examples of your work?

Every professional web designer should have a portfolio site that they can show you. If they don’t, and they aren’t willing to send examples, it’s not worth wasting your time asking them additional questions.

If the designer has taken down their site while they redesign it, just ask them to email you a few examples of their work.

Would you show me projects you’ve done similar to what I need?

Obviously, it makes sense to talk to designers that have experience working with clients in your line of work or with similar needs. So when the designer shows you past work, ask them to explain what they did and why they did it.

Does the designer’s explanation give you a clear sense of his/her reason behind why they did things the way the did? If the answer is yes, that’s a good sign. You’ll have questions while your site is being built, so having a designer that’s able to clearly explain why they’re doing what they’re doing helps give you piece of mind and produces a better web site.

How long have you been in web design?

There’s no minimum number of years that you have to look for in partnering with a designer, but at the same time, it’s natural to want someone with experience who will be in business in the future.

Talking to a designer that doesn’t have years of experience isn’t a bad thing; however, it’s certainly a reason to ask more questions to get a sense of the designer and their level of commitment ESPECIALLY if they are a solo designer.

Here’s why, an inexperienced designer that is part of a company will have more experienced team members to learn from; that’s a good thing—everyone has to start somewhere. However, if the designer doesn’t have experience and is on their own, it’s a bigger risk for you.

Most professional designers have heard plenty of horror stories from potential clients that needed a new designer after a project went south with an inexperienced solo designer. We’ve heard potential clients describe everything from hiring the neighbor’s teenager because he said he could make a web site, to having a half finished site because the designer stopped emailing and calling, or finding out after seeing a design concept that the designer can’t actually build the site because they don’t know how.

Obviously experience doesn’t guarantee success and lack of experience doesn’t guarantee failure, but it’s worth learning about the designer’s background.

Who will be working on my project?

Whether you’re interviewing a one-man show or a large company, you can’t assume that they will be doing all of the work on your project.

Depending on your project and the capabilities of the designer or company, they may frequently partner with other individuals or companies to provide the following.

  • Custom programming
  • Copywriting
  • Photography
  • Illustration

What’s your process and how long will my site take to complete?

It’s natural to be a little nervous or confused about how your web site will be created. So ask the designer to walk you through their process. While many stages of the process will be similar from designer to designer, everyone has their own process for projects, so it’s worth asking about.

Obviously the time to finish your web site is important to you. So you should discuss the following factors with the designer because they can have a big impact on the timeline.

  • the company or designer’s current work load
  • your ability to quickly provide content (text or images), IF you are supplying it
  • site features such as custom programming require more time to create

How can I help the process?

Generally speaking, providing content (mentioned above) and responding to emails and phone calls in a timely manner goes a long way to helping a project move forward. It’s obvious, but it’s the truth. Failure to provide content and failure to respond are two very common delays for web projects.

How will the site achieve the goals I’ve set for it?

It’s easy to focus on the visual aspect of what designers do; however, it’s important to remember that the visual is only half of a GOOD designer’s work.

A good designer focuses on how they can help solve a particular problem for you with what they create. For that to be possible, you need to have a clear understanding of your goals. Secondly, the designer must understand the goal. And finally, the designer should be able to clearly communicate a plan to help achieve that goal and how they will track progress.

Will you use pre-designed templates/themes on my site?

Whether the answer to this question is yes or no isn’t terribly important. What’s important is that you and the designer have a clear understanding going into the project.

If the answer is no, go ahead and ask the designer about site updates (which is the next question below).

If the answer is yes, it’s best to talk a little more with the designer so you’re on the same page.

There are thousands of design templates and themes available online for WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla which are platforms many designers use as the foundation for building web sites. If you have past experience with one of those platforms you may love or hate one in particular. Or, you might be asking yourself, “what the hell is a ‘Drupal’?”

However you answer those questions is fine, just make sure the designer is on the same page as you. Some designers are flexible with what they will use, while others aren’t, so it’s important to discuss.

After you’ve talked that through, find out what theme the designer recommends (and why) and ask how they plan to customize the theme to your site. Since there are tons of themes available, there’s also a huge range in quality of those themes. An experienced designer should be able guide you in the right direction and provide an option you’re comfortable with.

Who handles site updates?

If you need a new page, new text or images on the site, will the designer do that? Or do you want the ability to handle those updates?

If you want to make updates, talk to the designer about what parts of the site you wish to update. This is important to discuss because it will affect how the designer builds the site and the cost of the site.

Beyond those basic questions, updates are critical to reaching the goals set for your site. In the course of tracking your goals (once the new site is online), you and the designer should be able to see what is succeeding and what could be improved. A good designer will be able to suggest a plan for improvements.

Do you keep backups of my files?

A good web site is a significant investment and an important one for your business. That means you should know that there are backups (preferably multiple) of your files. Unfortunately, computers fail and accidents happen, and the sad truth is plenty of people don’t backup their data. You should feel comfortable that if something happens to your designer or their computers that your site won’t be lost.

How much will this cost?

This is the question that everyone wants to know and many treat as a taboo subject.

First, be upfront about your budget. Giving the designer your budget helps them create a plan for meeting your needs and selecting which approaches to take to reach your goals. There are numerous features that can be added to a site and countless ways to promote it. Some of those features and methods are very affordable, while others can skyrocket into tens of thousands of dollars.

Obviously a large budget will open up some options that aren’t viable for everyone. There’s no way for a web designer to know unless you discuss the budget. Keep in mind, a limited budget doesn’t mean great work can’t be done; it simply means that some options won’t be realistic within that budget.

Discussing budget helps prioritize aspects of a site. The designer should be upfront about what can be done within your budget. If part of what you want/need can’t be done within that budget, ask the designer what it would cost to do the additional work so you can budget for future improvements to the site.

Most designers don’t provide an exact price on the spot because they want time to review notes after meeting you, time to think through the project, and the chance to ask any questions they didn’t think of in your meeting. Once they’ve had the opportunity to do those things, expect them to detail the cost in their estimate.

What will your estimate include?

The estimate should include who is responsible for specific parts of the project, what will be done, when stages will happen, when the project will be completed, and how much everything will cost.

The detail and effort that a designer puts into their estimates can give you insight into the effort they will dedicate to building your site.

You might have a request for proposal (RFP) that you want the designers you’re meeting with to fill out or maybe the boss is insisting on using. We don’t recommend RFPs because they have the tendency to force similar answers from different designers. Plus many RFPs are out-of-date or ask too many questions that won’t help you learn anything important to the success of your site. That’s why we recommend allowing designers the freedom to create their own estimate; that freedom gives the designer the opportunity to impress you and show they’re the right partner.

Final questions for you.

Do you feel more confident now about meeting with a web designer? Or do you have a question that we didn’t cover. If so, please comment below, and we’ll answer you.

Written by Scott de Fasselle

May 16th, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Web Tips

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