Small business owners looking for a web designer have the tricky task of choosing the right web designer for their project. Recently, I had someone come to me dissatisfied with their previous web designer and ask me to redo the website project they did not complete. The previous web designer might have been the right fit for particular kinds of projects, but was not the right web designer for this creative client’s website, from what I was told. This brought up an issue that unfortunately happens quite often—how do you know if you are hiring the right web designer for your project?
Because WordPress is so popular, I will be making many references to this content management system, but my descriptions could be applied to Squarespace or any small business website built in a CMS. I’m focusing on websites build in a CMS, because that is the most common kind of website small business owners need.
From my perspective and experience, I see generally 3 different kinds of web designers out there. Categorizing often has it’s limitations, but I believe that you can avoid some major headaches down the road with your web designer, if you know you have picked the right person for the job with the appropriate skill sets and work ethic. Keep in mind when I break these types down, it is understood that every web designer has a little bit of all 3 of these categories, but often clearly relies on one as their dominant character.
The “Techie” Web Designer
The “Creative” Web Designer
A good “creative” web designer will not only make something beautiful to look at, they know how to make design that attracts customers, and gives you an online identity that matches your business’ character. They are artists or graphic designers at heart. They are right brain dominant. They probably majored in art or design in college. They are web designers because of the times we live in, they actually like being creative in many areas of their life. They will often focus more on the beauty of their designs at the expense of practicality of use, as long as that design is going to present something visually unique, causing the client to stand apart from the flock of homogenous templates out there. The downfall of a “creative” web designer is when their own personal style dominates the visual identity of the business or project they are working on. A good “creative” web designer learns some code because they know that to make good website designs, you need to know HTML, CSS, and jQuery. But, they often won’t dive deep into code that has to do with server side functions and complicated back end tasks.
The “I’m Running A Business” Web Designer
The “I’m running a business” web designer is going to be no nonsense. They will find the quickest way to get the job done. They are more like content managers than they are web designers. When it is a WordPress site, they will download WordPress themes and plugins for most every problem and feature. They are going to be looking at their bottom line which is: How can I get this job done as fast as possible with the least amount of work? They will often get your website done quickly, affordably, and to schedule, but if you ask for a customization, they will either say, “No”, or that will cost you disproportionately more, because they will have to outsource to a web developer. When a client is busy and just wants the job done, this kind of web designer is perfect. As long as both the client and the web designer mutually agree that we are not building a space station or painting a masterpiece, we are making a website so that we can get some content up and move on. A good “I’m running a business” web designer is going to know the benefits of making a website that makes your business “look good” and grow. So, even though they may not code, they may not have studied design, they know where to get the goods and tools that other people provide, other developers have coded, and other web designers have designed so that your website is solid and presents your identity well.
How To Interview Your Web Designer
Now that you know these 3 kinds of web designers, which one is right for you? That decision has to be made by you. But, I can provide an interview question list followed up with some tips that will help you first find out what kind of web designer they are, and then decide if they fit your project. Let’s assume the web designer is being truthful when they answer your questions.
You may want to ask:
Do you custom code some portions of your websites?
If you think you are going to have very specific needs, and the web designer says, “very little” or, “not at all” because they only work within a drag and drop builder like Squarespace or the Divi Theme in WordPress, you know you have an “I’m running a business” web designer. If they answer “Yes”, you either have a “Techie” web designer, or someone from any of the 3 categories who has learned the necessary coding skills.
If yes, what coding languages will you use for the project?
If using WordPress, will you be downloading a theme, or will you be making your own theme?
If they answer, “they build their own theme”, that is a sign that this web designer is willing to customize the project for all of your needs. If your job is simple, you should be looking out for someone who says, “there already is a theme that will cover your needs.” If they answer “they are building their own content management system”, you better be concerned. This is a “Techie” web designer who needs to get his head out of the code and stop coding for his own enjoyment because there are plenty of CMS’s out there that work great.
Do you create your own designs before development or do you use a pre-existing template?
If the person answers, “they prototype their own designs”, you have a “creative” web designer on your hands who values aesthetics. If they say they only use templates, they are either a “Techie” web designer or an “I’m running a business” web designer. If you want a unique design, look for someone who prototypes their own designs in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
If using WordPress, do you make and implement your own plugins?
If the person says, “Yes”, they are a “Techie” web designer who sees opportunity to make functionality that is customized for your site. If they say, “No”, that is not necessarily bad, it just tells you that they will most liking not be trying to reinvent the wheel. But, it does say they might be skittish with coding.
If using WordPress, what is the AVERAGE amount of plugins you download for your sites (not counting plugins you may make yourself)?
If they say over 20, this is a web designer who does not liking doing their own work. They throw a plugin at any problem in place of coding something simpler and more customized for your needs. They are either an “I’m running a business” web designer who wants to do as little work as possible and relies heavily on other people’s work, or they a “creative” web designer who may not know how to code. Obviously, if this is a large site with many features, you may need a lot of plugins, but I’ve seen brochure sites with over 30 plugins, and that is simply not necessary.
If you went to college, what did you major in?
Your interpretation of the answer should be handled intuitively. If they say, “art”, clearly they are a “creative” web designer, and if they say, “computer science”, that is another no brainer. But, if they say, “biology”, that could mean anything. Maybe they could not make a living at biology and became an “I’m running a business” web designer to make easier money, or maybe they had a life event change that had them reinvent themselves with web design. Try to use your intuition, not cold hard judgmental conclusions.
What do you do for website security?
If the person starts off with “I use this plugin…” you have an “I’m running a business” web designer. If they say, “you should always have a hard to figure out password” or “recently all WordPress sites are required to be SSL secured”, this web designer is going to know that it does not take much to protect a website. You don’t have to throw over bloated plugins at security. Maybe one security plugin at most.
How do you address Search Engine Optimization?
If the person starts off with “I use the plugin Yoast” you have an I’m running a business” web designer. Yoast is great! It is one of my must have plugins on most every site. But again, instead of throwing a plugin at something. The web designer should be mentioning keyword research, having a blog, and using Google Analytics or Moz.
How do you address website load time?
If the person starts off with “I use this plugin…” Ok, I’m repeating myself. But, you get the idea. You should be hearing words from a “Techie” web designer who uses CDN‘s, optimizes their images for web, and writes clean code.
Reading Between The Lines
Obviously, there are many other kinds of web designers out there. And, each web designer is going to have a mix of the 3 categories mentioned above, as well as skills you can’t categorize. Ideally, you want to find someone or a team with a mix of these skills mentioned above. As the lead of Schildbach Design, I believe we have that mix. I may come from an art and design background, but I have learned several coding languages, and know the business end of making your site represent your business, and I know how a website sells your service or product. If you have made it to the end of this article and read between the lines, I do caution clients to be weary of the web designer who has only one of the 3 above approaches. Of the 3 kinds of web designers, I may be weary of the “I’m running a business” web designer the most, but when combined with a design sensibility and coding knowledge, they do have a set of skills that get the job done affordably for the quick turnaround site. Ideally, I would like to see more creative and idiosyncratic presentations on the web. People are so obsessed with usability and selling their products, that every website starts looking the same. But, I also understand that the client’s project dictate the kind of web design that is needed, a web designer’s job is usability, and a web designer needs to develop a site that best represents and promotes the client’s business.