Choosing a Web Designer – 5 Questions to Ask First

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Andy Crestodina

Full disclosure: I sell websites. Every day, I meet with companies who are looking for web designers, and naturally, I’d like some of them to choose us.

But I’ve also noticed something during these conversations: often, people don’t ask the most important questions.

A meeting with a web-design company is an interview. You want to make sure their business is legitimate, and you want to get a sense for the personality and culture of the company.

Most of all, you need to understand their approach to the unique challenges you’re tackling with your project

In 5 minutes, these 5 questions will tell you more than any hour-long presentation could:

Question 1: What is your approach to usability?
More than any other question, this will help you quickly differentiate between experienced web designers and novices.

Asking about usability will help you understand the company’s focus – namely, whether or not they have the most important thing in mind: the visitor.

A company without a good answer to this may build a site that they like, or one that you like, but that visitors find confusing or difficult to use. You want a web-design firm that thinks at the highest level: user-centered design.

The best people working in web design today will light up when you mention usability. They will be grateful for the question, and they’ll be glad to share their opinions, experience, and the latest research.

Best Answer:
“I’m thrilled you asked! We believe in user-centered design, and we conduct usability testing whenever possible. We’re visitor advocates and will defend their interests with concrete evidence and research.”

Question 2: Can you show me examples of projects with similar goals?
Ask for examples of sites with similar goals and features.

Need an event registration tool? Talk to people who can show you one. That way, you can ask why it was built in a certain way, what the challenges were, what results have been measured, and how those results met the project’s goals.

Suppose they haven’t built a similar site before. Are they up-front about it? Do they have any ideas? What challenges would they expect?

Is design your main concern? Rather than searching for a firm with a portfolio piece that seems to fit with your needs, look for a company that can show you a wide range of designs. This indicates a healthy creative philosophy: a company that listens to its clients, considers the brand, and doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the design process.

Best Answer:
“Of course. Let’s take a look at a few now…”

Follow-Up Question:
Is there a limit to the number of design revisions?

Question 3: Can I meet the team?
This question will instantly reveal if the team is in-house or outsourced.

A lot of companies farm out the various parts of a project. Perhaps the firm you’re considering is a reliable partner company. Or maybe it’s an ad hoc team of freelancers who have never worked together before – and who may not be there down the road.

Or is it a team at all? The “company” you’re speaking with could in fact be one person offering to sell the project, do the analysis, design the site, program it, and manage the server. Is this person likely to be an expert in all those things?

For any site with serious goals, you should look for a team of specialists. If the team is in fact just 1 or 2 people, ask about their capacity to handle your project. Are they going to be busy selling new clients while working on your site? How important is your project to them?

Best Answer:
“The entire team is in-house and works together on similar projects all the time.”

2nd-Best Answer:
“There is a partner company involved, but everyone has worked together on similar projects.”

Follow-Up Question:
Have team members worked together before? How many times have they done this?

Question 4: What if I want to make changes later?
One of the most fundamental differences among web-development firms is their approach to ongoing changes.

Every website will change over time. Some companies charge hourly for these changes, while others set up a content-management tool that makes it easy, fast, and free to update text, upload images, and add pages.

Best Answer:
“We’re going to set up a tool that lets you (or anyone with access) manage the site. You’ll never wait or get an invoice for basic changes.”

Follow-Up Question:
What kind of changes will cost money?

Even if your site includes a content-management tool, certain types of changes will require a professional programmer or designer. Ask if your content-management tool will allow you to add new forms, change animations, or create new types of page layouts.

Question 5: How will we measure results?
It’s not a bad thing if the answer to this question sounds a little technical.

Listen for terms like bounce rate, unique visits, page views, time on site, inbound links, search-engine rankings, conversion rate, etc. If you start hearing jargon you’re not familiar with, ask for explanations in simple English.

Best Answer:
“We measure unique visitors, bounce rate, and conversion percentage. Our goal is to generate leads, so these are the most important metrics. We use an analytics tool to do this, and we will show you how to track these measures as well.”

Follow-Up Question:
What numbers should we expect?

Of course, there are so many variables that it would be hard for even an experienced expert to get too specific in answering this question. But if a company has done similar projects, they should have at least a general sense for benchmarks.

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Comments (16)
  • i want which programming language are use on this website pleasw tell me

  • Nice resource. I’ll have to check out a couple of these topics…Thanks for sharing

  • Your blog is very informative! Thanks for sharing ti with us. When working with a web design and development company or freelancer, we want to be sure that they will be accountable and easy to work with.

  • At this time, I feel that deciding who to choose and use for web development , SEO and / or PPC, is like buying a dead black cat in a sack at night.

    • It’s not like that. The field is much more competitive than before, and with some issues surrounding SEO (that it’s harder to rank nowadays), it’s harder to find good agencies. But the good side is you have a lot of sources that you can use to learn how to find a good one and similar. And it’s just harder to screen them, as there’s a lot to choose from.

  • As a web designer, it is a helpful article to me. Because I got the information what client can check before hiring us. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great article Andy,

    It really make sense, everyone should read this and use it when they are looking for the best web design company,

  • And forget to mention that this is huge as well! If a business is not found on BBB it’s important to check online rating independent of what the web developer provides for references…

    “Check the Better Business Bureau to make sure they have a high rating and good service.”

  • The reason why web design costs vary so much is that most web designers have no clue how to do marketing or measure marketing goals. Great that you mentioned converting more of the traffic should be an important goal.

  • Thanks for sharing questions answers. these are very informative for me..

  • Nice read. Loved the question if they’ve done something similar in the past. Most design firms work with a lot of different industries, as they should, but seeing how they respond to this answer is great.

    For the content management tool, it’s good to ask this, but this really depends on the technology used. Using Ruby on Rails for example and asking for a tool costs much more than using WordPress.

    The revisions – we only do 1 per milestone. Any revision afterwards means either we’re a bad firm or the brief wasn’t good. This does mean you have to have milestones making sure they’re happy with the progress – from layout to wireframes to moqups. So you’re on the same page all through the website. (note – if there are tiny revisions, that’s something else)

    I have to notions to add – before you start any design, make sure you have the brief ready. Most design firms will do this part as they should, but the better the brief – the better the design, so it’s good to cover all the parts here.

    And one thing I think all clients should ask – do you have any questions for me. The best design firms cover know the importance of getting all the right info.

  • Is there a limit to design revisions? Can I add forms and change animations? Sorry but I feel like no experienced web developer in their right mind would allow unlimited design revisions and allow the user to add forms in WordPress themselves. There’s a reason that I’m the web developer, and they are the massage therapist.

  • Nice article. It make sense.. I agreed with you. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing such helpful information.
    Me also looking to hire a web designing firm for my website.

  • Nice article. you have one of the good sites and information around.

  • Nice article, sometimes convincing a company that your website design is for their customers and not for impressing them (or the board of directors) can be tricky.

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