Web designers are more like mechanics than doctors although it should be the other way round. Let me explain this statement and how it will help you when choosing a web designer.
Everyone knows somebody who has been ripped off by a mechanic, you know, that slick talking mechanic who really sounded knowledgeable when he told your wife she needed blinker fluid. That’s not to say all mechanics are bad, but there are enough dishonest ones around to make you cautious about where you bring your car. Doctors on the other hand, are mostly reliable. You may hear the story of the person who went in for a tonsillectomy and ended up with a vasectomy instead, and about malpractice lawsuits, but usually these are stories you read about in the newspaper or see on television, they don’t generally happen to people you know because they just don’t happen that often.
The difference is that doctors are licensed, not just anyone can go out and start practicing medicine, mechanics are not, they may be certified but there is generally no government agency or other authority regulating mechanics, anyone could open a shop if they wanted to.
Web designers are like mechanics in this way, anyone can buy “Web Design for Dummies” and Adobe Dreamweaver and start churning out websites, but that doesn’t make them knowledgeable or good at what they do. Web designers are not in demand as much as doctors or mechanics therefore you don’t hear as many stories circulating about the bad web designer, but believe me, they are out there in abundance. You might not have heard about them, but you have no doubt seen their work, and there are many unhappy customers around too. Because some people have been taken advantage of by disreputable web designers or know someone who has, they think the web is not an effective place to promote their business or that the internet has little to offer a business like theirs. The truth is that there are very few businesses that can not profit from the web, if done correctly. Therefore, in an attempt to keep my occupation from sliding into the morass of shady auto mechanics and used car dealers, I offer the following 6 considerations when choosing a web designer.
- Design ability: This goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people choose a web designer without really looking at much of their previous work. You don’t have to be a design expert yourself to judge this, use your intuition and gut feeling about the design. When looking at previous work by this designer what is your impression of the design, is the information easy to read, does it have a professional feel to it, do the colors work well together?
- Programming skills: Most designers are not programmers and most programmers are not designers, but any web design firm worth its salt will have programmers they work with and if you are looking at a freelance designer, he should either be able to do programming or work with someone who does. Not all websites need programming, a static, brochure type site does not need any, but are you positive that’s what your business needs. The point to keep in mind when choosing a web designer is, a web designer who can get programming done is going to be able to give you an honest evaluation of your needs, while one who can’t is going to steer you away from anything requiring programming skills.
- Satisfied customers: A good indicator for obvious reasons. If you’re in the same city as the web designer in question, ask around, has anyone you know heard any good or bad stories about this designer? Look up some of the websites they have produced, can you email or call to ask about whether they were satisfied with their website? Remember that a satisfied customer does not necessarily indicate a good web designer as the following story illustrates. I was once approached by a man who was interested in getting me to make some minor changes to his website. The site was a circus of colors and movement, it had an annoying music loop that played and took forever to load, it was really terrible. The thing was, the man was very satisfied with his website. Now the case could be made that this was a successful website and the web designer had done his job as long as the customer was satisfied, but I would disagree. The web design must meet not only the needs of the business owner, but also the needs of his customers, if they are not happy with it they may not return, and in time the lack of response from his website may cause him to conclude that the web is not profitable for his business and in turn to shut it down. It was initially successful, that is the business owner was happy, but the long term goals of any website has to be satisfying the customers of the business owner, only in that way will a website be profitable and successful.
- Reasonable load times: One of the primary objectives of any web design project needs to be keeping file sizes as small as possible. Of course there are media rich sites that have very long load times, but is the load time reasonable given the amount of pictures, animations, music or whatever? There is a great deal to learn about image optimization for the web and an inexperienced web designer is likely to not know all of the tricks, so unreasonably long load times may be a good indication that a designer is not very knowledgeable.
- Crisp graphics: This is the other side of the previous point, image optimization for the web is a tricky subject and ones ability as a web designer shows in the quality of their graphics. When choosing a web designer, remember this tip; an image that is not optimized enough may have an excessive file size and long load time, on the other hand, if it is overly optimized, it will load quickly but the images will be blurry or unclear. A good web designer will be able to create crisp graphics of relatively small file size.
- Intuitive navigation: Who hasn’t been lost or confused in a badly designed website? Confusing, inadequate or nonexistent navigation is the hallmark of poor web design. Good design will feature intuitive navigation, think of this like getting into a vehicle you’re not familiar with, you don’t have to think about where the gas peddle is, you just put your foot down where it’s supposed to be and it’s there.
When you take your car to the shop you no doubt make sure the garage is reputable, no less care should be exercised when choosing a web designer. Even if you are satisfied with your website, if it does not do what it was meant to do, that is bring in business and leave satisfied, happy customers, then it’s not a successful website.