Goldilocks had it easy with just three bowls of porridge—one too hot, one too cold and one just right. If it could just be that easy to find a good web designer! You may know from the school of hard knocks that finding the right company to design or redesign your website can be fraught with difficulties.
Small business owners are particularly susceptible to hiring someone without having any idea about what they actually need or how to evaluate whether the person/company can do the job.
In most cases, whether someone identifies themselves as a web designer or as a web developer, makes little difference since most site builds today will not require much, if any, coding. What’s more important is to choose someone who knows what it takes to design and build a website that works to bring leads and customers to your business and, who can create a site that is technically sound.
What you’re up against
Building a website like building a new house involves many design and technical decisions across multiple areas. They need good people skills, systems to manage their clients and their subs, skills with foundations, framing, installing plumbing, HVAC and other systems, roofing.
Web designers and developers also need to have a broad foundation across competency areas. They need to have communication skills and good business habits, understand online strategy, branding, design, usability, technology, marketing techniques and search engine optimization (SE0), just to name a few things.
Not everyone that bills themselves as a builder is competent to build a house and it’s the same with websites.
The nitty-gritty: 10 attributes of a great web designer
What are the characteristics of a person/company who can deliver your most effective new or updated website? What qualities must he, she or they have? Here is my list in no particular order—all are equally important.
- Communication Skills: Developing a website depends on good communication. It doesn’t matter how good a person’s design and development skills are, if they can’t communicate with you easily, you will not have a good experience. Asking you about your business and its goals, developing a proposal that clearly outlines the process and deliverables, communicating frequently throughout the project and managing the project all rely on being able to communicate well.
- Collaborative Spirit: Great designers understand the importance of working creatively with their clients and their teams. This partnership is the only way to develop a site that is better than any one person could create alone. A collaborative web designer will take the time to understand your company and see what sets you apart from the competition. They’ll help you to help them design an attractive and effective.
- Unwavering Focus: A good designer never forgets the goal of designing the site to attract and convert the company’s target client into a customer. This involves taking into account the target users’ fears, desires, behaviors and preferences, and making sure that these drive the design. It’s never about their own fears and desires or the client’s design aesthetic. The designer’s portfolio and their references can help you assess that their site designs fit the clients’ needs. Make sure the designs avoid the cookie cutter, one size fits all look that so many web designers resort to.
- Research Chops: A web professional with business experience and an understanding of different industries is better at creating effective websites. Good designers will research your industry, business strategy and competition and use that information to design a site that works for you.
- Copywriting: Your website should speak to the target audience letting them know you have what they want and need in just the way they want it. A competent web professional will understand the process of marrying the words with the images and the need for great copy. They will either produce it themselves, edit what the clients provides or hire a good copywriter work with the client. The words, the voice and tone of the site must be right for the particular type of business and be compelling enough to make sure the business stands out from their competitors
- Design Skills: As with copywriting, your web developer must either have good design skills themselves or employ the services of a designer in order to produce a professional and polished website that fits the ideal visitor’s expectations.
- Proactive Mindset: Good designers work to stay ahead of their clients, getting their tasks done on time before the client has to wonder what happened to them. They are quick to report problems and find solutions. All this builds trust and good working relationships.
- Data Skills: Along with good instincts and experience, a good designer will be up on the latest usability research. He or she should be able to know whether a feature is right for a particular type of site or will detract from the user experience. When they get this right more visitors will stay on your site and want to use your company’s products and services.
- WordPress Technical Expertise: More than 28% of the world’s websites (and 45% of all ecommerce sites) are being created on the WordPress platform and here’s why. WordPress costs nothing with open-source licensing, manages fresh content, offers easy updating for end users, gets good search engine performance and offers a huge and friendly user and developer community just for starters. Not every designer, however, knows how to create a WordPress website that is technically sound, has good performance, fast load times, and is easy to update. Avoid designers who only have put together simple WordPress sites, as well as programmers who have not had experience using WordPress and didn’t read the directions. These folks can create a site for your company that may cause you major problems.
Now that you know what to look for, here are some tips on where to get some good recommendations.
- Attend your city’s local WordPress Meetups, where WordPress designer/developers with expertise gather. Meetups are free, volunteer-led meetings covering various WordPress topics. They may be on a beginner topic, but the meeting will be run by people with quite a bit of expertise and good standing in the community. To find out what meetings are coming up, look for your city’s WordPress Meetups on Meetup.com. You will meet people there who you will like for your project or who can direct you to the someone with the expertise you need.
- WordCamps are another great resource for finding experienced website professionals. These low-cost, volunteer-run conferences, held in major cities around the world, provide WordPress information for beginners, users, designers and developers. You can attend classes, meet the presenters, and go to the Happiness Room to meet experts who might be candidates for doing the work themselves or can make good recommendations.
Even with recommendations from reputable sources, you’ll need to spend the time to assess each prospective web designer/developer on the ten points above. Be sure to check their portfolios and talk to their clients. Pay particular attention to whether the designer/developer’s own site is updated and representative of the quality of work you expect.
Have you had experience in choosing a WordPress designer/developer for your website projects? How has that been for you?