A web designer is NOT a one-stop website shop.

Choosing the Right Web Designer for Your Site

Choosing the Right Web Designer for Your Site

I recently read an article by a woman named Jennifer Davey titled, “Choosing the Right Web Designer for Your Site” (link) and I found several issues with her article that are common misconceptions by individuals and businesses who look for web work (design or otherwise).

While some of what Jennifer says is relevant, the most important distinction she is missing is that she is refers very specifically to a Web Designer.  A Web Designer has a very specific specialty and should not be the only person you work with for any web project. Including design.

Think of it this way:

  • UX Specialist = Architect
  • Content Specialist = Construction Crew Foreman
  • Web Developer / Programmer / Database Developer = Construction Crew
  • Web Designer = Interior Decorator
  • Graphic Designer = Person who designs and creates everything the Interior Decorator chooses.
  • SEO Specialist = Electrician (who works closely with: Architect + Foreman + Construction Crew + Home Owner)
  • User Experience Specialist = Everyone but the owner of the site – after all, chances are you won’t be using it (even if you do update it regularly you won’t be navigating it regularly).

Once you understand the relationships, it’s much easier to see how Jennifer’s article is lacking and how it can easily steer people in the wrong direction. After all, you wouldn’t hire an Interior Decorator to design a house, choose the materials, build it, design and build all of the furniture and textiles, and market the house – or would you?

Point 1

Jennifer: Take a look at the web designer’s portfolio. Every designer has their own style and you will see if that style fits your needs. If you LOVE the company’s website and their portfolio then this may be your designer. If you don’t love the look and feel of the designs, then move on.

Danielle: Unlike artists, most items in a designer’s portfolio do not reflect their design aesthetics but rather the client’s. A great designer will do what the client wants and needs – not what the designer personally prefers.

That said, it is important to look through a portfolio and see what the designer is good at. If they have a clean text based style and you prefer something more dynamic and visual then they may not be as open to your style.

Point 2

Jennifer: Dig a bit deeper than the looks. A web designer understand your website goals if they are going to create a site that works for your business. So find out about their process.

Do they have a client assessment of some sort to help define the style?

Is there some sort of discovery call where you discuss the website goals and how they can help you achieve them? (On a side note, have you already defined your website goals – aka what you want your website to DO for your business)

Does their package include time to train you how to edit and update the site?

Is there a limit on revisions of the initial design? (3 or 4 designs are typical, revisions – changing that design till it’s just right – are usually included)

As the business owner you need to give as much input as possible to make this site a success.

As mentioned at the start of this article, a designer is one thing – a developer is another. A designer can design how it looks but a developer is required for how it should function. Most designers do not know all of the intricacies of SEO, usability, development, etc.

It’s also crucial to know that, like with a house, the design is the LAST thing you do with a website – function before looks. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.

Training for editing and updating a site falls to a developer (or the project manager) – not a designer.

Once the functionality is worked out then the designer does their work and it is NOT normal to provide 3-4 designs. Hundreds of hours can go into a single design. Changing a design until it’s “just right” is also not included. Generally a specific number of revisions are included otherwise the project would never end.

A great designer will look at how your site does and should function and will design around that. If they are indeed a great designer they will know all of the standards (like the search going in the upper right) and will design for that. They will also have researched others in your industry and your personal preferences and come up with a design that addresses most, if not all, of those factors.

Point 3

Jennifer: Make sure you will own what you paid for. At the end of the process you should own all copyrights and files. You are paying a designer for their design work. Just like you still own your car after you take it to the mechanic, you should own everything from your website after its design.

If your designer is a proper designer, with insurance and a contract, then part of the contract should be signing over copyright once the project is paid for. This is an actual physical transfer of a piece of paper that accomplishes this.

It also has to be in the contract – if it’s not, then the designer owns it all, regardless of who you think should own the items created. While you still own your car after you take it to the mechanic that analogy is not appropriate here. A more appropriate analogy would be, “Until you pay the car dealership, that custom black tinted windows, leather seated, roof rack pimped out car you special ordered isn’t yours.”

Any designer, developer, UX specialist, etc. should have a contract and that contract should have an entire section (if not several) on Intellectual Property and Copyright. If they don’t have a contract then state law prevails, and state law favors the creator – not the requester. However, it’s important to note that some states, like Missouri, also believe that if you ask for work, the person does the work, you approve the work done then you have a contract. But… that still doesn’t extend to copyright. The only way to legally transfer copyright is to do it in writing.

And, if you’re dealing with a freelancer who doesn’t have a contract, you must get them to sign a Work for Hire Agreement, this stipulates that any work they do for you that you pay for is yours – including copyright.

Point 4

Jennifer: Own your domain name. If this is a new site make sure YOU own your domain name. You can purchase that even before you contact a designer.

I agree that your name or your company’s name should be on the domain name registration and the account it is registered to should be under your name, however, you should not purchase a domain name before consulting with an agency unless it’s your company name and you know that’s what you need to use (e.g.

Most people have no idea what type of name to purchase, why .com isn’t always the best solution. why including Inc or LLC isn’t appropriate, if they should put a hyphen in, if they should get a keyword for a name, etc. And a designer won’t know either.

There’s more to a name than just picking the first thing that comes to mind.

Point 5

Jennifer: Manage your own site. You should be able to go in and update the text on your site whenever you want without having to pay the designer to do it. Make sure they are using Content Management System (CMS) or blog software, so that you can control updates.

If your site is a CMS do not expect to edit everything. Many people try to upload images directly from their camera, not realizing that those are much too big for a website. Same for videos. Many sites also require special code that cannot be covered by the CMS itself so unless you know HTML, CSS, PHP, and graphic design – plan on a long relationship with your development company. Note that I said company – a single designer cannot do everything you need – and they should be smart and fair enough to tell you as much.

Also – not every site should be a CMS and even if it is a CMS, you still need a developer to do some updates to pages with special code and to perform all of the back end updates unless the client is comfortable editing a database and doing SQL, logging onto the server and making back ups, etc. because the entire website and its database needs to be backed up before doing updates so it can be restored if anything goes wrong.

Would you trust yourself to back up your website, database, images, etc. and restore it properly if an update didn’t go well?

Keep in mind that sites that are built with WordPress will need regular updates – weekly, sometimes daily – to the code and back end.

Point 6

Jennifer: SEO – Search Engine Optimization. While not all designers specialize in SEO, make sure your designer understands your SEO goals. You want them to install whatever plugins are needed to achieve those goals.

Just as Interior Decorating has nothing to do with laying the wire for the electrical work, design has little to do with SEO. Graphics do not facilitate SEO. But, a designer should work with the developer and the rest of the team to determine the best layout and formatting for items that do impact SEO (like header styles).

Also – no plugin will do the SEO you need to do to keep your website relevant, which includes knowing how to use headers, paragraph text, bold, colors, quotes, tables, key words, key phrases, page names, etc.

A designer will not know this nor should they be expected to – that’s the equivalent of expecting your interior decorator to know how to install and set up all of the electric in your house.

Point 7

Jennifer: Get references. Do not hire a web designer without talking to their past clients. It’s not just about how beautiful your website looks. You want to know things like
Was the site delivered on time?
Were there any problems with the site?
If there were problems, were they quickly and satisfactorily resolved?
Was the designer unable to do anything requested of them?

While it’s nice to talk to previous clients, most designers and developers will have a confidential portfolio of clients where they are not legally allowed to give out the names of their clients.

Ask the designer / developer if they have clients who are willing to be contacted and if so, if you can provide their information. Ask if they have testimonials, if they have a guarantee, if they are BBB accredited, etc.

If anyone you deal with for a website does not have an extensive contract covering all legal issues and copyright issues – do not use them. You will have no recourse to get your project completed but they will be able to sue you for payment – even if you don’t have a contract.

While we all wish things went perfectly with each person we work with, that is often not the case. A contract is there to protect both of you.

Point 8

Jennifer: Connect with your designer. You must have a connection (synergy) with your website designer. They are going to take your thoughts and ideas and turn them in to something concrete (graphics and layouts). If you interview a designer and you don’t “click” they won’t be able to translate your thoughts in to something you love.

If you work with one designer and don’t jibe with them, find out if they can recommend you to someone else. Most firms have several people on staff who do this work – not just one.

If you’re not happy with the relationship, chances are the designer isn’t either. But all of this should be discovered at your first consultation with the people you work with. Meet them in person, over a video chat, or on the phone and schedule at least an hour to get to know one another. You’ll know if you’ll work well together based on that call – but make sure you have a contract.

I cannot emphasize that enough.

There’s a lot to building a website, and the look of it is the very last thing you consider when designing. Or at least it’s the last thing you should consider. While it would be great to buy a house based on how it looked, if you need five bedrooms and three bathrooms, looks are irrelevant if the house doesn’t have those five bedrooms and three bathrooms. But, once you find several houses that meet that criteria, then you can be more specific about things like if the siding is blue or white.

What are your thoughts about this article? Do you agree that a designer should not be expected to be a one-stop shop for all of your website needs and requirements?

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