How to Choose a Good Web Design Firm: Part I

Recently I met someone who was  having a website created by a local designer. They were not happy with the lack of progress – 3 months on, the website was still not completed and adding insult to injury, the site looked unprofessional (graphics not sized properly, no coherency in design, poor navigation etc). It was a disaster to put it mildly. Unfortunately for this individual, his choice of a web developer did not only cost him time and money but also the opportunity to build his business with what should have been an effective marketing tool. The sad fact is that this catastrophe could have been avoided if a few simple guidelines had been followed during the selection process.

The sad fact is that this catastrophe could have been avoided.

Choosing a web design firm is a crucial decision, as a well designed website can bring you more business and a bad one can drive business away. Doing a quick online search (or looking through the yellow pages) will reveal a whole slew of design firms to pick from in just your area alone, so how do you go about selecting the right one?

The first step is to educate yourself. I am going to let you in on a little secret that you may not know about the web design business – there are several  types of designers and each one specializes in a particular aspect of web design. Here is what you need to know:

The Website Designer - this person creates the look of the website. They define how the pages will be laid out, where the text will go, what colours will be used, how the pages will be linked together, etc. They take your vision for the website and visualize it on paper.

The Website Developer - this person is responsible for all the technical aspects of the website. This includes writing all the code to make the website come to life (ie making images move), getting and formatting the content from the content management system, and implementing the website designer’s designs.

The Graphic Designer – this person is responsible for creating the graphics needed for the website. They often work hand in hand with the Website Designer to help select the colours and fonts that should be used on the site.

If you are extremely fortunate, you can find a single individual that  is highly skilled in all of these areas but normally this isn’t the case. Someone who excels at visual design is often poor at implementing the technical components. Likewise someone who is good at implementing the technical aspects is usually poor at designing the visual aspects of the site. This is because the creative process involves using the right side of the brain while performing logical and technical tasks requires the use of the left side of the brain. So, most people are either right or left brain dominant (just like most people are either left or right handed). Hence if the majority of web designers fall into only one these two categories, then you will want to find a web design firm that has a qualified team of individuals behind it.

Finding a web design firm that utilizes a multi-disciplinary team makes it more likely that you will get the website that you want. This of course means that it will cost more to have your website developed as more individuals are working on it but it also means that it will get done faster as well. The key thing to remember is that you always get what you pay for.

In Part II of this article we will look at the key characteristics and qualifications you should look for in your designer. In Part III, I will demonstrate some tricks you can use to actually verify if the web designer you have chosen is actually any good.

If you have any horror stories or questions about the website development process, then please share them in the comments below.