How to Choose a Web Designer

Choosing a web designer

In the old dot com days, companies selected web designers by the size of their nose ring and the color of their hair. The more wild the better.

Today if you want to build a website without a lot of pain, you need a designer who truly understands web development with a Content Management System (CMS). They need to know CSS cold. They must know PHP in their sleep. Templates are their life.

Why do you need a CMS expert?

A content management system will allow you to easily manage the site’s content without having a programmer on staff. Instead of calling the designer to make changes to the site, you can do it yourself. Having a CMS will also make the site extensible and allow you to add new functionality, as you need it. For example, adding a blog in most CMS systems is as easy as clicking a radio button. Adding Google Analytics tracking is as simple as adding and configuring a module in the CMS. When evaluating a web design firm you should ask the following questions:

  1. Which CMS will you use to build our site? If they don’t say one of the big three (Drupal, WordPress or Joomla) find another designer/developer.
  2. Ask to see specific examples of their work. You want live websites that you can tour.
  3. Ask for a guided tour of the administration UI in a CMS they have recently set up.
  4. Ask if they have built any custom administration interfaces for their clients to make it easier to manage content.
  5. Ask them what the most technically challenging project they have worked on with the CMS. Ask why it was challenging.
  6. Ask them if they will provide you with full control over the CMS at the hosting provider.
  7. Ask them about their programming skills. How well do they know PHP? Perl? Java? C#?
  8. Ask them about their CSS skills. All sites use CSS extensively today. Ask for an example of the most complex CSS problems they have encountered. Ask them about browser compatibility testing.
  9. Ask them about their Flash expertise. Ask their opinion about building a site in Flash. If they are comfortable building an entire site in Flash -- run away!

If you want quality, expect to pay $2,500 for a basic website design in a CMS. $5,000 for moderately complex design. $10,000 to $50,000 and up for CMS sites that have complex designs that integrate with systems like Salesforce.com, Marketo, Pardot etc.