TMCnet Feature
December 02, 2015

What to Look for When Hiring a Web Designer

Finding the right web designer can be a tricky process. If you’re looking to hire one, it’s likely that you’re not a top web designer yourself. If you were, you could just design a website yourself, obviously. In fact, the people most likely to hire web designers are business people - the ones with a penchant for numbers, logic, and sales. Creativity and practicality don’t always come together.

If you’re part of this group, you might be thinking to yourself, “How can I hire a great web designer when good design is so subjective?”

Well first, good design is not as subjective as you think it is. Most people can readily recognize good vs. bad design, even if they can’t quite pinpoint why it is good or bad. Second, there are a ton of objective skills that you can look for when hiring a web designer that can be good indicators of that person’s design skills.

So, even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, you should still be able to spot a top web designer. Just take off your business person hat for a while, and put on your sleuth hat instead. Then, all you have to do is look for the right clues, and piece those clues together so they add up to an awesome person to build your website.

But what are these clues, you ask?

1. Communication skills

This might surprise you, but solid communication skills are the first thing you should look for in a web designer. While it may not be quite as critical as it is for UX designers, if they don’t communicate well with you from the beginning, it’s not likely that they’ll communicate well when your deadline is fast approaching and you haven’t heard from them in weeks. No one wants to end up in that scenario.

When you first contact a potential designer, note how long it takes for him or her to reply to your inquiry. Also ask yourself, how is their writing, professionalism, etc.? These are all important aspects of good communication.

Many of the best web designers can be found around the world these days, so you will also want to make sure that your web designer has good English skills, if that is your preferred language of communication. Finally, try to set up a voice call with your designer, whether it’s via phone, Skype (News - Alert), or some other tool. Voice calls can tell you a lot more than even the most extensive of email exchanges.

2. An awesome portfolio

This is probably the most obvious criteria on the list, and also the scariest one if you don’t know anything about good design. How are you supposed to spot a portfolio that is “awesome” if you don’t know what makes for awesome design? Well first of all, once you start looking at different portfolios, you will probably start to get some idea of what will or won’t work for your website. If you look through every design and think, “Wow I hope my website looks like that!” then you’re probably in luck. If you cringe at the sight of every design, you should probably move on.

This is also a surefire way to weed out applicants who claim to be web designers but don’t actually possess the required skills or experience. If you ask for a portfolio and a designer doesn’t have one, an automatic red flag should pop up. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200.

3. Variety

Variety is a staple of any quality portfolio and a good way to help recognize whether a portfolio is awesome or not. If you go through a designer’s portfolio and every designed site looks exactly the same, then this designer is probably a one trick pony. Odds are, your website will turn out exactly the same as the rest of them, since the designer probably doesn’t know how to create anything else.

On the other hand, if you go through a portfolio and see one great, different idea after another, that’s a great sign that the designer really knows their craft. Maybe they’ve created a lot of different types of sites, or maybe the sites they’ve created showcase various layouts and features. Either way, variety is a good sign.

4. Technical skills

You probably know that you need to look for technical skills, but what exactly are the technical skills you need to look for? When hiring a web designer, prioritize finding someone who can work with clients and project managers to build and refine graphic designs for websites, using strong skills in Photoshop, Sketch, InVision, UXPin, or equivalent applications.

The designer should then be able to create your site layout and user interface by using standard HTML, CSS (News - Alert), PHP, and JavaScript practices. Depending on how complicated your site is, you might need knowledge of other programming languages, but it is always good to start with these four. Your designer will be able to tell you if you need work in additional areas.

5. A solid workflow

Web design is a field that is constantly changing, so workflow practices that might have worked well 10 years ago are probably not so hot anymore. One example of an outdated practice is the “three mockups” approach, in which web designers produce three different Photoshop mockups for the client to choose from. This method is kind of like shooting in the dark, however, so new practices have come into vogue more recently.

Instead, try looking for a designer who implements the iterative process that was introduced by Jesse James Garrett in The Elements of User Design. The process involves five stages, each based on the decisions made and the work done in the previous step. This kind of process will allow you to stay up to date throughout, and you can make sure the project is going according to plan.

If you can find a web designer who possesses all of the above criteria, then you’ll want to offer them an interview ASAP, which is a thought that might overwhelm you even more. Luckily, you can find tons of resources online, including interview questions for web designers.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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