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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


How To Select A Website Designer

September 8th, 2007

If you’re in the market for a website, selecting the right website designer for your particular project is crucial. Here are some things to keep in mind as you are shopping around and interviewing potential website designers:

Check out the website designer’s portfolio carefully.

A good designer should be proud to show samples of their work. (Click here to view to my portfolio). Take a close look at the websites the designer typically creates and try to notice both the appearance and functionality. Take note of the degree of diversity of the websites to discern whether the website designer is simply using a template to create websites from, or is really designing them from scratch. Also notice what kinds of features the websites have, for example, if you’re looking for a shopping cart, does the designer have examples of shopping carts, etc.

Graphic Designers/Artists vs Website Designers/Engineers, know the difference!

As you might know from my resume, my background is in engineering, computer science, quality, and human psychology. I’m not an artist or graphic designer. This means that my websites are extremely functional, easy to navigate, simple in structure, cross browser compatible, per Google’s quality guidelines, W3C compliant, focus on content and search engine optimization…. and so on and so on. But some clients are more interested in how a website looks – they want eye candy, flash, moving pictures, entertainment. And depending on their market, that may be entirely appropriate. So take a look at your target market and match it to the particular skills of who will be creating your website. Sometimes you may want more of an engineer’s view (content and functionality), sometimes more of an artist’s view (appearance and visual impact)…but be aware of the differences in the websites they create.

Read testimonials from actual clients, or contact them yourself.

Some website designers include testimonials from clients. (Read my testimonials). Read these carefully to determine if they look generic or phony. You can always contact a web designer’s client yourself and ask about their experience in working with the web designer. A good web designer has nothing to hide. I recommend you talk to a client who has had both design and maintenance experience with the website designer…because some website designers are good at doing the initial design, but are not responsive to request for changes later on.

Have a good idea of what you want your website to contain.

The more you know about what you want, the better you’ll be able to judge whether or not the particular website designer is a good match for your website project. Make an outline of the pages you want so you’ll know approximately how big your website will be. List any special features you might want included in your site. Special features range from the simple, like contact forms, to very complex, such as implementing a database and user interface. Shop around to see what features the websites of your competition have to get ideas.

Don’t pay for your entire website design upfront.

I’ve already had several people contact me because they pre-paid for their entire website design and then the designer never finished their websites. Please don’t let this happen to you! In some cases, the website designer refused to grant access to the client’s original files. If the website designer has already received payment in full, you’ve lost your leverage. So I strongly recommend finding a designer who will accept payment as the website is being developed. After all, there is no large cash outlay that a website designer has to initiate when they start a new website…it’s only time, so there’s no reason a website designer needs a large pile of your money before any work is done. (Read more about website design costs).

Be sure to ask about website maintenance.

All websites need to be updated from time to time, and it’s important to find out how your website designer plans to support these changes. Some website designers charge their clients a monthly maintenance fee. Some website designers (like me) charge a per-change fee and don’t require any monthly contract. In a sense, you’re getting into a long-term relationship with your website designer, so find out about your website designer’s maintenance policy. (Read about my maintenance policy.)

Make sure you own your domain and own your website files.

When you purchase your domain name, make sure it’s from a reputable domain registrar and that YOUR name (not your website designer) is listed as the owner. I recommend NOT purchasing the domain through a website designer and instead purchasing it from an independent domain registration company. A website is simply a collection of files that live somewhere out there in Internet-land on a website hosting server. When you pay for website design, you are paying someone to create those files. Make sure that when your website is done, you actually own these files and know how to access them in the event that you end up having a falling-out with your web designer and need to hire someone else. (I have many people contact me with this very issue!) I have my clients purchase both domain names and hosting from outside companies, so that they main full autonomy over both of these items throughout the web design process, from start to finish.

Make sure the website designer is a good listener.

Your ability to clearly communicate your website needs to your designer and have that website designer listen carefully will make the difference between getting a website you’re satisfied with versus getting a website that you LOVE. Whether on the phone, via email or in person, make sure you get the feeling your website designer is listening to your requirements carefully. You’re going to be spending many hours interacting with your website designer, so make sure you enjoy the communication – because there will be LOTS of it.

Understand the technical skill limitations of the web designer.

What languages, other than HTML/XHTML does the prospective designer understand, and can they show you examples of this work? If you might want an online store eventually – do they know how to install and customize ecommerce applications? If you might want a blog installed, do they know how to install and customize WordPress? Have they ever designed and implemented a database for a client? Some of the more common languages are PHP (server-side scripting) and MySQL (for databases). Ask what they know and ask to look at examples of their work.

Thinking of hiring a friend or relative? Think again.

It’s very, very common to have prospective clients contact me and make a confession: I need my website redesigned because the original design was done by my (friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, ex-husband, ex-wife, cousin, son, daughter…). And the problem with doing this is multi-layered – the sites are often amateurish and unprofessional. They rarely are designed with an understanding of search engine optimization. And the person has often lost interest in keeping the website maintained. Sure, having a friend design the website might seem like an inexpensive solution – but add up all the new clients you might never get because they either can’t find your site online, or once they get their, it looks cheesy. Spending a little more money up front will pay off later. Your website is representative of your business, critical to how you will be perceived online – having a horrible website is sometimes worse than no website at all.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

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