How to tell a great web designer

How to tell a great web designer from an average one – or separating jam and marmite.

More and more web design companies are being set up in the present climate, creating a larger and larger pool of design styles and technical knowlege for clients to choose from. Coupled with that is a wealth of web tools that can be used by either designer or client – but which should you go for?

So how do you find a great web designer?
How do you know if the company you are looking at is any good?
How do you tell garbage from gold?
And how can you tell if jam is mixed up with marmite?

Sooz Blog describes how a good web designer will have more than one way of building a website. The following list is intended to educate customers with some key points to think about when looking for a web designer.

1. Technology and Art
Web design is a meeting of technology with beautiful graphic design, these skills are not learned over-night, check out how long the company has been in business. Check out what sites they have done for others, only one or two? We’ve all had to start somewhere, but make sure you are confident with their abilities. Look for design flair coupled with technical skills.

2. Responsive Web Design
Looking at someone who has been around for a long time and done plenty of sites? But are they moving with the times? You should expect to have a site created for use on desktop, mobile and tablet, this is called Responsive web design. Make sure the designer you are interested in is still enthusiastic about their subject and are always learning new techniques.

3. WordPress and CMS
You have probably heard of WordPress by now, you may think that this is ‘the way’ that websites are made – in reality WordPress is just one of many web building tools and can lead an unsuspecting client to think that it is as quick and easy as those 1and1 adverts.
WordPress is a web building package that has its pros and cons, anyone can download a free theme, fill in the blanks and say they have designed a website. How you can tell the men/women from the boys/girls is whether your designer can change a theme, move elements around and create new graphics that fit with the theme, or are made for you, fit your brand and work together as a complete entity. I often see beautiful WordPress themes ruined by poorly produced additional graphics, which takes me to my next point.

4. Mixing Jam and Marmite
Sounds horrible doesn’t it?! For the uninitiated, using graphics created by others and adding more images and graphics from all kinds of different sources can end up as a mish-mash of styles. Colours should be kept consistent, sizes of graphics balanced and refined, images treated in the same way, social signals added to the site. A good designer will keep animations to a minimum and create graphics and styles which are consistent. You may be looking at a site that looks good at first glance, now look again… are the fonts kept consistent, colours minimal, images not distorted? Does the background compliment the site? Or is there a small photograph struggling to fill the space, and tiled horizontally and vertically to dazzling degree?
Example: Web Pages That Suck – the worst of 2012 >>

5. Your site, your brand, your personality
Take pride in your brand, those graphics that the designer is putting on your site – what meaning do they have? For instance, if you sell curtains and fabrics, then graphics created for the site should reflect fabric textures and patterns, maybe curtain making accessories. So putting glossy nail varnish themes on the site would have no meaning at all; and vice versa. The design should fit your brand and a good designer will ask you questions about your business, how you feel about it and how you want your business’s to grow. A good designer will also advise you of what will work and what will not, and will explore a range of design solutions to meet your brief as closely as possible – this will all take time – you can’t rush good design.

6. Managing the updates
These days people want to be able to update websites themselves. You, the customer may not want to do this of course and your designer can continue to update your site for you. But if you want to update your own site, then WordPress has a this facility built in. You will need to be careful with what you do, so as not to undo the hard work that you and the designer have put into the site’s creation, unfortunately WordPress can take large images that it shrinks to fit given areas, however by doing this your site will get slower and slower to load – so resizing images is highly important. There are other Content Managment Systems for updating websites, so if you already have had a site for a few years and now need to do your own updates, this facility can be added retrospectively very easily, a good web designer will be able to do this. If they only know one way of working, then think again.

7. Don’t Make Me Think
Usability is key, the sites a web designer has already done should be easy to navigate. The layout should be clear and follow a grid, columns lined up to give the site a structured, well planned look. Is the site jumbled? Look again – look for vertical columns and horizontal cleanliness. Beware of putting too much ‘up the top’ of the homepage, on the other hand, try to avoid gaping holes too, a good web designer should be able to balance the site’s information and attract the user to click and engage.

8. SEO
The site should be optimised for Search Engines, this needs to be revisited every few months to keep the site up to date with current search trends. Let your designer know about the technical terms used in your field of business so that the site can climb the rankings. Listen to the designer’s advice when writing copy – a good designer will be able to advise you on keywords and how they work and where to use them. Domain names help with SEO too, a good company name that describes your business clearly will act as a search term, for instance Bill Smith has a tyre reclaim business in the east of England so: will fare better than, simples!

9. Hosting and Domains
An experienced designer will have either their own server, or have cultivated a relationship with a hosting company in the UK where they own designated hosting packages for clients. A web person who uses online web building packages (such as those as advertised by 1and1 on TV), sells you a service that you could do yourself is not a designer, steer well clear. Web designers will suggest domain names to you and investigate their availability – domains which are already taken, even if just .net or .com should be avoided, if you purchase the version you need to be aware that your company could get confused with others.

Soo Smart is a committed, accomplished designer with 13 years experience in web design and 25 years in branding and print design.

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