Spot Crummy Web Designers with these 4 Questions

You wake up one morning with the fabulous idea of redesigning your website. You send a quick email to your web designer, the one you’ve been using for years, to see if she can do lunch today to talk about it. You get an immediate out-of-office autoreply: “I won the state lottery and have moved to Trinidad. I don’t do web design anymore. See me on Facebook!” Indeed, her Facebook page is festooned with photo after mind-numbing photo of beautiful beach scenes.

Uh-oh. Time to shop for a new web designer.

You picked your last web designer because she was a friend of a friend, was just starting out, and had low rates. You lucked out on that one – she turned out to be really good. Now you need to find a good one by actually evaluating them. But how?

Here are some things you can ask candidates to help you make a decision. Watch out for the red flags!

“What’s your process for approaching a new project?”

The answer should indicate that the designer has a tried-and-true process, rather than just “winging it.” This process should have information-gathering steps: Who the client is, what the client’s business model is, what the client is trying to accomplish with the site, and the characteristics of the site’s visitors. In particular for redesign projects, a good designer will include an assessment of the current site in the process.

Red flags:

  • “Process? What do you mean?”
  • “You just tell me what you want, and I’ll give it to you.”

“How do you work with web developers?”

The answer to this question should indicate some level of understanding of what web developers do with—and need from—web designers’ PSD files and should include a willingness to collaborate with a web developer to create the best possible product.

Red flags:

  • “I can’t stand web developers. They only understand tech-y stuff.”
  • “I just send them my files, and I never hear from them again.”
  • “Can you show me some samples similar to what I’m looking for?”

“Can you show me some samples similar to what I’m looking for?”

Obviously, the answer to this one needs to be a resounding “Yes.” But back up a step: What are you looking for? You need to make sure you understand what you want in your design and can clearly convey it to the candidate (who should ask intelligent, insightful questions along the way). The candidate should then be able to show you some sample sites along those lines. They don’t have to be “live” sites, but they should indicate that the candidate understands what you want and can deliver it.

Red flags:

  • “I don’t have anything to show you.”
  • “Let me mock something up and get back to you.”
  • “I want to do [name of special feature or design consideration]. Can you do that?”

Again, an experienced designer should be familiar with whatever special thing you want and should be able to show you examples. Whether it’s accessibility features, designing for mobile devices, or some other specific requirement, the candidate should be able to handle it.

“I want to do [name of special feature or design consideration]. Can you do that?”

Red flags:

  • “Accessibility? As long as users have an Internet connection, the site’s accessible, right?”
  • “Mobile is just a fad.”

Notice that none of these questions are about rates. After you find a small number of candidates (three or four, tops) who pass the questions above, then you can go about getting proposals from them. With proposals in hand, you can then discuss and negotiate rates. If you discuss rates first, without vetting the candidates through the above questions, you run the risk of being the butt of the next low-bidder joke. Find the right candidates, and then negotiate the best rate—after all, you don’t want to singlehandedly finance the designer’s retirement in Trinidad. Happy hunting!