What To Look For In A Web Design Company
Are you having trouble distinguishing between different web design companies?
There is a huge amount of skill involved in creating websites that grab the user’s attention, lodge in their minds and give them an experience that is rewarding; immersive and profitable for everyone involved.
If you don’t have the time, resources or knowledge base in-house to take on the task yourself, you are going to have to enlist the services of a specialist web design company.
However, if you type ‘web design company’ into Google, the search engine will churn out around 1,220,000,000 search results. Clearly you are going to need some way to judge which company you want to entrust your site, your brand and your money to.
The following checklist contains all the questions you will need to determine whether a web design company is going to be a committed partner or a dangerous liability.
The Value of Good Web Design
There are hundreds of thousands of commercial websites competing for the attention of consumers every day on the internet. Not only do people need to be able to find your site in a crowded and noisy marketplace, but they also need to interact with your site in a way that directly translates to increased conversions.
Investing in good web design could turn out to be the shrewdest and most profitable business decision you will ever make. If done right, it is an investment that will keep on giving and provide you with a healthy base from which to continue to evolve your brand and push things forward.
A well designed website can provide you with value in a number of distinct ways:
- A good design makes your brand identity more consistent with regards to the visual language employed
- A good design will make more visitors stick around instead of bouncing straight away
- A coherent site structure will mean that this increased number of visitors will equate to more conversions
- A distinctive design will set you apart from the rest of the competition
- A well designed site will be open enough to allow you to continue to make changes further down the line without having to go back to the drawing board
- Having your website and brand studied by a web design team with a different set of skills and commercial knowledge can produce a lot of novel insights and exciting possibilities as to the directions your site and brand can be taken
Another benefit that will come from using the questions on this checklist to find a web company that is serious about what they do and what they can do for you is that you will have found yourself a reliable partner to move forward.
No business is an island, and the stronger your mutually enforcing networks and partnerships are, the stronger your position is going to be.
This checklist is not intended to have simple correct or incorrect answers to them. Just as your company has a distinct personality in terms of where you want your brand to go and how you want to get there, so each web design company you encounter is going to be made up of different people with their own views on what is possible.
Rather than that, these questions are there to help assess the basic competence of a web design company, as well as the way they tend to approach projects. Most of these questions should elicit answers that steer clear of techno-babble and design jargons so don’t worry if you feel like your knowledge is lacking.
Once you have downloaded this checklist, you will have the power to separate the design wheat from the chaff.
The first thing you are going to need to do is get an idea of what this company is capable of.
Can we see your portfolio?
Any web design company worth its salt should be able to show you a selection of their previous work. Make sure to ask a lot of questions about why these sites were designed the way they were, what considerations went into the major design decisions and how the idea corresponded to the needs of the client.
Do you have any other sites you can show us?
This question is designed to test your prospective partners by making them do a bit of on the spot thinking. Every agency that is worth your consideration will have a portfolio filled with their greatest successes and proudest moments, but asking them for further demonstrations of what they can do outside of that portfolio should produce an interesting response.
A failure to respond to this question is by no means an automatic red flag. It is simply one more aspect of this company for you to consider when deciding whether or not they are the right partners for you.
Once you have established that the company has something to offer you and that the results are going to look professional, you need to turn to the business of branding.
Brand consistency is a foundational aspect of successful web design, and any potential web design company that you are going to get involved with needs to understand your brand, who your core demographics are and how they relate to your brand.
What kind of sites would you say our users generally frequent?
This is an exercise to see how much preparation the company has done before they come in for a meeting. They should have some idea about who your users are and the other kind of websites they are likely to be visiting.
There is no point in embarking on a web designing project without your audience in mind, so make sure that the prospective company has a clear idea of who the finished design is going to be aimed at.
Can you show us any sites in our sector which you particularly admire?
If the company knows who they are trying to appeal to, they should also have some other sites related to your company and sector that have features that they like. Web design is very rarely about re-inventing the wheel and blowing people’s minds with novel ways of presentation that they have never seen before. The main thing the prospective company should be concerned about is making sure the design is consistent with your brand and that it is easy as possible for people to interact with the site and get what they want from it.
Who is responsible for the website copy?
What good is a well-designed website going to be if it doesn’t contain any copy to provide information and guide users towards converting?
You may not have the capability to provide the on-page copy for your new site. If this is the case, does the web design company have the capability to do it? A good company will be able to provide you with onsite that is interesting, informative and persuasive. The best kind of copy creates an emotional connection between your brand and your customers and demonstrates the value of what you do to the world.
If your potential web design partners can provide you with top-quality website copy that crackles and fizzes rather than limps around in circles, the savings to you in terms of turnaround and effort could be immense. Going to a third party who is not involved in the design of the site or trusting your in-house team (who may or may not have commercial copywriting experience) is only going to add more cooks to the kitchen.
Do you have a Keyword Research process in place?
If the web design company are capable of handling the on-page copy, your next question should concern how they are going to go about choosing which words and phrases to use. Your website needs to be optimised for search engines so that people can stumble across your site while doing web research.
Does the prospective company have an idea of what terms that are related to you and your business people are typing into Google and what kind of concerns they tend to have? If they don’t; they really should do.
The next set of questions should begin to drill down into what the company is capable of when it comes to creating a website that is right on the cutting edge of modern design and usability. In the modern world there are a few terms and concepts that every web designer should know and have an opinion about.
If the following questions produce nothing more than a look of bemusement, alarm bells should start ringing in your head.
How would [Desired Site Feature X] work in terms of responsive design?
We live in a multi-device world and the habit of using multiple different gadgets to access the web is only going to intensify over time. Your website needs to be able to accommodate those people who access it from their personal computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, refrigerators and televisions. Responsive web design allows one site design to change shape in real time depending on what kind of screen is being used.
Any new site is going to need to have the same functionality and usability across multiple devices, and any web company that hopes to survive into the future should always take responsive design into consideration.
What do you think the next big trend will be in web design?
This question is really designed with no particular answer in mind. Web design is a discipline that moves quickly and is constantly evolving to utilise new technologies and ways of doing things. What you are really looking for here is an intelligent answer that is based in a certain degree of knowledge of, and familiarity with, the big trends and developments in the web design field.
If their eyes light up at this question and they begin excitedly expounding on the future possibilities of web design, you can be pretty confident that you are in the presence of someone who takes pride in what they do and loves the sector that they work in.
What do you think of the flat/skeuomorphic design debate?
The debate between whether web design should be focused around the idea that web design should either be focused around minimal designs with clean lines and bright colours (like this) or should take the material world as its main cue (like this), has been rumbling around for some time now.
Whether or not this debate is productive, relevant or even interesting for you and your company is beside the point. It is not about what opinion the prospective company give, it is about the reasoning they give and the understanding that they show.
So, you are pretty sure that the web design company you are interviewing are reasonably competent at what they do, they have a good handle on your brand and your audience and that they have a good level of knowledge about the current configurations of the industry. The next step involves wading into the technicalities of whether or not they are capable of providing you with the service that you are after.
What does your typical full stack look like?
A developers ‘stack’ refers to the technological setup that the company will be utilising to design your new site.
This broad definition could refer to the hardware they are using, their front and back end development tools and software as well as any content management systems or applications.
The essential point here is that you need to be confident that this company has the technological capacity to do the job properly.
Do you ever use different technologies, and why/why not?
Web design companies should never paint themselves into a corner and get themselves stuck in a certain way of doing things, because the technological advances of their medium are constantly advancing and evolving. You should ask whether or not they ever utilise different technologies to successfully complete a project because it will show you a number of important aspects of the way they operate.
Do they have the resources at their disposal to incorporate other technologies into their work? Is their knowledge of the tools available to them limited by a lack of awareness of advancements in the field? Is the design open when it comes to suggestions of alternate ways of doing things or is it a one-size-fits-all type deal?
What’s the process to go through if we need support on the site?
Web design is rarely a process that is completed to everyone’s satisfaction on the first attempt. There will most likely be bugs that need to be ironed out, copy that needs to be tweaked and site navigation that can always be simplified. As such, any web design company that is going to be involved in this process needs to keep its line of communication open even after the design has been completed.
How much ability will we have to alter code ourselves?
This is linked to the question above. If there is a problem that can be resolved easily by simply tinkering with a bit of coding, how easy is it going to be for you to just dive right in there and start rooting around? Are you going to find yourself staring at a mess of poorly organised coding or is a custom content management system going to prevent you from altering images, layouts and themes?
An important part of a successful web design is allowing for future changes and adaptations. The last thing you want is to be burdened with a clunky and old fashioned looking albatross in a few years’ time with no way of changing the situation without spending more money.
Your final set of questions are going to concern how the company will deal with a few common problems that web design projects tend to encounter along the way. Although the pricing structure that the company operates should be outlined in their contract of employment should you agree to take them on, but you should ask them about them about how they tend to handle practical problems, unforeseen setbacks and unpredicted delays so that you can factor it into your decision.
A few questions asked now could save you a lot of frustration and annoyance further on down the line.
How long will it take for the site to go live?
If you rely on your website for the majority of your revenue, this is likely to be a question that is very important to you. If you are going to have take your existing site down for a period of time, this could directly translate into a serious hit on your revenue.
Will there be a cost associated with updates?
You are going to need to factor in the costs of any future updates to the design that will be made into your budgeting for this project. The company is going to be unlikely to give you an exact answer here as the updates that will be needed, if any, are not known at this point, but they should be able to give an approximate outline of a pricing structure.
What scale of update will be associated with extra costs?
Do any updates count towards an increased cost for the project or do certain kinds of cosmetic changes and minimal edits comes as part of the original price package?
Who owns the website on completion?
The issue of who owns copyright to the completed design is an important one when it comes to web design. In most cases copyright and legal ownership of the design is automatically passed to the person who originated the idea and was principally responsible for creating it. In most scenarios this is likely to be the designer, but the majority of web design companies will be willing to sign over those legal rights to you as part of the contract of employment.
Once all of these questions have been answered, you should have a pretty good idea as to the ability, technical capacity, inventiveness and willingness of the web design company that you are in conversation with. If you are impressed with the answers given then you it might be time to take things to the next level and commission them to begin working on making you a distinctive and functional new site. If, on the other hand, their answers were lacking, now would be the time to shake their hand, smile politely and show them to the door.
Knowing that you have a talented and committed partner on your side is a great starting point for embarking on the next step of your company’s journey. Hopefully this checklist will have given you all of the knowledge you need to choose that partner wisely.