01 August, 2012

Choosing a Web Design Company

As the popularity of the Internet increases, more and more businesses are looking to get some sort of presence on the Internet. Different businesses take many different routes to achieve this. Some, not realizing the enormous effort required, try to design it themselves, others hire the local wiz kid to do it for them. The most sensible option, however, is to hire a professional web design company.

Choosing a good web design company is a bit like finding a good plumber or a good mechanic. There are loads out there to choose from but how do you get a good one? The one who will get the job done, on time and to budget? Read on it will hopefully give you a few pointers from my experience, looking at it both as a designer and from your point of view, as a customer.

Before you start looking for a design company, you need to decide your budget; Website Design should be treated no differently to any other business expense. You need to decide how important this project is for your company, and how much you're willing to spend. You need to have some ideas of what you want from your new website.
  • Are you looking for an online e-commerce store, an informational site, or an online sales brochure?
  • Do you want the site to have database access, to store product and service information, which can then be searched through by the customer and displayed online?
  • Do you need an animated web site with lots of moving graphics and user interaction? Or is a simple static-page more your thing?
  • Do you have all the information that your new designer is likely to need?
When you contact some designers, they may bombard you with technical questions and try to pressure you into signing a contract. STOP, before you sign anything there are some important questions you need to ask:
  • Is this company a full-time web design company? - Some designers build web sites as a part-time, second or weekend job. There is nothing wrong with this, everyone has to start somewhere and your part time geek may just be the next Bill Gates, however there are some issues you should be aware of.
  • Are they contactable during working hours? - It may be that you need to urgently change the pricing on your site, to add a special offer or change your opening times. If you can’t get hold of your designer are you confident that you can do this yourself?
  • Do they have their own web site? - If not, why not? You should check out their site, for prices, services offered and any terms and conditions, prior to meeting the designer. Even if you don’t understand all the gobbledygook, it may just save you a few quid, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.
  • Do they have a portfolio of work you can view? It is vitally important that you see some of their published work. Start with the design company's own web site; look at the sites of some of their clients. Ask yourself if you like the style of this designer?
  • Can you talk with some of their clients? If their service is good, they will be keen to put you in contact with some of their clients who are prepared to discuss their experiences. This will help you to establish if the company is reputable. It's also worth checking out their qualifications and finding out if they are members of any societies or associations.
  • What is this company’s main source of revenue? Often companies offer web sites in addition to their main business. Graphic designers and printers are among those who have branched out into the web design business. Again there is nothing wrong with this but you need to ensure that they understand all the technical issues in this rapidly developing area.
  • Is there any charge for the initial consultation? – Some companies will offer a free consultation and build further consultations into the price of the contract. Occasionally less reputable companies will try to charge you a fee just to discuss your requirements. Some designers will try to deal with you solely via emails or on the Internet, whilst others will try to do business over the phone. Wouldn't you prefer to see whom you are dealing with?
Finally, but most importantly.
  • Can they do what you want? Do they have the right technology and resources? Do they offer web hosting, maintenance, search engine submission, domain name registration and statistical analysis? Does the price include graphics design and copy? What kind of support do they offer when things go wrong or need changing? Do they charge for these things? Is it included in your quote? Can they get the job done on time?
Remember you're paying for this service and that you are entrusting a very important part of your company strategy to your web site designer. You are more likely to get a good web site if they fully understand your business, products or services.

Selecting the right designer is the very first step a client can take to ensure that they receive appropriate servicing of their graphic design needs. AGDA [Australian Graphic Design Association] has prepared a draft document outlining their recommended designer selection process that is available here as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.