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Choosing a website designer

The development of a business website can be complex and may require the input of a professional website designer, particularly for business owners with little technical know-how or who want to offer additional services such as the option to order or buy goods online.

A website designer may have no knowledge of your business or of your market sector and it will be necessary to brief them thoroughly on what you want from your website in order to make sure you get the most effective service and best value for money.

What does a website designer do?

A website designer creates the various web pages that make up a website. The pages they create can fulfil a variety of functions, from providing basic information about your business and its products to enabling customers to buy online. Many website designers are also capable of handling website development work involving search facilities, complex graphics, multimedia advertisements, weblogs or dynamic news pages.

You may choose to hire a website designer to do any or all of the following tasks:

  • Create a basic website that introduces your business and its products and contact details.
  • Create an online shop so customers can order and buy goods online.
  • Create and design an online database of information relevant to your business.
  • Design an elaborate, graphical or interactive site to specifically promote a new product or service.
  • Update an existing website that no longer fulfils its key functions or objectives.
  • Maintain and repair any problems with your website.
  • Assist with the registration of your domain name, and provide reminders prior to your registration coming up for renewal.
  • Help you make your website accessible for visually impaired and disabled individuals.

How do you find a website designer?

There are a number of different ways to find a website designer. Try one of the following options:

Search the membership directories of web design trade associations. Members of these associations are bound by strict codes of conduct.

Search online directories such as http://www.xemion.com. Your local Yellow Pages (www.yell.com) should also have listings for website designers in your area.

You could visit a site like elance.

Spend some time looking at other websites and find a few you like the look of, quite often their is a link on the homepage usually at the bottom to the company that has designed the website. Also talk to other local businesses, and find out about who they are using for help with their websites. Word of mouth is often best.

Draw up a shortlist of three or four potential designers, and then spend some time visiting websites they have worked on, asking questions like: Are their sites easy to navigate? Have they used special effects well, without it taking too long to download their pages? Is it clear from the website what the business does?

What should you look for in a website designer?

A website designer may be an individual working on their own, or may work in a studio employing several designers. Regardless of who you select, there are a number of skills and qualities you should consider when choosing a website designer, including:

Their web design capabilities and the types of design in which they specialise.

Can they do everything you need them to do? For example, if you want to set up an online store, you will need a designer capable of developing e-commerce solutions.

Their qualifications. Although it is not essential to gain a qualification in website design, evidence of qualification, particularly from an accredited body such, may provide assurance of the designer's technical ability. The best qualification is have they done it?

Their previous experience. Make sure they can demonstrate experience of working on projects similar to yours, for businesses of a similar size or in a similar sector. Look at previous websites they have created and decide whether you like their work. You could also ask for references from the designer's previous customers to gauge how they worked and whether they are reliable.

Their communication skills. Web design involves a lot of technical jargon, which can be difficult to understand. Make sure the designer explains what they can and can't do in layman's terms.

Their general attitude to customer service. When you contact them, do they provide timely and accurate responses to your questions? Are they willing to get to know your business and the target audience of your site?

The additional assistance they will provide. What value-added services do they offer over and above other designers? For example, will they provide a training session for you once your website is complete, to help familiarise you with how it works and how to update it?

The support services they offer (and any costs involved). No website runs flawlessly or without the occasional interruption (usually resulting from technical faults). Make sure the designer is easy to contact and will offer a technical advice and support service to get your website up and running again if a fault is discovered.

Their pricing structure - do they charge per page, per hour or per project? - and their timescales and availability for work.

How do you brief a website designer?

When you have chosen a website designer to create and maintain your business website, it will be necessary to provide them with a full brief about what you want the site to achieve. As a client this can be tricky - a good web designer will explain things to you and offer examples of what he can do to solve your potential problems.

Be very clear about what you want your website to achieve. Think about things like:

  • Who will use your website and why?
  • Will it just provide basic information and contact details for your business?
  • Will it be a brochure for your business?
  • Will it be an online shop?
  • How many pages (roughly) will you need?
  • Do you want to list your site in search engines?

You should also be prepared to offer a full rundown of your business and the market in which it operates, as the designer you choose may have no prior knowledge or experience in this area. Explain what is unique about your product or service, and what gives it a competitive edge.

Ultimately, the complexity and functionality of your website will impact on the cost of developing the site. It will be necessary to ensure you are upfront with the designer about your budget from the beginning. You will also need to discuss the cost of keeping the site up to date, and the speed and frequency with which updates can be implemented.

How much does a web designer cost?

The cost of developing your website will depend, ultimately, on what you can afford to spend. This is determined by the number of pages you require, the amount of technology and software needed to make sure the site does what you want it to (this could include a content management system, Flash files and chat software), as well as any additional services, such as web hosting, maintenance or statistical feedback, that you may need.

What if things go wrong?

If you're unhappy or don't understand something, speak to the person designing your website personally before things get out of hand. If problems do arise that you can't settle in person, make a polite written complaint setting out the issues and what you think is a reasonable solution.

You can also contact a web design trade association. If the designer you choose is a member of a trade association, it may have a complaints procedure that you can follow. Alternatively, even if the designer you choose is not a member, the association may still be able to provide you with advice and guidance on how best to approach the designer and resolve any issues.

Common terms and their definitions

Flash - Flash is a software package which can create graphics and short animations for a website.

HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language) - This is the basic programming (or markup) language used 'behind the scenes' in website design.

PHP – Hypertext Preprocessor - A commonly used programming language for web pages – this works very well with MySQL if you wanted an online shop with many products. PHP is also used with Wordpress.

ASP – Active Server Pages is another commonly used language.

CSS – Cascading Style Sheets – basically used to style a web page – the idea being to keep the content away from the styling which helps to maintain a website easier as well as many other advantages.

XML - Extensible Markup Language is a set of rules for encoding documents electronically. You can use this to make sitemaps.

MySQL is an open source relational database management system. It is based on the structure query language SQL which is used for adding, removing, and modifying information in an online-database. This works very well with PHP.

Intranet - an intranet is a business website only accessible to the business' employees – this kind of site will therefore not require to be listed in the search engines as it is for internal use only.

Keyword - keywords allow search engines to list and categorise websites more accurately.

Optimisation - the process of refining a website (for example, by adding relevant keywords) so that it achieves a better ranking in the search engines.

SSL - SSL stands for secure socket layer, a method of preventing somebody from seeing what information is passing between a website and its visitors. It is frequently used in e-commerce to protect credit card details and personal information.

Web services - this is similar to web design, but lends greater emphasis to connecting internal sources of information such as databases and making them accessible via the Internet.

Hints and tips

Make sure you sign an agreement with the designer covering confidentiality, as they may be privy to sensitive business information when designing your site.

Make sure the designer is willing to make time for you and answers any questions you may have in layman's terms.

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