5 Things A Client Should Ask a Prospective Web Designer or Agency

Man and Woman Dancing

Man and Woman Dancing
Man and Woman Dancing

Evaluating a company or person to build your website is a tricky thing. What do you expect? What things do you need to know? Here are 5 questions that a client should be asking all companies in the running to build their next website.

  1. Have you worked on any similar projects? While it is possible that the designers and agencies you are talking to about your project have never worked in your specific field before building an e-commerce site for a canoe shop or for a place selling paintball equipment is very similar. The target market might be a bit different but the issues that you will need to deal with are the same. Find out what projects they have done that they feel have similar issues to your site.
  2. What type of communication can I expect? Communication is key. Sure it is an often heard motto, but really how often does a company really take that to heart? My experience from working full-time in-house and contracting out work, is that many companies don’t really take communication seriously. At one point I sent enquiries to a number (link) of agencies in BC and only heard from 2. I’ve also dealt with a company that would, seemingly, drop off the face of the earth for a few days (10 at one point). Not the type of communication I would allow.When I work with a client I touch base at the very least on Friday and Monday of each week, while a project is active. Sure a late Thursday email counts as well but the point is to wrap up the week, setup what you’ll be working on next week and then on Monday communicate again about the goals of the coming week. All it does is let the client know that they are a priority. Make sure that heading into a project you know what type and how frequent communication will be. Make sure that you establish your communication needs.
  3. What is the design process? Will you see a wireframe? How many design options will you see? The reality is that there are many differing opinions on what is needed in a design process. I do wireframe. Some project get a lot of wireframing. Some projects start with a bit of sketching, then move quickly onto wireframing then get into Photoshop. That wireframing may have only been to sketch out ideas and may really not be anything to show off. Sometimes in the middle of a project I’ll start sketching out some elements on a page to get my creative ideas solid. Just because I went through all of the items above on a project doesn’t mean that I end up showing the client each little stage of the process.Make sure that you know what the creative process is and what parts you can expect to see. As I said I do wirfeframes sometimes. If at the end of a full wireframe I’m not sure about content layout then I show it to a a client. This probably only happens on about 20% of project. Often I get part way through the wireframe and the content layout gets solid and I start thinking of the visuals. In that case the client probably will not see the wireframes. Just be sure you know what to expect and make your expectations know.
  4. Do you have the capacity to meet the deadline? Just because the agency you’re talking to employ’s 20 people doesn’t mean they have the time to meet your deadlines. It is entirely possible that all of the staff are tied up with other clients already.One note for clients though, an average blog project easily takes 4 weeks from contract signed to finished. If it’s anything more than that you need to add time. While you may have a preferred finish time (asap is typical) remember that it may not be a realistic one. Use this question to evaluate how they schedule themselves as well as how many staff (or hours in a week) they will devote to your project.
  5. What are your pet peeves in web design right now? This is a great time to listen to the web designer talk about the pet peeves they have in web design right now. Some will talk about the design of forms, some will wax poetic about elegant code. Don’t ask them this to judge them on the specifics, ask them to hear their passion. Ask them to make sure the things you see as issues with your site are issues that your designer is passionate about.Remember that just because they don’t express your specific concerns as their passion doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions on them. As with anything passions and pet peeves run in cycles. While they may not be passionate today about the things that bug you they may have been bugged by those same issues 2 months ago. It’s always a good idea to read through their blog (if they have one) and to ask them questions specifically around the items that are of concern to you.

Wrap It Up

Really figuring out who to work with on a web project is a bit like getting a new dance partner. You need to communicate up front to make sure that you’re both in sync.

5 Blogs for Web Designers to Follow

shot of the nettuts site
shot of the nettuts site
  1. Nettuts
  2. Nettuts is part of the Envato network. Nettuts covers all sorts of web design and development. Everything from WordPress to posts on Coldfusion. Articles are well written and frequent.

  3. A List Apart
  4. Published by Happy Cog A List Apart covers all topics dealing with web design. From usability to introductions to Ruby on Rails. While only published a few times a month each article is packed full of knowledge and is good for reading more than once.

  5. Digging Into WordPress
  6. Although this blog is a newcomer to the scene the authors are not. Follow this blog for lots of neat little tricks to use in your wordpress development.

  7. CSS-Tricks
  8. Another blog by Chris Coyier (Digging Into Worpress is also by Chris) but a bit more generally focussed on CSS. A great all around resource for design and coding tips. Also check out the forum for lots of helpful people.

  9. Wireframes Magazine
  10. If you are looking to learn more about wireframes and information architecture look no further. One of the things I love about this blog is that it shows examples of how other people do their wireframes.

5 Blogs Beginning Web Designers Should Read

Boagworld
Boagworld was one of the first blogs I started to follow when getting into web design. Paul Boag and Marcu Lillington host this podcast for all of those people who are working with websites on a daily basis. Most of the blogging content is directly related to the audio podcast they also offer. I personally listen to the podcast and then read any articles that I feel need some more attention. Always a fun time listening to them baner.
A list Apart
While A List Apart doesn’t have as frequent a posting schedule as some other blogs all of the information provided is invaluable. From more theoretical discussions on the effectivness of zebra striping for tables technical topics on CSS Sprites2 there is always something to be gained from reading an article on A List Apart.
CSS-Tricks
Run by Chris Coyier, CSS-Tricks is an awesome resource for all those starting to tackle CSS. I know that CSS can feel overwhelming at times so the tools found here are very helpful for those starting to tackle it. CSS-Tricks contains not only a blog but also forums and screencasts. The forums are a great place to get help with code and the screencasts can even remind veterans of some of the simple shortcuts they forgot. For a great intoduction to WordPress check out the screencasts on Designing for WordPress.
NETTUTS
Another one of the envato family of sites run by Sian and Collis Taed this site bring you great coding tutorials each day. Topics range all over the web language spectrum so while you may not be really interested in the new Ruby developments you can always take a look back through the content and find something to learn or relearn.
i love typography
To many web designers today ignore typography on the web. At the very least it is often an after thought. With some of the new browser developments waiting in the wings though the days of ignoring beautiful typograpy are coming to an end. I Love Typography is a blog entirely about fonts and beautiful typography. An absolute must for those designer who need to beef up their knowledge of typography in general. Without a good knowledge it is much harder to judge what is worth doing for the web.