Tips for Finding a Website Designer - article

In the world of self-publishing, it pays to have a good web designer. Everyone, it seems, has dabbled in HTML or can copy and paste flashy javascript codes into boxes. Still, when you need something more for your web presence, where do you go to find a real web designer? Try personal contacts. They often charge lower rates than someone found through the yellow pages. Beware of the temptation to hire the kid closest to you who took that one class, one time. If you choose to search for a web designer via personal networking don't be afraid to creep around and check up online on their former clientele.

If, like most self-publishing authors, you have a day job, you may find it easier to network through business. Who does the web design for your company? Depending on the size of your employing organization, it may be in house or it may be handed off to a design firm. If there is an in house resource, you may have found your freelancer. At the very least he or she can likely recommend other designers. If it’s an external source, ask questions about how satisfied your company is with the vendor, what they considered when choosing them, and so forth. Another option is to look at businesses or authors whose websites you like, and asking about the designer.

Check out website awards. A number of organizations give out awards for the best website. Criteria usually involves salability, creativity, SEO optimization, and other factors, such as whether or not the site is friendly to viewers with vision or hearing problems. Designers who have won web awards may become pricey, and of course with web design ranging from the hundreds to the tens of thousands of dollars, you may want to stay on the cheap side. Nevertheless, it might be worth asking the award committee about runners-up.

A last option, especially if you are on a budget, is to reach out to the local college or university or tech school. They often have web design programs chalk full of students who have learned a ton and are trying to build their portfolios. They may do it for free or a very low cost just to get the exposure, experience, and addition to their portfolio. If you take this approach, work with the school leaders to help pick the star students. Focus on those who have some advanced training under their belt, rather than the new students, and remember that just because they are students doesn’t mean the process is any less professional. You should still have contracts, clearly defined roles and expectations, due dates, and so forth.

No matter how you find your designer, whether you do a Google search or ask a fellow author who's their designer, get references and check them. Also, examine their previous work to see… well, if it worked. Use the designer’s website as well as online forums, web searches, and those references to learn about his or her background, years of experience, and more. Forums about design not only provide a great outlet for designers to solve their code problems, but also let you see who has complaining clients, and who actually knows what they're talking about. Hunting for a web designer is like hunting for anything. You have to go to their natural habitat, and you have to blend in a little with the environment to make a good catch. So do your research!

As you move through the research phase and the step of interviewing the designer, ask about their rates, delivery schedules, and how many other projects they have going (you don’t want to be at the bottom of a 12 project priority list). Ask how they’ll be available to you (phone, email, in person) and find out what computer language they code in and why. If they code in a language that is out of date it could limit your design options and also speak to their skillset. Does your designer have a working understanding of CSS and XHTML? What about PERL? How good is he or she at managing data systems that can gather information about the visitors to your site? Can he or she create webforms for fan mail or sales questions? What you ask for depends very much on what kind of site you want. Additionally, look for a designer who’s business model is set up to make you independent of him or her but that also provides tech support after the project is over. For example, you should not have to go to the designer to change content on a page, add a new document, make a blog post, etc. They should set up the bones of the site and then it’s up to you and your site manager to maintain it. Otherwise, you are likely going to have to pay the designer every time you make a change and it will limit your ability to make fast changes if you have to submit such minor requests to his or her work queue. Having said that… you should have an option for technical support in case there are problems afterward. See if you can get a certain amount of it build into your contract or create a separate contract for that kind of effort.

Be sure to review other articles here on the Author Learning Center for tips on what a web designer does and tips on working with one.

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