Unless your business has web designers and site builders on staff, you'll need to work with a web design firm when it's time for your next web project. Here's how not to choose a web design firm -- that is if you want an attractive, highly-functional site that builds your brand and attracts lots of web traffic.
Choose a Web Designer You're Related to
Your new brother-in-law may not have that much time to devote to your project right now, but he's about to graduate, and as soon as they get back from backpacking through Mexico he'll have tons of time for your stuff. And he's bound to give you a great rate for his services, right? There's really no way this could go wrong and lead to awkward and strained family holiday get-togethers.
Choose a Web Design Firm Without a Portfolio
The only reason they don't have a portfolio is because they've been so busy designing and building websites. It probably doesn't have anything to do with abandoning projects and leaving clients with non-working sites that the client is ashamed to link to.
If You're in the Heavy Machinery Business, Choose a Designer Known for Fashion Websites
After all, how much difference can there be between one website and another? They all have pictures, text, and links. Just have them replace evening gown photos with photos of jackhammers and have the site open with an auto-start video of a construction site rather than a runway. Simple!
Choose a Designer Who Doesn't Have Time for Things Like Written Contracts
Doesn't the web do away with old-fashioned things like paper contracts signed in ink? They'll probably meet the deadlines you set, as long as you remind them frequently. And if you mention that they seem to have forgotten that you needed shopping cart functionality on the site, they'll probably get to it first thing tomorrow.
Pick a Designer Who Demands Cash Up Front
If you pay for everything up front, he'll probably make your project his top priority and get your site up and running sooner than he would if you insisted on things like milestone payments.
Make Sure Your Designer Loves Flash Animation
What's more eye-catching than a site full of kinetic energy and bright colors? Your customers won't mind waiting for the page to load or rebooting after the occasional crash, because they know the final product will be awesome! And they probably won't want to look at your site on an iPad anyway.
What Could Be Better Than a Designer Who Hangs Out at Coffee Shops?
Today's most creative web designers can't be boxed in by things like office hours, physical addresses, and business cards! Sure, he has a different phone number this week than last, but you'll be able to track him down if something should go wrong with the site. After all, the barista seems to know when he usually shows up.
Pick a Designer Who Requires a Multi-Year SEO Contract and Insists on Doing the Hosting
Chances are you'll want to stick with this designer indefinitely, so you might as well let him lock you into a hosting and SEO marketing package for the next three years. Your needs and the web itself are not likely to change much in only three years, right?
Ignore Former Clients Who Were Dissatisfied
If they didn't want totally different site navigation on every page, why didn't they say so? And those unmarked navigation buttons are only a problem for people who are too lazy to mouse over them to find out where they lead, and too forgetful to remember which blank button leads where.
In all seriousness...
Web design as an industry is still less than two decades old, but that doesn't mean that timeless, sound business principles don't apply when dealing with web designers. Learn about pricing structures for website design and construction, compare packages and costs from several firms, and speak with clients to find out what they liked and didn't like about the firms you're considering. Remember that written contracts can protect both parties, and don't let a designer railroad you into a design or marketing package you don't want.