Owning and operating your own business from day to day is a huge task in itself. Tack on the chore of choosing a professional web designer and well it can get overwhelming.
Choosing a web designer or developer should not be taken lightly; a web designer is responsible for creating and establishing your corporate identity and online presence. Your business web site speaks for you when you cannot. What does your current web site design say about your business? Does it portray a professional, reliable business? If not here's a few tips for finding and selecting a web designer.
What to look for
A good web designer or design company will have an online presence. Ask to see the designer's portfolio and links to some of their current web site designs. Beware of designers that are offering web design or graphic design services with no online presence. Take the time to navigate the designer's web site and some of their client's sites to get a feel for their skills and also to make sure all links, navigational features, etc. function properly. Often unskilled web designer's sites will have dead links, misspelled words and other errors.
Most reputable web designers and companies will post client testimonials on their web site. These are a good indication that the designer is experienced and that past clients have been satisfied with their work. Beware of a long list of testimonials with no client information such as company name or a link to the web site. Most web designers will link their client's testimonials to their sites so you can verify that they are in fact a happy customer.
If the designer's testimonials aren't readily available ask, and verify them. Call or email the references and ask how their experience was with the designer and if they were satisfied with the work. This may seem like a lot of work but having a web site professionally designed is a financial investment and an important one to your business. It's wise to do your homework before jumping into anything.
Now this might seem like common sense but check the designer's web site for clear contact information such as a physical address and telephone number. A designer displaying only their email address and website address as contact information is not very credible and you should request and confirm the designers contact information prior to paying for or putting a deposit down on your design services.
Look for Familiar Logos/Affiliations
Displaying familiar logos such as credit card logos (Visa, MasterCard and so on), PayPal verified logos and other affiliation logos such as groups and organizations lends credibility to the web site and the company.
No that's not an incomplete statement it's the name of a directory that you should familiarize yourself with. Using the WHOIS database you can search and find out information about an existing domain name such as the owner, how long it's been registered and other useful information. The WHOIS database will provide you with the contact information of the person or organization that registered the domain name you're inquiring about.
Check out your prospective designer if you have doubts and verify that the information listed matches the contact information they are giving you. Beware of designers that have blocked or privately registered their domains to prevent consumers from accessing their information. With that being said we must also state that legitimate companies sometimes block their domains, usually in an attempt to prevent spam but it's not something we suggest.
Compliance with W3C and CSS Standards
This is often the most overlooked detail but the most critical. Most Web documents are written using markup languages, such as HTML or XHTML. These languages are defined by technical specifications, which usually include a machine-readable formal grammar (and vocabulary). The act of checking a document against these constraints is called validation, and this is what the Markup Validator does. Validating Web documents is an important step in web design. (Read more on why validating matters).
Unfortunately there are unscrupulous web designers out there that don't code to or even know the standards and their clients pay dearly for it. Check your designers site against the standards, if there site doesn't validate there's a good chance yours won't either.