top of page

A Guide to Hiring the Right Web Designer

If you've ever been burned by a web designer and wonder how you got into that situation OR if you've never hired a freelancer and have no idea where to begin this guide will help you out.

When you're looking to hire a web designer or any freelancer for that matter, there are some key things you want to look for and ask about. I've prepared a checklist for you that includes things to look for and potential red flags. You can use any time you're interviewing web designers.

Here's what we'll cover:

  1. Portfolio

  2. Reviews

  3. Contracts

  4. Budget

  5. Vision

  6. Likeability

Let's get started!

1. Portfolio

A designer's portfolio can tell you a lot about that person. Just by looking through their work you can get a feel for their style, the type of clients they work with, and what they specialize in.

What you need to be prepared with: knowing the style of design you want

Knowing the type of design you'd like for your website beforehand will hugely help you narrow down the playing field.

An example I like to use is tattoo artists. There are artists who specialize in color and artists who specialize in black and grey. When you're thinking about getting a tattoo and you know you want a color design then you'd only search for and interview artists who specialize in color, right?

The same applies to web designers. If you know you prefer minimalism in design, then look for designers who match that style. You don't want to ask a designer whose style is graphic-heavy with lots of bold elements, colors and animations to design a minimal website. Even if you really like that designer, you're not going to be satisfied with the end result.

Tips when looking at a designer's portfolio

#1 Do they truly serve the client's brand with the design they've created? In other words, are they designing very similar looking websites for each client they work with or are they designing a website to fit that brand's style and personality?

#2 What's their overall style? We already covered this a little bit, but let's take it further. Are their designs more corporate, bohemian, feminine, masculine, sophisticated, playful, etc.? Look for designers who align with the overall "feel" you're going for.

Potential Red Flags:

  • They don't have a portfolio to show you or there isn't much on there

  • The work on their portfolio seems dated

  • They don't have a clear style

2. Reviews

It may be obvious to read their reviews and testimonials, but sometimes designers do sneaky and unethical things with reviews.

Tips when looking at a designer's reviews

#1 Dig deeper. Sometimes designers ask their friends and family to write them a review. While the person reviewing them is doing it to support their friend, if they haven't actually worked with that designer on a project, then the review isn't authentic.

This may seem like a creeper thing to do, but if you're looking at their reviews on Facebook, click into that reviewer's profile and see if they have a personal relationship with that person. It might actually be their mom, uncle, cousin, or a good friend. Which may mean the review isn't actually "real".

#2 Read the negative reviews. See if anyone has complained about their work and what they were complaining about. Then see if the designer publicly responded and how they handled that interaction. Where they professional? Was that client just a bad client who wanted to be a jerk? Bad press isn't always bad press.

#3 Sort and filter reviews. One thing I like doing is sorting reviews by "recent". Many platforms like Yelp and Google show the "highlight" reviews first. Meaning you're only seeing the positive reviews and they may not even be recent, they could be from years ago. Sorting by recent lets you see the most up to date reviews and see if anything has changed with that business. Maybe they started treating their customers poorly

Potential Red Flags:

  • There are multiple negative reviews about the same or similar thing

  • Their star rating is lower than 4.0

  • They only have a handful of reviews

3. Contracts

If you have only one takeaway from this checklist, THIS would be the one to remember. You'd be surprised how often a contract is an afterthought.

So many times the contract issue comes up after you've hired the designer there has been a problem and without a written agreement, you could be totally out of luck. This is one area where you can protect yourself from being burned by a freelancer.

Tips about contracts

#1 Ask. Simple, ask if they have a contract. If they don't, I'd consider moving on to a different designer.

#2 Read. READ the dang contract! Just because they have a contract doesn't mean you're protected by it. Read it and make sure you understand the terms. ESPECIALLY the terms that mention what happens if something goes wrong.

What if you did everything right interviewing them and when you start working together you realize it's not working or you don't like the work they're producing? What does the contract say are your options? Do you agree with them and are they clear?

#3 Get clarity. If you don't understand something in the contract, ask about it. If you think something is missing, ask about that. Get really really clear on what you're responsible for and what they're responsible for.

Potential Red Flags:

  • They don't have a contract or all of their "agreements" are done through email

  • They're defensive when you ask questions or have a hard time answering your questions

  • The contract isn't clear or doesn't cover much

4. Budget

Knowing your budget ahead of time will help you save time and narrow down which designer to work with.

Disclaimer: web design is priced across the board. Prices range from $500 all the way to $60,000 - no joke. There is also no industry "standard" for how pricing is decided. Each designer sets their own rates and decides if they want to bill hourly or by the project.

Tips about budget and pricing

#1 Know your budget ahead of time. That way you won't be looking at designers that are way out of your price range and be heartbroken when you realize you can't work with them. This will also narrow down your list.

#2 Be flexible - if you can. If you have a super strict budget you have to stay within that's no problem. But if you have some wiggle room, be open to being flexible. If you find a designer you love and they're a little outside of your price range but you can manage to spend a little more - go for it.

#3 Hourly or per-project pricing. Ask designers how they like to bill for their work. Do they charge by the hours worked or by the project scope you've agreed on? If the designer is billing hourly that could mean the project is going to end up costing way more than you originally planned. Especially if there are a ton of changes.

Hourly rates should always have an agreed-upon overall budget and you should get regular updates from your designer about the number of hours they billed that week and/or the hours they project something is going to take. This can help you to avoid being surprised by a large invoice.

Per project pricing means there is a set price for specific work the designer has agreed to complete. This is a little more cut and dry, but this project price can change if you have some new ideas (see #4 below).

#4 Don't ask for a discount. This is probably the most offensive thing to any freelancer. When you ask them for a discount what you're basically saying (although unintentionally) is I don't see the value in your work - your work isn't worth that. If you truly can't afford that designer, don't work with them and don't ask them to lower their pricing.

#5 Don't be offended is a designer asks for your budget. As you can see now, budget plays a huge role in hiring a designer. So if they ask you what your budget is, don't be offended. They just want to make sure they aren't going to waste their time or yours.

Potential Red Flags:

  • Their price is alarmingly low for the work you've asked them to do (be careful of paying for poor quality work just to get a good price)

  • They're asking for a premium price and they meet many other red flags on this checklist

  • Their pricing isn't very clear

5. Vision

Going back to the tattoo analogy, let's talk about your vision and goals for your website.

If you went into a tattoo shop and said, "Hey, I want a tattoo of a rose, will you draw it up for me?" But don't give the artists any examples of what you're looking for, they could draw up 30 different types of roses and 30 different styles. So when you come back and say, "Okay, great, what do you got from me?" And they show them to you and you say, "Oh, that's not what I want at all." That's not helpful for them. And it's not helpful for you.

Bringing some tangible ideas to the table greatly helps you and your designer make sure you're on the same page.

Tips about vision and goals

#1 Do your research. Come prepared with other website examples that you like the look and feel of. This helps you figure out what you like and don't like.

#2 Be crystal clear on what your business does and who it serves. This plays a huge role in the overall design and structure of the website. The designer will be creating the site around the user experience of the clients you serve. So it has to resonate with them. If you aren't clear on this just yet, spend some time refining this before talking with a designer.

#3 What's the goal of your website? Meaning do you want visitors to purchase something, book an appointment, call you, etc. Your website needs to have a goal so you know if it's working. A good designer will structure the site with this goal (and your client) in mind so that the flow encourages them to complete that goal.

#4 Know your brand. A brand is not simply a logo, a brand is a feeling. What does your brand look like and sound like? How does it present itself? Is it fun, refined, conversational, etc.?

Potential Red Flags:

  • The designer doesn't "get" your brand

  • They design the website without a goal or call to action for the visitor

  • You don't feel like they really listened or "heard" you when you explained your ideas

6. Likeability

Alright, this is the easiest of them all and really straightforward. The main question you need to ask yourself here is do you like them? It might sound silly, but after interviewing a designer you'll probably have an overall feeling about them one way or the other.

Gut Check: What does your gut say? Seriously, did you have any "weird" feelings? Or do you totally love their work but just know you're not going to work well together? Were there some red flags?

Don't ignore these feelings!! Listen to them. If something seems off, you're probably right and it might be best to look for other designers.

Remember, you're going to be spending the next few weeks/months working with this person so be sure you LIKE them!

Let me know in the comments if you found this helpful or if you think I left anything out that should be included in the list!


shaka designs, wix web designer, small business web designer


bottom of page