[CHECKLIST] Must-Have’s for Choosing the Right Website Designer - Christine Kane

See if this sounds about right…

You meet someone you like. Check!

You discover you’re both Virgo. You both love salted dark chocolate. And you’re both business owners. Check! Check! Check!

Turns out, this person’s business is web design.

(The stars must be aligned! After all, you totally need a new site!)

Before you know it, you’ve plunked down $7,000 for your new website.

The rest is history, right?


So here’s the part where you’re pissed off because the work keeps getting delayed…and bummed out because the quality of the work isn’t what the designer promised…

…and steeped in shame because you spent so much money.

The problem?

You didn’t do your homework, and you didn’t take the time to get clear on your needs, direction or ideas.

So, before you go hooking up with the next person who loves salted dark chocolate as much as you, grab this checklist. This is your go-to resource to help you in the process of choosing the best designer for your website.

√   Start a Swipe File.

A swipe file is where you keep samples, screenshots and links to sites and designs you love. Then, when it comes time to brainstorm with your designer, you have these at your fingertips. Make sure you also share why you love these designs. (Listen to your designer’s input as well. Not every idea is going to be the best one for you.)

Swipe files are mandatory. Begin this now, even if you don’t need a web designer yet.

√ Visit the designer’s site.

Browse through your potential designer’s own site. Look for the following:

1 – Attention to detail

Do pages die and go nowhere?

Do links work?

2 – Lay-out and design

Do you like their use of photos?

Do you like the page-layout?

Does the look of the font and copy flow with the page lay?

3 – Usability

Can you find your way around easily?

Does the navigation bar make sense?

Are you confused?

4– Functionality

Do pages load?

Do videos play?

Also, notice if the site “felt” right to you. If you got frustrated because it was hard to find what you needed, take note. Remember this motto: How you do anything is how you do everything. That applies to designers and developers too.

√ Get three samples.

(No, you are not an untrusting asshole if you request samples. Ditch this story.)

Right from the start, get samples and references of past clients and then actually contact those people.

Then, browse those sites and make a list of questions, ideas or comments based on what you see. Most importantly, pay attention to the content lay-out and marketing (Are there opt-in boxes? Has your designer worked with inbound marketing and businesses that focus on on-line list-building sequences?)

√ No geek-speak.

(Can’t stress this one enough.)

Face it. You don’t speak geek…

Bandwidth, cookies, wiziwigs, java, applets, CSS, gateways, anchor text, AJAX, backlinks, style sheets, favicons, GUI’s…

…if you are lost within 10 minutes of talking with a web developer or designer, the problem is not you. It’s them. And it might not be a good match.

If your designer talks over your head or doesn’t slow down when you’re confused, that person has not done the work of understanding how to communicate with the average Joe Schmee business owner. Walk away. You will hate your life if your web developer disregards your level of competence with online terminology.

√ Make sure they want specifics.

Before anything else, a designer should dive into you. Big time. They should ask intelligent questions about your business, your marketing funnel and your customers before making even a single recommendation or design.

(After all, think about how well you know YOUR client, right?)

Websites are not one-size-fits-all. Your designer needs to understand what you do and who you serve to design a great website that reflects you and your business.

I also recommend that you only work with designers who have a strong awareness of and experience with online marketing and list-building systems. They won’t necessarily be building those systems for you, but they’ll know how to think like a marketer in their design.

[Note: This is why my Uplevel Your Business™ Program & Blueprint includes a massive clarity sheet you can fill out and give to your potential web designers to help them understand your business and marketing.]

√ Consider the platform.

Make sure your designer works with a user-friendly Content Management Platform (CMS). An example is WordPress.

In other words, get a website that you or your team can and will actually USE.

Please oh please, do not work with a developer who thinks his work is so much better than “all the shit that’s out there.” If you and this person part ways, a proprietary platform means you’ll be starting from scratch with someone new.

√ Make “responsive” part of the deal.

Most websites are now built in responsive design. That’s “tech speak” for your website looking great and adapting to all your devices, whether phone, iPad or laptop.

Google won’t even include your business in the search results if your website is not responsive. If your developer can’t do this, walk away. These are not the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

√ Check the designer’s process.

Make sure your designer uses project management software (like Basecamp) to ensure each milestone will be met and the overall project completed on time. A clearly communicated process will give you confidence in your decision to hire them. Find out exact timelines and be clear on all communications expectations before you sign or pay anything.

√ Never ever, ever, ever pay for everything up front.


(Can I say it again?)


I can’t even count the number of people who have come to me sniffling that “they seemed so knowledgeable!” or “they seemed like such a good person.”

Look, everyone has great intentions. It’s the follow through that reveals a strong business or not.

With that said, don’t pay for your whole website up front. Make a deposit. Then pay the rest as milestones are reached.

So tell me: what has been your experience working with web developers and designers? Any other items you’d add to this checklist?

  • Ramona

    EXCELLENT Points! I wish I had this checklist about a year and a half ago! I found that it was hard to ask questions when you don’t even know what to ask.

  • Sue Dawson

    I agree, and have a few things to add. I’m a designer, but not a web designer, so I made sure that I hired a team that I have full confidence in – a web designer and a programmer. I told them that I expected to be the third member of the team, and emphasized the “team” mindset before I hired them. I laid out my expectations clearly, based on my own design experience, working with teams of editors, writers, photographers – for newspapers, magazines, and books.

    For example, if a newspaper editor (the words person) made a design suggestion, I’d always try it. Even if I was SURE it wouldn’t work. I mean I’M the designer, right? I’M the expert. So, I could’ve said, “Well, that won’t work – trust me – I know what I’m doing.” Which means, “How about you stick to editing and I’ll be the designer here.” I learned early on that it was always worth a try. Often I was right – it didn’t work as well. But sometimes, I was wrong, and their suggestions improved the design. At the end of the day, the process of trying their suggestions took very little time, and always added to the process. Most importantly, we all got better, building professional respect and trust, and growing in our understanding of what the “other side” did.

    This can cost you money, though, so know that going in – they’re on your dime.

    Second suggestion is to ask for them to present where they’re headed before going too deep. Some designers will show a number of comps, and others will develop one idea for the first meeting (once you’ve hired them). You don’t want them to go too far without getting your feedback. The tone your site sets is crucial, and those first comps will show you if they get it. There should be a “kill fee” in your contract, in case it’s not working out as you’d hoped.

    I also want to point out that this post clarifies how we should shop for a vendor/team member, and make sure he/she is the right fit. Now imagine that your potential customers are looking at your business the same way – especially coaching! I think “feely” businesses miss that point sometimes, and look for clients to hire them without much concrete evidence to go on. 😊

  • Pam Pappas

    Great points, Christine.

    Sure wish I’d considered the “Never ever, ever, ever pay for everything up front” one. I suppose I’d be one of the “sniffling” people who have come to you, and can serve as an example of what NOT to do.

    In my case, this was what I thought I “had” to do in order to get the work underway. Unfortunately it really left me burned when the web designer delivered no work after receiving her hefty fee. She ultimately agreed in writing that she owed me a refund, but has never paid up. Legal options did not work, as she moved out of state and cannot be sued without my spending even more money (with still no guarantee of receiving my money even if I do win a settlement in court). I did make a Better Business Bureau complaint but nothing ever came of that either.

    Periodically I do contact her, and she says she is making a plan to pay me — but then she never does.

    Glad you’re warning people so they are wiser than I was, on this point.

  • Michele Marik

    Definitely a good list. I’ve actually got a similar (shorter) list on my website. A number of my earlier clients were small-business owners who had hired someone who also liked salted dark chocolate. They discovered (painfully, and expensively) that not every graphic designer is capable of creating a functional, easily-maintained website.

    I even wrote a blog-post about it 🙂 http://www.readyaimsucceed.com/graphic-designer/

  • Alexandre L’Eveille

    Good advice—I agree. When I work with branding clients (and it includes a web site design), after I listen to them and clarify their needs, they get a very thorough proposal that outlines, scope, project flow, timeline and payment terms. I always encourage them to ask any questions before committing. If both parties don’t go into the process with clarity and commitment, it is bound to be a struggle and likely to fail. Like any investment, know your goals going in.

  • Carlos Scarpero

    Great points. I do web design myself and wish more clients were like you.

    I would add few points. Does the designer understand your business and do discovery to figure out how the site fits into your marketing plan? Do you even have a marketing plan?

    Secondly, like many other businesses, web design typically is a you get what you pay for type of service. If you cut corners, you will get burned.