How to Tell if Your Web Designer is an Idiot

Aug 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Case Studies

I recently accepted a design job for a friend. The designer she had hired previously not only decided he didn’t want to do the work any more, he also didn’t have a clue what he was doing. This put her (and me) in an awkward position to say the least. She didn’t own her domain, she didn’t have any actual contact with the designer (e-mail only, and only when he wanted to answer), and worst of all, she didn’t have a contract. She had gotten it in her mind to have a website built, and charged in without a care. Her “designer” charged her a fairly low price, but gave her exactly what she paid for.

Don't be this guy

Don't be this guy

Unfortunately, there is no governing body for licensing or certifying designers. There is no specific set of courses one must complete or set of books one must read to make a business out of design. As a result, the first time someone figures out how easy it is to make a site with a WYSIWYG editor (like Frontpage or some other equally evil monstrosity), they hang out the shingle as a “designer” and wait for the business to pour in. The problem with this approach is that most of those who go this route don’t know the difference between a designer and a developer (yes, there is a difference).

You get the high school kids (or worse yet, middle school) who’s parents or grandparents think they’re just a “computer genius” and can “even make websites.” You get the folks that have figured out how to use “templates” but know absolutely nothing about design (like our hero from a couple paragraphs up). Actual designers are usually the last people contacted for web design services because there are so many of the above.

So, how can you tell what you’re getting?

Well, did you sign anything before the work started? If not, you are working with an amateur (or a family member who’s a glutton for punishment). A contract is extremely important, not only for the designer, but the client as well. In the case cited above, there was no contract. The hack in question held my client’s domain for ransom (and some of those negotiating calls were quite fun). He refused to relinquish control of certain aspects of the site and additionally refused to accept the payment he demanded. All told, it took three months to finally be rid of him.

The contract gives both parties a clear idea of what work is to be done, on what schedule, at what cost, as well as who owns the finished product. Without those kinds of protection my client was relegated to playing games with a manipulative control freak. He could bill her whatever fee he wished, and if she refused to pay it he’d simply shut her site down.

I could beat this horse more if you wish, but it’s dead. Get a contract…

Where’s the portfolio? Have you seen examples of this designer’s work? What designers do is all about aesthetics, appeal and usability. If there are no examples thereof, how can you be sure they even know how to pronounce aesthetics? In the case of my client from above, her designer had no website. There was no mention of him anywhere on the Internet (except for one real-estate website, but that was as a realtor).

The idea here is simple. If you were to commission a painting of your grandmother, would you pick some random person on the basis of a recommendation from someone who was in grade school art with him? I didn’t think so.

How responsive is your designer? Serious designers will return phone calls and e-mails within 24 hours. There will always be periods of incommunicado, be it family matters or vacations. The fact remains, no communication is bad (on both fronts). As a designer, I’ve had clients who pay to have work done then drop out of the process. It’s frustrating to me, so I can imagine what clients must feel when they pay a designer up-front money only to have the designer disappear for a few weeks.

How much is he charging? As a designer, one of the most frustrating notions clients have is the one that goes like this. A prospective client calls and asks how much a website design costs. When I ask what they want, the only answer they have is “a website.” As a client, you must understand that this is exactly the same as calling a car dealership and asking for a car, and asking how much. The dealer will ask what kind of car, with what kind of features and in what color. If you don’t have any answers for him, he won’t have any for you.

If you ask “how much” and your designer has an answer, you should look elsewhere. Firstly, you’re going to get cookie cutter crap, and secondly you are going to be gouged later for “updates.”

I hope this helps you, the prospective client, understand what can go wrong with web design. If you chose to hire me, wonderful. If not, I can recommend some great companies and designers. Just don’t hire the ones mentioned above.


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