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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