Your company’s website is its primary image on the Internet, and the web designer you choose is the architect of that image. So laying the groundwork is an important process–and sometimes an intimidating one. It can be even more overwhelming when you’re hoping to redesign your existing site to better reflect your company’s mission. In either case, it’s best to begin knowing the message that you want your site to send, and then find a designer who’s truly committed to helping you convey that message. There are hundreds of options out there, but we’ve found that it’s helpful to keep these five guidelines in mind when you’re preparing to start your site design or redesign project.
1. Don’t go in blind.
Before you even type “website designers” into Google, make sure you have your vision in place. You don’t have to know every page you’re going to create or be able to type a line of code, but you should approach the project with a clear sense of (a) what basic goals you want your site to achieve and (b) how you’d like it to be organized. A smart move is to write yourself a nested list, flowchart, or other visual plan of your site, which can give you an idea of which content you want where, what information is most important and should be most easily accessed by viewers, and how pages will link to each other.[/typography]
2. Put words to work for you.
You’ll probably return to this task again and again throughout the design process, but it’s always helpful to start brainstorming early: what search phrases will most effectively guide interested visitors to your site? Do hands-on research with search engines–identify some of the important words or phrases that people in your field most commonly search for. When you’re writing content for your site, this will be invaluable information, because it will help you to make your text the strongest client magnet it can be.
3. Look close to home.
When you’re ready to start looking for your dream designer, narrow the search field by figuring out your top criteria, or you’ll find yourself swamped with options. Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to give preference to local designers. There are many advantages to this strategy, not least that it’s easier to meet face to face if needed. Local designers are also much more likely to be familiar with your area’s business environment, and often have especially useful insights about how to tailor your site to appeal to your audience.
4. Know your designer… so your designer will know you.
Most good designers will provide examples of their past work somewhere on their own websites. Take advantage of this. When you look at someone’s portfolio, you can often get a sense of the designer’s quality and aesthetic, but also pay particular attention to how that aesthetic is adapted (or not) to different types of sites. If every project looks strangely similar, with only color-scheme or other superficial changes, you may want to give that designer a pass. The best designers are experts at customization: they pay attention to the specific demands of your company and your field, and they’re happy to use their creativity to meet those demands.
5. Protect your vision.
When talking with your candidates, try to get a sense of how willing they are to listen to you. A designer who pitches you ten ideas before you’ve even finished describing your company is a designer who may have trouble adjusting his approach to suit your needs. Look for someone who can make suggestions while still clearly respecting your company’s vision and values. She should seem enthusiastic about using her talents to achieve a shared goal.