More and more these days, people’s first impression of you and your business occurs online. Think about it: how often do you just go to a restaurant without first sweeping the internet, checking Yelp’s reviews and the restaurant’s site for the menu? It’s very rare that you’d just take a chance on the restaurant and pop in for dinner. On top of that, more and more businesses exist only online these days. Don’t believe me? Think about the fact that in July 2014, research found that about $2.5 million of e-commerce is conducted online every minute. That’s crazy. And that number as probably only gone up since then.
Here’s the point. If you’re looking for your business to really make a dent in the market, the best place to begin is online. And, as we know, looks are very important. You’ve got to look good in order to stand out from the crowd. In addition to that, though, your site has to function perfectly smoothly as well. New research has revealed that many users will leave a website if it fails to load properly in three seconds or less. That’s a pretty small window in which to make an impact. It means that now, more than ever, your website has to be in top-notch condition as the first exposure of your business to the world.
If you’re intimidated by these high stakes, don’t worry. There’s people out there to help you. And no, I don’t mean those services that have cookie cutter templates for your website. I’m talking about web designers, real life individuals whose speciality it is to make a site look and function properly for users. There’s a whole world of freelance web designers out there right now, and the market is only growing, as major players in the tech industry are taking note in the design boom.
At this point, you might be tempted to say, “That’s great! Hiring a web designer is easy!” I wish the process were that simple, but it’s not. As it turns out, the term “web design” is kind of a catch-all for a lot of categories that go into this very complex process. A web designer’s skills can range from Visual Design to Information Architecture to UI and UX to Branding and Logo Design, and those are just a few of the categories. Many web designers will pick a handful of skills and become experts in those, as opposed to attempting to get a cursory knowledge of all categories. A lot of big tech players have whole design teams, and you can probably tell why. But what about you, business owner who may not be able to manage hiring a full team of web designers? What can you do?
Well, the first thing you need to do is figure out your own needs. If you are building a website from scratch, you’re going to need a little more than just a web designer. If you’ve got a skeleton of a site mapped out and have a clear understanding of your website’s goals and key functions, then you can begin to ask yourself what skillsets your designers will need to have in order to complete your task. Remember, it’s your site, not the designer’s, so the clearer picture you have of your own concept and the better you are at communicating those goals, the better off you’ll be. And there are lots of moving parts to consider when finding the perfect web designer for your work project, be it responsive design, designing for multiple platforms and devices, or layout optimization, so doing your homework and knowing your needs is a must before starting out.
There are a number of solid sites out there where you can comb the marketplace for good freelance web designers. One such site is Dribbble, an open forum for digital designers of all disciplines to publish their portfolios. The portfolio is probably the number one resource you’ll use when vetting candidates for your web design job. First of all, it’s important to see if the designer you’re looking at has any particular aesthetic tendencies. If so, do they match up with your visual ideas for your own website? If possible, it’s always good to hire someone who shares similar aesthetic preferences with you. It makes the whole back and forth between you and the designer that much simpler. Next, pick out a few of the projects from the designer’s portfolio that you gravitated toward in terms of looks or functionality. Ask the candidate to run you through his or her process for these projects, to get a sense of how he or she turns concepts into tangible products. One other thing to note: if the work in a designer’s portfolio is no longer being used by the site that commissioned it in the first place, that’s a bad sign. Avoid that, or at least have the designer explain why that is the case.
One word of warning: because Dribbble and other such sites are effectively open marketplaces, you have to have a very clear understanding of what exactly your project needs. Otherwise, you’ll be wading through piles of applications from designers who may or may not even be qualified to do the work you need.
For those of you who, like me, aren’t super familiar with all the many intricacies of the design process or may not want to waste valuable time combing through hundreds or thousands of applications, there are services like Toptal Designers that offer a little more help in the designer search. Toptal’s matching team, made up of a group of design experts, will personally pair you up with an elite freelancer from their network based on the specific requirements of your project. And you can rest assured of these designers’ quality: each freelancer in Toptal’s network must pass a very rigorous screening process before they are admitted into the network.
The world of web design is a very big one, and only getting bigger. Before you find yourself entering the game too late, do your research and nail down what exactly your site needs within the broad spectrum of web design skills. After you’ve done your homework and have your concepts all mapped out, you’re ready to go find yourself the ultimate web designer. Happy hiring!
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Image by Nicholas Eckhart.