In a previous post, I wrote about how to focus your design budget. In this post, I want to zero in on a difficult piece of any project - what to look for in a freelance designer, developer or creative shop to help you build what you need.
“Well that’s some bullshit,” you say to yourself.
You just spent 2 hours in a staff meeting, going around in circles talking about what improvements should be made, and how much should be spent on redesigning the company website. Only nobody at the table was a designer or developer. The current website hasn’t been touched in 3 years. One person had a nephew who was "pretty good at the internet.” A lot of them used the words “good design” but weren't really sure how it integrated within the day-to-day aspects of the company.
And then, they handed you their features wishlist, along with the task of collecting bids and hiring someone to redesign the entire website.
Great. You mentioned the need for a marketing person in the meeting. Apparently they heard you.
But you are awesome, and a hustler. So you put a post on Craigslist for the project, and get a bunch of responses. Half the responder’s clearly didn’t read your project description. Some can’t write complete sentences, and a few aren’t even from the same hemisphere. After checking out some portfolios, and narrowing it down to a few that seemed solid, you still feel a little uneasy. They all seem to use the same terms in different ways. Some offer more visual design chops. Others focus on the technical side of things. They offer similar-yet-different services, but call themselves different names:
- Interactive agency
- Web designer
- Coder or Developer
- Front-end designer
- Product designer
All of them do websites. Some only do websites. Some make apps. Some do UX/UI design and make logos as well. Some talk about SEO and PPC advertising. Some talk about branding. WordPress, Drupal, CSS, Squarespace, Php, Ghost, Ruby, Weebly, Python, AUGH!
I get it. It’s pretty annoying. Even for everyone on that list.
You need to deliver some answers though. The team is counting on you. You want to be the smartest person in the room. The lynchpin. The tech/design savvy one.
You exchange some emails, and narrow down the list. Your site is built on a specific platform, so follow up with the folks who namecheck what you are familiar with. Maybe you check LinkedIn for good references. You will be inclined to provide a list of problems your team outlined, along with a request for estimates or hourly rates from your leads. You might get numbers, but each will be different than the next. Someone may bid $40,000, but some asshole low-baller may tell you they can do it for $950.
The one thing your designer should do
Wait, so what is the one thing? It’s this:
The real value of your designer or developer comes in their ability to get to know you and your company beyond the website itself.
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hiring creatives. But as a rule for any project, anyone offering you a price based on an emailed description of your site's needs and no phone conversation, will probably not deliver the kind of value your team is wanting. Good designers and developers ask a lot of questions, and offer new ideas you hadn’t thought of. They should ask about every single item on your request list.
“Why do you want this?”
“Who will be updating the images?”
“What will you give them in exchange for email signups?”
“Will someone in your company be responsible for ongoing content creation?"
Your new favorite collaborator will ask about your company goals, it’s mission, and values. They should even ask questions about the individual roles within the organization. Because nothing sinks a brand new website like complicated workflows and new features no one is tasked with maintaining.
Most importantly, they should listen carefully. You need to feel like they own the project and can think and make decisions with your best interest in mind. You aren't supposed to know everything, but you should look like a damn genius to your team.
This is not to say your company needs to spend a ton of money. Rather, any money should be well spent. A good designer will ask up front what your budget is - not so they can get all of it - but so they know where your team's expectations lie, and how to approach developing a proposal with you. Even if you have a small budget, they should be able to pitch you a few key fixes that deliver value, and keep things efficient. Conversely, you may get hit with a price much larger than what you were hoping for. It should come with high value solutions, and make sense given the conversations you’ve already had with them. If this is the case, and your project has really complex needs, a smart designer will also pitch an initial discovery phase in order to help you develop a project built on clear objectives. This allows better project planning, so there are fewer surprises. It also creates an easy out for you, if by the end of the discovery phase, you know enough to pivot and change focus, or not proceed at all.
Again, the one thing you should be looking for is someone who wants to dig deeper than just your web presence. Your company should view the resources it puts towards a web project (or any design project) as an investment in the company itself. You’re not simply “buying a website”. Instead, think of your site as an employee with a job description. Just like good employees need ongoing investment and support to do their best (like free coffee, snacks! gym membership, health insurance, high fives), your site-as-employee needs ongoing resources and support to do it’s job. If it can’t meet expectations, it needs to be kicked to the curb - or at least be given a disappointed head shake and stuck buying everyone’s drinks on a Wednesday night.
Your web presence is a reflection of the motivations within the organization. Your new designer should be willing to dig deep and find out what makes your company tick, and connect the dots during the discovery phase through to the final product and launch. This approach is our goal for every project. We like to think big so we can be precise with the small details. If you are on the hunt for a designer or team to collaborate with, we’d love a chance to ask you a billion and one questions, so we can build you a site that reflects the organization behind it.