Out of all the frustrations that come with running a creative business, the absolute worst is cleaning up after another designer or developer. When a potential client approaches me after working with someone else, I hold my breath while I look to see what the previous person did and how long it will take to fix it.
Don’t mistake my frustration for arrogance – I’m far from the most skilled or knowledgeable web developer on the planet. But I’ve learned that there are some people who just plain suck at what they do (or attempt to do). And while their incompetence makes me look good, I hate explaining to someone, “You’re going to have to pay me a lot of money because your designer didn’t do his/her job correctly.”
I always stress the importance of asking good questions before you hire anyone to work on your website – the time you spend being picky in the beginning will pay off big time down the road. But what if you’ve already hired someone? How do you know if your designer is skilled enough to do work that is worth the cost?
Here are five signs that your designer may be lacking when it comes to giving you the amazing website you want.
1. He tells you certain things are impossible.
Disclaimer: Some things really aren’t possible. For example, you can’t create a website that gives visitors the ability to fly. But I’m talking about reasonable things like site features or capabilities.
You’re working with your designer and you see another site that has the coolest feature ever. “Can we do something like that?” you ask. Your designer tells you no, that isn’t possible. This should be a red flag – how can it be impossible if someone else has done it?
Now, there may be logical reasons why a designer says something isn’t possible. For example:
It isn’t possible based on your budget or the design package you chose.
It isn’t possible because of the way your site is configured.
It isn’t possible because it would look horrible or limit accessibility for some visitors.
But I’ll tell you this – most of the time, when a designer tells you, “Sorry, that’s not possible,” what he really means is, “I don’t know how to do that.” And while no one can be an expert on everything, if you’re working with someone who can’t give you the things you really want or need for your site, it’s time to ask yourself why.
2. She’s the cheapest designer you could find.
Years ago I had to complete an internship for grad school. When clients were assigned to me, they got a discounted rate. Why? Because I wasn’t as skilled or knowledgeable as the other people in the office.
When you hire the person offering full website designs for $150, I can tell you with 100% certainty that you are choosing someone with less knowledge and a poor skill set. I know this because no designer in her right mind would do a site for $150. People who know what they’re doing charge what their time is worth.
Remember when I said that people don’t do things unless they benefit somehow? When someone offers an unbelievably low price for her services, you can bet she’s either (1) using you as a guinea pig while she learns “how to be a web designer” and/or (2) a scam artist.
3. His work isn’t update-proof.
One of my clients left me for a “designer” (and I use that term loosely) earlier this year. Not only did he make huge, glaring mistakes in his work from a coding perspective, but he also told my former client something that blew my mind:
You have to be VERY careful when you update things on your site. Really, unless a plugin stops working, you shouldn’t update at all because it will mess everything up.
You know why he said that? Because his design work wasn’t done properly and couldn’t survive updates to plugins or the WordPress core. I had to rescue the client after an update broke her site, and when I realized what the other “designer” had done, I couldn’t help laughing.
You should always be able to update your site (and you need to keep plugins and your WordPress install up to date, by the way). Things may occasionally look strange or throw errors after an update, but your site’s overall design shouldn’t be one of those things. Period.
4. She uses plugins for everything.
I won’t say you shouldn’t hire a designer who can’t code (even though that’s what I believe) because people might flog me. But I will say that your designer should have some concept of how the internet works and how websites function. It does no good to have a pretty site if it’s so slow you can’t use it.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve inherited a design that is very nice to look at but has 70+ active plugins. Or a client who has 2,000 blog posts and never knew he should be compressing his images. Or a site using outdated HTML tables or image maps.
While we all want professional sites that are nice to look at, they also need to function. That means your designer shouldn’t need to install 25 plugins to make your design work. Your homepage shouldn’t have 150 requests and take 10 seconds to load. And your designer should understand how certain design elements affect functionality and talk you out of anything that will hinder a visitor’s experience on the site.
5. He doesn’t explain how you should use your site once it’s finished.
I’ve griped about this before – some web designers are terrified of losing clients or setting them free to manage their own sites. So they make it impossible for clients to add or change content (or even access their own WordPress dashboards), all so they can collect a monthly maintenance fee or charge for every nitpicky change they make.
I’ve seen it all – designers who disabled the visual post editor, designers who removed everything from the dashboard except the ability to add posts and pages… In one case, a client wasn’t even given administrator rights for his own blog! It’s ridiculous and a sure sign of a sucky designer.
Now, that said, it’s not a designer’s job to provide intensive WordPress training free of charge. But you should at least receive instruction on anything specific to your site’s design. For example, I use custom post types in many of my designs for things like portfolios, testimonials, or any content that needs to be displayed in a unique way. But I also send each client an email to let him/her know exactly how to use the custom post type and what to do if s/he has questions later.
How to Choose a Designer Who Doesn’t Suck
If you’re in the market for a designer, I can’t stress enough how important it is to ask questions. Lots of them. Make sure you have a good understanding of how the person works, what skills s/he has, and who controls what once the project is completed.
If your main consideration in choosing a designer is price, you’re in trouble. I know everyone wants a great design at the lowest possible cost, but cheaper is NOT always better. Ask yourself how much you’re really saving if your website doesn’t meet your needs or expectations.
Most importantly, talk to the designer’s former clients. I promise, no one will mind telling you if they had a great experience (and they won’t mind warning you if they had a really bad one, either). Ask what they wish they’d done differently and whether they would hire that person again. As I’ve said before, don’t blindly trust testimonials – contact real people instead. Every minute you spend doing your homework ahead of time will save you hours of headache down the road.
Have you ever hired a sucky web designer? What was the experience like for you? Any other warning signs you’d like to share to help others choose a great designer?
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