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What to look for in a web design agency

By: Neil Barr at Alienation Digital

Submitted on Wed, Nov 8th, 2006 12:00 am

Web Design is not just about the technology, but in how that technology is implemented. But what does this mean? Well, if you are looking for a web designer, these are some of the questions you need to ask yourself.

1. Do they understand my business needs?
With a little html knowledge and a graphics package, anyone can design you a web site. But will they take the time and effort required to truly understand your business? Getting to understand your business, your competitors, your long terms plans and your objectives for your web site (or helping you establish clear objectives) is an important step in delivering a web site that truly reflects your business and meets your business needs.

For this reason, even before any costs are discussed or contracts signed, it is important for any web design agency you've selected to spend time with you collecting as much information as they can on your business and the project aims.

2. Who have they worked with?
Not every business is the same and whilst we hate to admit it, working in a particular area does make it easier when you have to do the same again. Experience is everything. It helps reduce risks, avoid common mistakes and usually results in a faster turnaround. Have a good look at their previous work and see the clients they have worked with in the past. Don't be afraid to contact some of them and ask how the project went.

3. Can they create attractive professional designs?
Whilst web design can be very personal – one mans kitsch is another mans tat – it is often not that difficult to tell good design from bad. Good web design engages your audience without beating them over the head with it. The result should be a design that reflects your business and your brand, invites people in, sets the tone of the site and intuitively allows your web site visitors to achieve their goals easily and quickly. Bad design will drive customers away and reflect badly on your business. Very few businesses have the luxury of a service or product that everyone wants regardless of how it (or you) looks. Very few businesses can afford to drive people away.

4. Have they got the technical capability?
Some people say technology is irrelevant. Why should you care about html, xml, php, css, browsers and widgets? The truth is, you shouldn't. But that doesn't mean your web design agency can forget about it. Your web site users care only about one thing – achieving their goal - and they won't forgive you if the technology gets in the way or at the very worst, simply breaks. A little html knowledge is a dangerous thing. The Internet has come a long way since the early days and much more sophisticated and technically complicated work is required to deliver a solution that is robust, functionally rich and easy to manage.

From your own perspective, you also don't want technology to get in the way of managing your site. Have a look at the content management system they use/supply and make sure it is easy to use.

5. How will they manage the project?
The key to any web design project is how well it is managed. From gathering your requirements, to scheduling the development, each step of the way must be planned. This includes you! A good project manager will also manage your expectations, deliverables and timescales.

Ask your web design agency if they have a dedicated project management resource or if they have a detailed workflow plan they stick to. How will you monitor the project and have access to all the deliverables?

6. How much will it cost and will they deliver on time?
Finally, the big question – how much is all this going to cost me? If they can answer that without even going through step one, then you should already have doubts in your mind. Without fully understanding your business and your requirements, no one should be able to give you a realistic estimate of time or costs. If you don't already have a brief drawn up, be prepared for a lot of questions. But don't worry, they should all be ones you are more than capable of answering.

An indication of your budget always helps. In the same way that there are many two bed-roomed houses around at vastly different prices, there are many factors that can increase or lower the cost of a website. Think of it more in terms of ROI – return on investment. If I can invest X amount, what results can I expect? Higher investment doesn't always lead to higher results, but lack of investment usually leads to lack of results.

With good scoping at the beginning of the project and good project management, risks will be reduced and your project should be delivered on time and to budget.

About the Author

Neil Barr
Alienation Digital
Since its launch in 1997, Alienation Design has become one of Scotland’s leading web design agencies with clients across the UK and internationally. Alienation was founded through a desire to provide creative solutions in a technical world. Our talented team includes designers, developers and marketers with extensive experience in building and maintaining solutions for clients throughout the UK and abroad.

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