10 Critical Questions To Ask A Web Designer

Building web sites is not rocket science, but it is job that requires many skills you can’t learn overnight. Not if you want a good looking, yet functional and efficient web site. It is certainly a full time job on its own. So having this important task outsourced is smart.

On the other hand, when you’ve never done the job before, it can be a little difficult to know what to ask of your web designer. This list of questions should help you out.


What skills do you or your team posses? HTML, CSS, Drupal, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CGI, Ruby on Rails?

You may not fully understand what all that alphabet soup means and can do, it is important to have a rough understanding what this designer and their team is capable of. Web design today is no longer about HTML and static web pages of the 90’s. There’s interactivity and connectivity. You can make a site be as simple as a brochure or as complicated as your own social network with paid memberships on the side. The more complicated a site is, generally, the more your needs gravitate toward a Web Developer than a designer. Someone who can actually program or hook up the more technical things in the back end.

Developers usually have more technical skills like PHP, MySQL, CGI and Ruby on Rails. Designers generally are more on the artistic side, with graphic skills, strong HTML, CSS and even some Javascript. By asking them this, you’ll get a better feel whether they have the skills to build the site you have in mind. Sometimes you end up with someone who is good overall though that is rare, unless you are working with a team of people.

How quickly can you provide a first draft of the site and how long does a job like this normally take?

A pretty standard question but important nonetheless if you are in a hurry or on a budget. The faster you need it, the more  you pay. Also, it helps you prepare your own promotional schedule. Don’t take this literally if you’re fuzzy with what you want. That will stretch the project out longer when you change things as you go. Tighten up the vision for your site, discuss this with the designer. The more focused you are, the faster you’ll complete the site – and generally pay less too.

What is your working procedure and how will you communicate your progress?

Way too often I hear of designers and clients falling out because of the failure to communicate. And this can happen both ways. The client leaving everything up to the designer until it is finished and finds out that’s not what they want or the designer not communicating how much more work that ‘one little tweak’ the client asked for is going to take.

Personally, I don’t like to work with clients who are too hands on and questions my every move, however it is important the client checks in once a while. Both parties should have a pre-determined check-in time throughout the project just to see if everyone is still on the same page as you progress.

How much support comes with this package deal?

Designers usually build packages around an estimated number of hours, including some support. Do not expect to pay $500 and have people work indefinitely for you, answering questions or tweaking things here and there forever (like asking for a tweak one year down the road and expect it to be a freebie). The awesome designers I know often won’t mind an extra few minutes here and there but they aren’t working for peanuts either.

You have to know that sometimes, what looks like a small tweak to you takes hours of work in the background, to build up before that tweak you asked for can even be applied. A good designer will tell you up front if this will be a problem. This goes back to the scope of the project. Don’t be fuzzy. Be clear what you want. This way you will find working with your designer a whole lot more pleasant and you keep everything under budget.

What kind of after support do you offer?

Sometimes, you just can’t help it. You need more help. It could be immediately following the completion of the project or some time after. Ask what kind of rates you’ll be getting. This again should be motivation for you to keep the scope of your project clear.

What is your normal procedure if the job does not turn out satisfactorily?

When a job is fairly large, paying an up front lump sum is not a good idea. Sometimes people just bail out on you despite your best efforts and research. Other times you may find you don’t really work well together. Because we are spoiled by generous refund policies of other products we consume, we often want to demand a full refund. While there are cases where this is acceptable and OK, but when it comes to web design or any service that you are using up someone else’s time, that’s something they cannot take back.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be paying full price for a design you don’t want. Hash these out before you start. One of the best ways to work this out is to agree on a payment plan. Percentage down to start work and additional payments upon reaching pre-agreed milestones.

What software or technology will you be using to build my site and will I be able to use and update it myself?

I once had someone build an app for me and then ditched me altogether. Now, I have an app built upon technology that very few people are familiar with. It is difficult and very expensive to find a replacement to pick up where he left off. Ideally, you’d want them to use something more in the main stream versus a software that only 10 people in the world know how to work.

Does it cost extra for this software or does anything you recommend to build this site going to require additional license purchased?

This is so crucial to your budget. When you ask this, you will know if the package includes everything or you’ll have to fork out licenses to third parties to get the job done.

We would like the domain name administrator to be in our representative’s name and email. Can you arrange that?

This is so important. Some unscrupulous designers or companies actually hold client sites hostage because they are listed as the Administrators of a domain. When a client wants to leave for another designer, they make the clients pay a transfer fee to release their domain. When a domain is not in your name and contact, no matter what you say, registrars are not going to hand it over to you. Insist this be in yours or a representative’s name and email address.

Can I see a portfolio of previous sites built. Or is there a demo of a site similar to what you will be building us?

This will help you see if a designer tends to gravitate toward a certain flavor in their designs or if they are quite versatile. One is not necessarily better than the other. Sometimes, if you have a clear vision what you like your design to be, it could be better to go with someone who excels at the look and feel you are aiming for. Also demo sites allow you to get a feel of what you’ll bring home at the end of the day.

I’ve worked many sites for clients on various projects. If out of this there is one take away you should get is, be clear about the scope of your project. Don’t generalize. If you don’t know how to express yourself, find examples for the designer to see and tell them what you want and don’t want from those examples. More information is better than inadequate or no information. This always makes a job smoother and least stressful.

Photo by Carl Dwyer

Lynette Chandler

Lynette Chandler

Co-owner at TechBasedMarketing
A marketing loving geek who thrives on finding ways to use tech to grow businesses and boost productivity. Make tech work for you too. Get her 10-Step Guide to Systemize and Automate Your Business so you can grow without wearing yourself out.
Lynette Chandler

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  1. Lynette, you’re making great points. That first question made my eyes bulge a little but I know there are clients out there with complex projects that would care about all that. In my experience though – and probably because I advertise that I specialize in WordPress – that’s all they ever ask me about 😉

    Vlad, your “additional notes” aren’t all terrible but I do think your approach here was pretty negative. You’re even picking at her choice of order with the questions when she made no point of it being in order of importance.

    I especially notice your lack of simple link love back to the SBB site in your post – that’s pretty rude. Particularly because you felt the need to come plop your link here on their blog.

    • Hey Kelly, thanks for your input. I actually did debate to put the first question up or not because it can be irrelevant if the client knows exactly what they want like in your case. I’ve actually been asked this question many times because I focus more on development projects and I know if they don’t ask I’ll definitely want clients to know I cannot do say Ruby on Rails projects. So yeah I can see how your clients will never need to ask you about anything else because you’re up front about it.

  2. I apologize for sounding so negative, but there are so many wrong things you have in that post that I actually wrote a response in my blog

    Speaking from “the other side of the fence” I have seen way too many times how clients made same mistakes over and over again and failed to listen to us thinking it is all our fault 🙂

    • Hey Vlad. Well, I’m a big girl and can certainly take criticism and differing points. So I’ll say thanks for sharing your view though a link back from your post would have been appreciated 🙂

  3. Lynette, I definitely would say to ask them if they need to host the site, and if so, what the annual or monthly hosting costs will be and what your options are. Most designers like to host what they have developed, and usually do charge a premium over normal hosting companies.

  4. I think this definitely gives a good base for client to understand where they stand, and how to approach their designer. Most clients expect the earth once they’ve handed over their money – the funny thing is, the less they pay the more they seem to expect!

  5. I think you’ve laid out a pretty good list of basic questions to ask, I also think Vlad has some good points. I think another point to make when discussing with the web designer is to see what sort of engaging communication with visitors features they can implement- like a blog and feedback sections. The main thing to remember is to keep the focus on your customers.

  6. Hey thanks for this informative article. These are the basic questions which should be ask to designers before hiring them. It’s a great help for the people who have very less knowledge of this field.

  7. Some great points here–I also agree with Vlad and Ben. I feel the most important consideration is how accessible your site is … can your customers navigate it? Does it look reputable and professional? Is creativity evident?? etc … So many people try to make sites that look flashy with flash video intros and such, but most do not realize that the majority of users today are viewing the internet on their mobile devices. The Iphone, for example, does not support flash at all, so if your submission processes or anything interactive is designed through flash, potential customers and viewers will move on. It’s all about accessibility!

    • Yes, I concur. And with Ben too. I’ve also found that accessibility gets you there but copy is also important. I’m not talking about sales letter and copy that sells kind of thing. Sometimes you go to a site, you don’t really know what you’re supposed to do there. There’s so much stuff your eyes don’t know where to look or track. I believe there is room for good looking, accessible sites that also make sense and not cause confusion. Because a confused visitor always hits back.

  8. I agree, building a site isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3… You need to do your conceptualization first before starting having the site up. Clients need to be clear on what they expect from their web designers. Designing a website is a tedious process so from the very start you need to know and have everything.

    • Can’t emphasize on that being clear more. You always end up spending more if your concept is fuzzy. It’s OK to be fuzzy in the beginning before you talk with the designer but when they start work it better not be 🙂 Sometimes people tell me I don’t know how to express what I want. In that case, give links or examples and illustrate what you like or don’t like of the site. If it is a closed program you can always do a screen recording or initiate a web conference with the designer so they can see what you want/like/don’t like/don’t want etc.

  9. One more critical question. Will you use proper unique meta tags that are relevent to each unique page. TOO MANY web deisgnors that are good, fail to do even the most basic SEO practices and the resulting website underpreforms dramatically. This really hurts customer confidence more than any one thing in web design.

  10. Hazel Ann says:

    Well, I believe You have quite an extensive list there. It help me a lot especially some of the people who are totally newbie in this field. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I am a web designer and I have to say this is a great way to start your interview process. Especially now since there are so many ‘expert’ web designers out there!!!

  12. This is a great list, many times when I’ve been asked to make a website for someone they have no idea what they want, it is important that they take time to write down what they are looking for and what they expect from the site designer.

  13. Kelly,
    since the link to my post has been removed I don’t see me not linking to this article as rude, just reciprocal 🙂 As to your comment, I understand you need to suck it up a little to the author so that your link would not be removed, but the overall value of the comment is precisely zero – even though Lynette did put some work behind this article a simple common sense approach would have suggested a different order from the get go.

    I can do all the love, but since you have killed the link to the post anyway (even though we both know it’s nofollow) it kind of tells me how much criticism you actually can handle 🙂 No offense, I’m just looking at what’s been done, not what’s being said.

  14. Wish I had found this post a few months ago before we went on our rollercoaster with the first designer. Hopefully others will avoid the pitfalls that I didn’t.

  15. leather armchair says:

    Great post — I made the mistake of not having a crystal clear vision of what my website was going to look like, and I ended up paying 3 times my original budget due to all the revisions I required.

  16. Ken Chandler says:

    Hi Ken here with a few observations on the post.I think it very normal for different people to have totally different views on what is the right way to command a project. Just as two people get in their car in the same town headed for the same destination,but both take different routes. One road is not necessarily any better than the other. Key point is that both get you there and both have different ups and downs as to how you travel them.

    As a business owner it is in your interest as well as your clients to have more than one approach.No two businesses are identical and you can not always take your standard route in satisfying their requests.

    Your contract should be clear and cover what you will and will not provide. It is also important to remember that you are the expert and not necessarily your client. If pitfalls are expected than this should be mentioned up front to cover the potential.The more details that you go into on the initial project layout,then the less confusing this might be in the end.Your time is valuable, a well thought out questionnaire will answer a lot of questions as well as give your client an opportunity to express some of the things they want to see happen with different aspects of the project.

    I think that both articles bought out valuable points.I would not consider either to be wrong. Different? Most definitely. Every expert has certain trade elements they consider to be game changing.

    Regarding the comment about the link being removed.I am new here as everyone knows.My policy on comments are very simple. My number one rule is Respect I think it simple enough to be respectful of others comments while at the same time being able to voice your difference of opinion I expect a simple courtesy of a link-back if you wish to display a link in your post. By clicking on your name I had no problem going to your blog and viewing your post. Different opinions are welcome here. It is the difference that help us all in the long run to pick and choose what works best for us.

  17. Good points. I do development work a lot and I’ve found that clients often have less than a perfect idea of what goes into the development process. Most have an idea of what the project should look like and about 60% to 70% of the functionality. What I tell a lot of clients is its just a matter of how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. I can build you whatever you want but as we add bells and whistles my fees go up.

  18. Hi Lynette, your blog is quite interesting and informative. Fresher like me can learn more from this. You have suggested user friendly tips that can be read by end level user. Cheers 🙂

  19. Business owners or sales and marketing managers who are in charge of managing the web site design project. Still today, web sites are considered to be one of those “added expenses” that a company just has to have.Experience with similar companies. Thirdly, take a look at their portfolio and be sure you like their previous work and that they have experience in web design for companies like yours. Call 1-2 of their clients (from the portfolios) and ask the client how easy the design company was to work with and how satisfied they are with the final product.

  20. Marketing experience. Many web designers are simply that — great web designers. They can make your site sit up and bark and run around in circles, if you like. However, the newest, coolest, showiest and flashiest technology is oftentimes NOT what you need to bring you the most traffic, get your site found in search engines, and convert prospects to customers. Don’t fall for the glitz and glam that you see in a designer’s portfolio.

  21. Nice list of questions. Usually the more clear clients are about their needs, the easier it is for designers to nail it. A could counterpoint would be 10 critical questions designers should ask clients.

  22. Thank you for the list of questions – I always have trouble finding the right questions to ask. Referencing some of the previous comments, I agree – I think an additional article, from the designer’s point of view would be helpful (I have several website designer friends who complain about the lack of specificity their clients provide concerning what they want in a website).

  23. I know something upon web designing. In web designing, some software included like HTML, DHTML, Javascript, Photoshop, Flash and so on. I want to become a good designer then please help me out regarding to latest web technologies.Thanks in advance.

  24. Obviously written by someone in the know. But we’re finding that one of the most critical questions that should be asked is – how scalable is the website? Every website (usually) changes overtime, a business needs to adapt to changing situations or new opportunties, and the website needs to start with scalability in mind. it should not require a complete redesign / rebuild to add a calendar system / product display system for example. perhaps it is something web designers should be asking – how do you see this site developing in the next 3-5 years?

  25. interesting post .your thinking is really innovative keep it up.

  26. i’m glad that i found your full of informative post, really great post with alot of great work and effort, keep it up..

  27. Great list. All of our clients should read this. 🙂

  28. This is a great summation of the right things to do. This is a good start, but there is really a lot more to it than this