How to hire a web designer or developer

What is the difference between a web designer and developer? And which one should you hire for your project?

This post will outline the differences that small businesses need to know when hiring help for their website projects. In your search for help you’ll find freelancers who call themselves designers and/or developers. It may help you to understand the relationship that these titles have to one another.

Web designer vs. web developer? What’s the difference?

The design and the development of a website are two distinct processes, but they can, and often do overlap.

What do web designers do?

‘Web design’ refers to the discipline of creating the look and feel of a website or other online interaction. Web design tools include visual design platforms, such as Adobe Photoshop, prototyping applications, like Sketch, Figma, or Adobe XD. Designers will also have some development knowledge. They will most probably be familiar with the basic building blocks of the web: HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Some web designers focus exclusively on applying design principles to creating an optimal brand application and user experience. When done meticulously this is a full-time job all by itself. Web designers produce mock-ups that help a developer understand the designer’s intent is for the look and feel of web page. 

What do developers do?

Web development is a broad term that often refers to a wide variety of digital skills. Development includes the creation and implementation of digital solutions such as static and dynamic web pages, marketing integrations, native mobile applications, and database management. Web developers will likely advertise the niche of the internet where they are most familiar.

Web developers create and implement systems and programs that make up a website or online application. Developers often work closely with designers. This is especially necessary when the project involves user experience research and tight performance standards.

Both designers and developers can work on a freelance basis. If you are starting completely from scratch, you will want to have input from a design perspective. If you’re having technical issues with a site you’re currently managing, you’ll want to look for a developer who is familiar with the frameworks you’re using.

Where do design and development overlap?

For more complex projects, design and development may follow cyclical, or agile, processes. This involves designers and developers working together to create a website piece by piece. This way, the project is never 100% in the hands of either designer or developer.

For a smaller project, like a 5 page website, the work is less complex. Here the designer and developer roles can be wrapped up into one. Smaller projects often rely on the application of the visual client’s brand. This type of project requires both an eye for design and development knowledge.

My advice to those who are operating on a tight budget: hire a developer with an eye for design. That way you get everything you need all in one place. 

What to look for in a web developer?

You’ll want to find a freelancer who is working within your price range, first and foremost. You’ll need to create an outline for the project, which will provide a solid understanding of the time commitment required to meet your deadline.

The hourly rate of most freelancers should reflect the expertise that they bring to your project.

Web development portfolios

The ideal candidate for your project will have done work that is in some way similar to your project. The examples in their portfolio should be visually and functionally appealing. Make sure to look at the portfolio with a critical eye. Look for information about their process and the tools they use.

Ultimately, an interview with the candidate will give you the best indication of whether they are right for the job.

What questions should you ask a web designer?

Ask them about User Experience (UX)

Your designer and your developer should both know something about UX.

User experience is a field of study and work all it’s own. But it is still an essential aspect of ANY design project, your small business brochure site included. UX is the key to site performance, conversions, SEO ranking, and effectively communicating your brand and value.

Ask your potential hire about their philosophy or experience when it comes to user experience design. They don’t need to be an expert, and they don’t need to have worked in a user experience design role. However, they MUST be able to acknowledge that they will be designing for your specified users. Some amount of focus or special attention should be paid to your users are and their habits.

Ask them about accessibility

You want to make sure that no one who visits your site will have trouble understanding your story. Make sure your designer/developer understands how to design to screen readers and colorblindness. 

Ask them about their tools and process

Even if you don’t know what their tools are, you can always jot them down and look them up later. You want to work with someone you trust. As long as they have an answer here that suits your needs, then this should be an easy step.

Tools for designing

Will your developer design mock-ups first, before they go in to build your live site? How many rounds of revisions do you think are appropriate? Ask about the design process and the output for this stage to make sure you are both on the same page. Setting expectations in terms of time and effort up front will help you both in the long run.

Tools for building

Do you want to have access to a CMS where you can make blog posts? Will you want to go in and make edits to your homepage header every few weeks? If so, your project includes another user-type in addition to your clients and visitors: you. The primary goal should always be to provide your visitors with an excellent user experience. But make sure the tools used to build your site will also work for you on the backend.

Tools for testing

If you have the budget and the time, consider conducting some user testing. You will benefit greatly from knowing exactly how users interact with your site, instead of just guessing. This knowledge can have a huge impact on your overall marketing performance. It can also help you to understand and manage your marketing goals.

A good designer and developer will be receptive to your questions, and will appreciate that you’ve done your homework. As a result, you’ll both be better off with a clear understanding of what exactly what value your hire provides. Good luck!

Posted in Website Basics

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions about establishing your online presence. I’m happy to just chat, and if I can’t help you I can certainly point you in the direction of someone who can.