How to Hire a Great Web Designer
It’s not always easy to find reliable web design talent. The term “designer” encompasses a wide range of occupations, some of which require specialized knowledge while others allow their practitioners to be “Jacks of all trades, masters of none.” The situation is exacerbated because “design” is often associated with arbitrary judgments of taste and individual expression.
Because of this, finding a professional web designer may seem impossible. Finding the right freelancer for your team or project doesn’t have to be difficult, and this guide is here to help. This can be accomplished by familiarising oneself with the many responsibilities of a web designer and preparing a list of pertinent strategic questions to ask prospective candidates.
Disciplines and functions in web design
The term “web design” is often used to refer to a wide range of related but distinct occupations. These days, a Web Designer has to be knowledgeable in many areas, including web development and may have acquired this knowledge through a variety of means. They could have experience with various website creation tools, including WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace.
Knowing some of the more general terms will help you determine which type of design professional is best suited for the position you’re trying to fill. Before moving on to the interview phase, this will also help you refine your project description and eliminate unqualified candidates.
- Abilities are utilized in the last stages of design; namely, visual design. Typically associated with creative types who may lack a solid technical foundation in web design (although many are). However, these aren’t necessary for a web designer, but they are nice to have in addition to technical proficiency. Designs, mood boards, illustrations, banners, photo manipulations, and compositions are all part of the final product.
- Company identity (including logo) Many web designers also have some familiarity with branding and logo design, which is a separate but related field. Having these on hand is a nice touch, and they may even be required for the project or the position you’re trying to fill. Products: Brand books, color palettes, and style guides
- UX Design (User Experience Design) – In tandem with Information Architecture and Interaction Design, User Experience (UX) is the overarching field devoted to making sure digital products meet users’ expectations by facilitating the smoothest, quickest path to the product’s goals. Items produced include user personas, workflow diagrams, low-fidelity sketches, an accessibility analysis, usability tests, and wireframes.
- Creating individual control elements and designing larger systems and visual language that make navigating a website or application a pleasant experience is what’s known as user-interface design (UI). Someone on your team needs to have solid UI skills if you plan on designing any kind of application, whether mobile, web or otherwise. Products: detailed sketches, functional prototypes, pattern libraries, user interface kits
- What we call “information architecture” (IA) is the practice of figuring out how to organize data so that it’s easily accessible and logically presented to users. Having an IA expert on staff is crucial for larger websites and applications that feature a wide variety of content or a complicated content structure. Site maps, navigation lists, taxonomies, a content audit, and user journeys are some of the deliverables.
- The study and practice of designing how people and computers interact are known as interaction design (IxD) or UX design. Working with a web designer who is well versed in good and bad practices of IxD, who understands the well-established conventions and knows when to break the rules to achieve a specific goal is especially helpful in this day and age when websites are increasingly taking on the multifaceted functionality of apps and users are accustomed to a wide variety of interactive elements. Products: workflow charts, state maps, interactive prototypes, and libraries of interactions and functionalities
Keep in mind that this division is not always necessary and that even though some people have achieved great success in only one of these areas, a solid grounding in the others is crucial for anyone claiming to be an expert in any of them. Even if a designer’s only responsibility is to produce high-quality wireframes, he or she still needs to know how those wireframes will be converted into a functional, responsive set of HTML and CSS files and how much JS will be required to implement the intended interactions.
Expertise in a wide range of design fields is a hallmark of many top freelance web designers. They are accustomed to working on web design projects independently, from the first rounds of specification discussions to the final production code, and everywhere in between. They could also be a web developer or graphic designer. Experts of this type are ideal for low- to medium-scale web projects that are pressed for time and money. They have great efficiency and can get the job done with only 20% as much work as others.
Larger projects gain more from a thorough examination of each aspect of the design, necessitating a design team comprised of experts in their respective fields. Different roles, such as information architecture (IA), interaction design (IxD), visual design, and so on, may be filled by the same person or by different teams, depending on the nature and scope of the project at hand.
Web Design Workflow
Over the past decade, web design as a profession has undergone significant change. The most efficient processes and procedures have emerged and become the norm in their field. It’s important to remember that some conventions from the web’s infancy should still be avoided.
The “three mockups” method is one such inefficient and archaic practice. In the past, businesses in need of web design services would request three mockups (typically created in Photoshop) or other high-fidelity comps from designers. These are typically developed after a preliminary briefing with the client or after a short discussion. The result of adopting this method is a layout based on the individual’s whims and preferences. It’s a gamble to try to meet customer expectations and advance the company’s agenda in this manner. This is not the way to work, nor should you request it from a website designer.
The iterative process introduced by Jesse James Garrett in The Elements of User Design is a vast improvement when it comes to designing websites. There are five distinct phases, each building on the choices and efforts of the one before it.
The following is a highly abbreviated breakdown of the steps involved:
- The strategy entails identifying the product’s most important financial objectives and striking a happy medium between those goals and the desires of the product’s intended consumers (based on market research, focus groups, user personas, and the like). Deliverables: Outline of the project, specifications for the design team, and desired outcomes
- Goals — Detailing the necessary features and information. It also includes deciding what components of the project will be built and what will be scrapped. Deliverables: Comprehensive Project Description
- Organization: The architecture of information and the design of how people interact with each other. Card sorting and user journey maps are used at this stage to determine the website’s overall structure and the order of its pages. Workflow charts and state diagrams are developed for software. Sitemaps, low-fidelity prototypes, or wireframes are examples of deliverables.
- The skeleton of a user interface, information architecture, and navigation. With the framework in place, decisions about content layout, UI element use, and functionality can be made on an objective basis. At this point, you should have completed the implementation of all navigation elements and added all content to its appropriate locations. Results: a fully functional prototype of the website or app
- The aesthetic treatment and the brand’s style guide are implemented into the final product. Applying corporate or product branding and making unbiased decisions about its visual treatment are both facilitated by a fully functional and well-organized website.
Due to the nature of the process, each step may go through several rounds of revision before being finally accepted. As problems or opportunities for improvement are discovered at each stage, the prior iteration’s outputs can be adjusted accordingly. One major benefit of being able to conduct usability tests at each stage is avoiding costly investments in concepts that prove to be flawed down the line.
Proficient web designers should be familiar with prototyping and wireframing tools like UXpin, Balsamiq, or Axure. Wireframes can be made in any number of programs, from Photoshop and InDesign to Fireworks and even Sketch. However, many developers find it easiest to jump right into popular CSS frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation once they’re finished. The latter has the advantage that the prototypes can be used as starting points for the final product. Reduced production time and the removal of useless deliverables result from this.
Finally, this method and others like it reduce the number of arbitrary choices made throughout the design process in favor of more well-informed, researched, and data-driven options. Designers who do this are easy to spot because they can be questioned about the thought process behind a project’s layout, positioning, and style decisions. If you have a question, they should have a clear, concise response that is supported by data.
Responsive Web Design Process
Due to the increasing proportion of mobile device users, any newly developed website must be accessible from as wide a range of devices as possible. “Responsive Web Design” or “Adaptive Design” refers to the method used to create websites that look good on a wide variety of screens (which is also used to refer to a specific methodology in responsive design).
The question of whether or not to have a responsive website is now moot, as the answer is an unambiguous “Yes,” and search engines like Google now demote mobile-unfriendly sites in favor of those that are. How to implement a successful and effective multi-device strategy without going over budget or missing the point of mobile user experience is the real question.
Professional web designers should be well-versed in the methods that make a site responsive. We have put together some questions and guidelines to help you find the best candidates for your project. When designing and developing a responsive website, it’s important to keep in mind a few key factors.
Content Strategy Across Devices
When designing for responsiveness, it’s not enough to simply make sure that all of your content will display properly on any device’s screen resolution.
Because the navigation of a website must adapt between screens, it is sometimes preferable to omit certain pieces of copy on a mobile device or use alternative copy or different image assets. On the other hand, there are times when it is appropriate to restrict access to certain content or features to mobile devices only. This is the case when, for example, a “click to call us” button, interactions based on a user’s location, or an “app download” button, are all enabled only on mobile devices.
Q: Do we have to prepare different content or assets for different devices?
The answer is “yes” on occasion. Here are some examples of when it’s necessary to make such adjustments:
- A wide aspect ratio image may work well as a desktop website banner but is nearly unusable on a vertical smartphone screen, necessitating a different crop for the former.
A large presentational video works great on a computer screen, but an image and text can do the job just as well on mobile devices, especially if you anticipate traffic from devices with slower mobile internet connection.
- Some text may need to be removed (or rewritten) for mobile devices with smaller screens, as the user is unlikely to read it.
- One possible example is replacing the “Send a Message” button on desktop computers with the “Call Now” button on mobile phones.
- Complex graphs, charts, and long tables are better off as linked standalone pages on small screens than they are embedded in the content stream of the page. Another option is to highlight only the most relevant information or to present it in a different format.
- The navigation structure may need to be rethought or even created anew to accommodate a variety of screen sizes. This has nothing to do with how it is visually represented, but rather how it is structured differently for various devices. For example, some devices may display a flat list of links rather than dropdown/drill-down menus, while others may display fewer levels of depth in more complex menus.
Layout Optimisation on Different Screens
Websites can benefit from having a lot of horizontal space on desktop computers and larger tablets when they are held on their sides, but as the screen size decreases, the same is not true for mobile devices. Because of this, most mobile-friendly websites only have one column of content. When designing a responsive website, this is one of the most important questions to ask.
Q: How do you make sure the content layout looks good across different devices? What technology do you use to achieve that?
Breakpoints should be established based on the most common screen sizes, contexts, and types of mobile devices. For example, the page layout may shift from three columns to two columns and then to a single column at a set of predetermined screen widths (and less frequently screen heights). The most common width dividing lines now are:
- Those with a resolution of 1920 pixels or higher, such as modern televisions and large computer screens, can view this article.
- Almost all laptops, many contemporary desktop monitors, and large tablets (typically 10″ and up) held in landscape mode have a resolution between 1280 and 1920. (held horizontally).
- 800 – 1280: for older or smaller monitors and landscape-oriented tablets.
- The range is from 480 to 800, which is suitable for both portrait (vertically held) tablets and landscape (horizontally held) smartphones.
- smartphone portrait orientation can capture up to 480.
The @media rule in CSS is used to apply different styles depending on the width of the viewing device, for example, to increase the font size of a paragraph to 14 pixels only on devices with a screen width greater than 480 but less than 800:
using css @media (min-width: 480px) and (max-width: 799px) size-font: 14px;
The order in which HTML code is entered is also crucial, as this determines how it will be displayed on mobile devices. In general, the success of an effort to implement a responsive website relies heavily on the quality of the HTML code written.
Interaction with the user interface on different devices
Make sure every UI element behaves as expected in the context of each device type, as devices vary not only in screen size but also in terms of input methods. This means that while dropdown menus might work on desktop computers, mobile users will likely prefer app-style navigation on their smartphones and tablets.
Q: What do you do to make sure the UI works well and feels natural on different devices? Name a couple of interaction patterns that are not suited for specific devices.
Users of various devices have come to expect that their favorite websites will operate similarly to the native applications they use.
The most glaring difference between a desktop and a mobile UI is the control method: desktops typically use a mouse or trackpad and a fast and easy-to-use keyboard, while mobile devices rely on a touch screen with no pointer and with an on-screen keyboard that is often difficult to use. There’s also the fact that the hover state, which is typically used to activate specific actions on web pages, isn’t available on devices without a pointer. Furthermore, the pointer and touchscreen input methods facilitate some actions while hindering others, depending on the method used. Touch screens make it simpler to drag items across the screen (desktop users typically avoid dragging), while a mouse pointer simplifies the process of clicking on smaller controls (thus UI controls should be made larger on touch screens).
Asset Optimisation Based on Screen Size
Having the ability to serve the same assets to various devices doesn’t guarantee that the same image or video quality will be optimal across all of them. Web designers need to be aware of the assets that they serve to different devices to decrease load times, especially on mobile internet connections.
For instance, while a background image with a width of 1920 pixels and a file size of 400 kilobytes will look great on a desktop computer, it will be too large and take too long to download on a smartphone. If the user’s screen is too small, a smaller version of the image should be displayed. If the user only sees one version, there’s a risk that they’ll go ahead and download both of them.
Q: Does it matter if you serve the same assets regardless of screen size? Is there any difference between images and backgrounds in this regard?
At the very least for larger images, it’s helpful to have a mobile and desktop version available. To speed up page loads for mobile users, smaller versions of the same image can be served. However, due to the higher screen density of mobile devices, it is not recommended to drastically reduce image size (if at all possible) for these devices. Since some images can be reduced in size without much visual impact, while for others it is important to retain their details, decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.
Background images, as defined in CSS, differ significantly in technical detail from content images (included as image files in HTML). Backgrounds can be set independently in various media queries in CSS, meaning that each version is only downloaded from the web server if the user’s screen matches a certain query. There is currently no standard, well-supported method of serving different image files depending on the user’s device screen resolution in HTML. This can be accomplished in several ways, including the use of polyfill scripts that mimic the behavior of the forthcoming picture> elements, the use of scripts with their conventions, or the use of a CSS background to display an image.
However, a CSS image background should be avoided in most cases because it lacks semantic meaning and is instead treated as decoration. There is also a lack of accessibility because it cannot be described using the title and alt attributes of an image tag.
SEO, semantics, content syndication, and accessibility concerns
In today’s hyper-connected digital world, not only do humans on screens read your website but so do machines. People use apps to aggregate content to read at their leisure; disabled users rely on machine assistance to access and interact with your content; and search engines crawl your website to find out what it’s about and help users by showing your content when they’re looking for it.
Your website and its readers will benefit from all of these changes. Your website needs to follow certain standards and conventions to make the aforementioned possible and effective. The more closely it conforms to them, the higher the probability that machines will correctly interpret it.
Q: How do you measure whether a website is well suited for SEO and the content is machine-readable?
Writing semantically correct HTML markup code, taking advantage of the new HTML5 elements to mark each piece of content properly, is the first and most important step in making a website machine-readable and SEO-ready.
Q: Are you concerned with accessibility and what do you do to improve a website in that regard?
Accessibility is greatly improved just by having correctly marked up, semantically correct content. It is important to take additional measures to ensure that as many people as possible with disabilities can use the website without encountering any difficulties doing so.
- In addition to the semantic HTML5 tags, aria roles can be assigned to the content’s more prominent elements to provide a more in-depth explanation of their function. This improves the usability of assistive technologies by allowing them to better understand the content.
- Many users experience some degree of colorblindness, so it’s important to be mindful of this when designing user interfaces. The use of color alone to denote the relationship between UI components is discouraged (e.g. unlabeled green and red buttons or indicators).
- Designing for user agency means giving users a say in the website’s aesthetics. In particular, the site’s usability should not be compromised by the browser’s zoom feature. Content on a properly marked-up page can also be extracted by reading apps and restyled by the user’s preferences (larger font sizes, a more contrasting color scheme, and a more readable typeface, for example).
Q: What about content syndication? What steps should we take to make sure our content can be distributed over different channels and used by other apps?
Several methods exist to guarantee the content can be understood independently of the website’s setting. The content and the distribution channels should be taken into account when deciding on the best format.
- The most common and crucial method of making content redistributable is by using semantic HTML5 markup. Make use of the article> tag to identify self-contained sections of text with their titles. The header> and footer> tags can be used to specify the beginning and end of an article, while the aside> tag can be used to indicate supplementary material. Addresses should be marked as address> and dates as time datetime=”yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm: ss”>.
- Use Schema.org to make sure all of your content is listed correctly according to its widely accepted schemas if you need clearly defined pieces of content with their unique characteristics specified.
- Technically, RDF, Microformats, and Microdata are some of the formats that can be used to define a data structure. To mimic XML-like structured data, they employ HTML-compatible elements (classes or tag attributes).
Content Management Systems, Premium Themes, CSS Frameworks
Web development has progressed into a mature industry, with developers producing a plethora of well-made tools and apps to facilitate the work of a web designer or developer in keeping with standard practices and patterns.
Owners and administrators of websites can manage the site’s content without learning how to code, and CMSes give designers and developers a great deal of creative leeway.
Q: In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a CMS? When do you think it’s good to use one, and what are the alternatives?
Web designers should be able to make an objective decision about which content management system (CMS) to use, even though many designers have strong preferences for one CMS or another.
- CMS has many benefits, including simple content management, in-built template engines that speed up development, adherence to best practices, well-documented code that can be handed off to another developer, and a plethora of well-supported plugins that cut down on development time by the hundreds.
- There are a few drawbacks to using a content management system, such as the potential for code bloat and slower load times, the propensity to use large plugins for features that can be implemented with a few lines of code, and the restrictions imposed by the system on more complex data structures or interactions, which may force developers to “fight” the system to accomplish their goals.
- Any website project where the client needs complete control over the content should use a well-known CMS. However, some larger websites and especially web apps are too complex for conventional CMS and will perform far better if implemented using a custom-made system, tailored to specifics and needs. A sound content management system (CMS) may be able to handle such projects, but only at the expense of extensive customization, radical new ideas, broken plugin compatibility, and no longer receive updates or support.
When time and money are of the essence, projects often opt for the “Premium Themes” offered by popular CMS. However, there is a cost associated with using the built-in functions and design. Professional web designers are aware of this fact, and they can offer guidance as you consider whether or not to take this route with your project. They can also assess the theme’s usability and provide insight into its benefits and drawbacks.
Q: What are some of the common issues that we face when using off-the-shelf “Premium” themes for a CMS?
Their themes often come at a price (performance-wise) and have significant limitations, even though they can be easily customized in terms of components and styles. It’s not uncommon to encounter issues with today’s top themes, such as:
- The process is inefficient because more code and resources are being loaded and run than are required. The competition among theme creators is fierce, so they often try to outdo one another by adding more and more functionality to their themes. Themes are designed to be flexible without requiring the modification of any source code, which increases the size of the codebase, the number of scripts, and the amount of data that must be queried and processed beyond that of regular templates.
- Beyond the scope of the theme’s intended customizations, it is difficult to make significant changes to the theme’s visual style and layout. Since the code base is more complex than the typical CMS templates, making significant changes is time-consuming and risky.
- Styling these complex plugins to look like the rest of the theme is much more difficult if they are required for the project.
- Despite their flexibility, themes still have a way of dictating the overall look and feel of a website, essentially putting the designer’s hand in a vise. The result is a bias toward aesthetics over utility, where information is shaped to fit a particular design rather than the other way around.
Look at our article on Web Designer Interview Questions to see a sample question about front-end development frameworks and tools.
Of course, these inquiries and jottings only skim the surface of best practices in web design and development.
If you hire a professional designer, they should be able to provide you with answers similar to those presented here, as well as possibly offer their insights into how to make your project a success. Success depends on clear and effective communication. In addition to meeting requirements, exceptional web designers can comprehend their justification. For this reason, they not only provide obvious answers, but also those to problems that lie just beneath the surface. The ability to solve problems is the core competency shared by all design fields.