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The good and bad Web Designers

Updated: Mar 27

Out of all the frustrations that come with running a creative business, the absolute worst is cleaning up after other designers and developers. 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.

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Don’t mistake my frustration for arrogance – I’m far from the most skilled or knowledgable 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.

5 Signs Your Designer Sucks

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 the 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 the 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 the 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.

Qualities of a Good Web Designer

Just like any creative discipline, web design has its rules. Content, navigation, and visuals must all work together to make sure your design strikes the perfect balance. But how does one approach the foundations of good website design? Let's find out.

1. Less is more

When it comes to effective website design, the simpler the better!

The Paradox of Choice dictates that the more options you give people, the easier it is for them to choose nothing at all. In the case of web design, this has never been more true. Having too many options on your website can overwhelm visitors and drastically increase the amount of time it takes for them to make a decision.

Users came to your site with a purpose in mind. That purpose is almost never to admire beautiful graphic design skills. Fancy layouts can be visually appealing, but you never want your graphics to distract users from finding what they came to your website for in the first place.

Take a look at your website. Is there any information on there you don’t truly need? Delete it! Don’t waste precious real estate on your website with unnecessary decorations. Simple, sleek designs have proven long-lasting and sure to withstand the test of time. Plus they allow users to more easily navigate your site and quickly find the information that really matters to them.

Some of the most effective website design layouts are the simplest. Strategic use of white space can really bring out the wow factor of your website! White space, also known as negative space, is the areas on your website that are intentionally left empty. No, it does not necessarily have to be white.

White space includes the gutters between images and text blocks, blank areas in the margins of each page, and even the space between letters and words. It may not seem like much, but white space is a very important design element and is imperative to effective website design. Web pages without enough white space may appear cluttered, confusing, and even downright off-putting! White space makes a page look clean, sophisticated, and professional. It also helps people focus on the important features of the site.

The following image is a great example of effective website design using white space:

The majority of the page is void of text and images, leaving a simple, clean design that does not overwhelm website visitors. The eye is naturally drawn to the most important features of the page since there are no distracting elements.

2. A Picture is worth a thousand words

It may seem cliche, but it’s true! Pictures convey a lot more information much quicker than large blocks of text. In truly effective website design, images can also be strategically placed to subtly guide users to where you want them to go. They can act as arrows pointing towards conversion points like “Shop Now” and “Contact Us” buttons.

Notice here how the arrow in the logo points directly towards the pricing option in the menu bar. Furthermore, the positioning of the man on the right side is pointed towards the lead box. These are two great examples of how visual cues on websites can guide users to primary conversion points.

When choosing images for your website, keep in mind that quality is key! All images should be high resolution and should fit the overall style of your website. It’s also a good idea to incorporate images of people as our eyes are naturally inclined to recognize faces. If you’re using stock photos, be careful not to choose ones that look too staged. This can come off as cheesy and unreputable.

When possible, replace text on your website with infographics. They are a great resource to effectively convey information while still grabbing users’ attention. The average user skims a website rather than reading it in full detail. This is why infographics may be able to convey information more effectively than standard paragraphs.

3. Aesthetics are everything

No matter how great the content on your site is, you could be losing conversions if your website isn’t visually appealing. Three of the most important aesthetic elements for effective website design are colors, typography, and balance.

As many of us know, colors elicit emotional responses. For example, warm tones like pinks and yellows make people more excited and energized while cool tones like blues, greens, and purples are more tranquil and calming. Red has even been proven to make people more hungry! That’s why so many fast food joints have red logos.

When choosing a color palette for your website, you’ll want the perfect balance of harmony and contrast. Heavily contrasting colors (like hot pink and lime green) can be jarring and distracting. It’s best to focus on hues in the same color family. Bold/bright colors are best used for call to action buttons to make them stand out, so avoid using these colors in the background of your site. Always keep your branding consistent and keep your audience in mind. Choosing colors that match your logo is a great place to start!