Web Design Podcast (13) – Choosing a web design company

Paul Boag

This week we look at the selection process for choosing a web design agency. As a client, how do you pick the right company for you? Conversely, as a web design agency, how do you make yourself attractive to clients?

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Okay, I admit it, the last person you want to ask about choosing a web design company is a web designer!

there are many cowboys around that damage the entire profession

He is bound to think you should choose him and that his company is the best. In addition, to be honest, there are many cowboys around that damage the entire profession. I hope that the other entries on this site prove that I am not one of those but I still encourage you to take what I say with a pinch of salt. After all, I am bound to be a little biased.

After saying all of that, here are my recommendations for those seeking a web design company to work on their site.

Are they a full time web design company?

A strange question to start with I know but it is one worth asking. There are a surprising number of students working out of their parents’ back bedroom. If you have a limited budget that might be fine, but if you are talking about a serious web development project these kinds of groups will get out of their depth very quickly.

How many people are in the company?

The size of the company is a good indication of its capabilities but also of its overheads. A large company is often unresponsive and tends to have a higher charge out rate. A one-man band can be much cheaper and keener to please but can sometimes be overwhelmed by larger more complex projects. Look for a company that is of the size that best suits your project.

What is the main revenue of the company?

Some companies offer web sites in addition to their main business. A number of graphic designers and printers have branched out into the web design business. Equally, many technical development houses have moved across into web design. In my opinion, it is better to seek out a company that specialises in web design and are experts in that area.

Do they charge for initial consultancy?

Some companies will try to charge for initial consultancy or avoid engaging in project specifications until the contract is signed and sealed. My advice is to avoid companies like this. A good web design company should be willing to meet with you free of charge to discuss the specifications of your project before drawing up a fully costed proposal.

Can they build what you want?

Make sure that they have the capabilities to deliver what it is that you require. It helps if they have produced something similar, which they can refer you to. Do they have the right resources and technology? Do they offer web hosting and diagnostics for your requirements? What kind of support do they offer?

Are you tied in to them once your site is built?

This is probably the biggest problem faced by website owners. Many web design companies build websites that neither the client nor another web design company can edit. Make sure that you aren’t going to have to go back to the web design company every time you want to make a change on the site. Also, make sure they are using industry standard tools to build the site in the first place. That way if you are unhappy with them you can go to another company for future development work.

What is their portfolio like and can you view the live sites?

You must see some published work. Starting with the design company’s own web site, and some of their clients’. Do you like them? Are they visually appealing? More importantly, are they easy to use. Also check that they are capable of tailoring their designs to fit the client and that they don’t have too strong a house style.

Do they have clients willing to talk to you?

Is their service of a standard that their clients will recommend them? If they are good and competent designers then they should have clients who are prepared to discuss their experiences.

What is their charge out rate?

Don’t be afraid to ask them what they charge per day and what the average value of their projects is. However, watch out, some design agencies will have a low daily rate but will make sure that the project lasts long enough to make a profit! A good web design agency shouldn’t have a problem telling you their rates. After all, it is a waste of everybody’s time if your budget doesn’t fit with their daily rates. However, it is also useful if you give them an indication of what your budget is because they should be able to tailor a project to fit your budget.

What is their approach to project management?

Will they give you a full proposal with timescales and milestones? Do they have dedicated project managers who will look after the running of your project?

How will they build your site?

Do they build with the latest web standards? Do they understand accessibility legislation and your obligation to make your site available to the widest possible audience?

Do they have long-term clients?

Not only does the presence of long term clients demonstrate a high level of customer satisfaction, it also shows an understanding by the web design company of the need to build sites for the long-term. All web sites have to grow and evolve over time and agencies that work with clients over the long-term know how to design a site flexible enough to change with the company’s requirements.


Hopefully some of the above was helpful and not too biased towards Headscape. Just to show my complete impartiality you might want to check out the independent directory of web designers at the UK web design association. This will provide you with a complete list of web designers in the UK and allows you to search by county and by skill.