If you have decided to embark on an Internet presence, no doubt you’ve done an Internet search for a web designer already. With a myriad of options to choose from, this search can become more confusing than easy. The good news is that even if you don’t know a lot about web design you can find the right designer for you, and protect yourself as well.


Most generally, you will find reputable design firms through your search; however, you can also come across some with unscrupulous practices too. Unfortunately, I have had clients come to me after they’ve lost their domain name, site pages, and entire investment because of a designer without morals. They have no other recourse, and it forces them to start over from scratch. Because of this, I felt a moral obligation to include precautions every potential site owner should take when considering a web designer or design firm.


In order to avoid situations as mentioned in the last paragraph, I recommend, regardless of the person or firm you hire, that you make sure you do the following, plus we also offer tips on how to spot the tell-tale signs of some “Designers You Should Not Hire”.

  • Domain Names - Always make sure that your domain(s) is listed in your name as the Registrant, at the very least, and that the account the domain resides in is in your name. I highly recommend that clients be listed within all positions: Registrant, Administrative Contact, and Technical Contacts. The reason behind this is you then control all aspects of the domain and the account. Most importantly—you are the legal owner of the domain as registrant.
  • Hosting Account - Although a designer should help you choose a hosting account, I always recommend the client set up the account themselves ensuring that they are the account holder, thereby making sure all details are in the client’s name, which will provide full access to the account and files therein.
  • Site Files - When the designer is finished, make sure that it is provisioned that they will either provide you with a CD of your site files or instruct you step-by-step in how you can make a backup copy, so that you have a working copy should you need it.
  • Copyright Notations - Once you have paid the designer for their services on your site, there should never be any company/individual noted as the copyright owner, except you, the client. This is merely a technicality and does not substitute for actual Copyrights, but it does infer ownership.

If your designer needs to have access to the accounts, you can always allow them username and password access, and then you can change the passwords after they’re finished. It is unlikely they will need to do anything in the domain account other than inserting nameservers, if necessary. And much like a domain name, these tips protect the site files and hosting account in the same way, so that a client can stop anything from happening that they don’t like or can give a new designer access should the client choose to move to a new designer. This ensures that you have full control and authority over your accounts and property.

If this sounds like too much trouble, think twice, since these can protect you against unscrupulous designers. Besides, a good designer can walk you through the whole nine yards from purchasing the domain and hosting to instructing you in the care of both—no matter whether you enter into a maintenance contract with them or they hand the site over to you when they are finished. If they won’t do this, you likely don’t want to chance having them as your designer.

Web Designers versus Graphic Designers

There is a real difference between a Web Designer and a Graphic Designer, although you will find most Graphic Designers titling themselves as Web Designers. Knowing that a distinction exists will benefit you, your visitors and your site. For instance, proper code, search engine optimization, download speeds, accessibility and more depend on knowledge that is beyond the scope of graphic design. Therefore, you will want to check a designer out to ensure that their work does not revolve primarily around graphics and/or print and their experience/education shows they are suited for web design. Graphics, Print and Web are all different worlds, each with their own rules, and one will not substitute for the other.

Technical Knowledge

The use of applications such as Dreamweaver®, Microsoft® FrontPage™, Joomla™, and so on does not make a person a Web Designer, nor a Web Developer. There is far too much to it to rely solely on those applications to build a web site. For instance, not all sites will display properly in all browsers, and not all of your visitors will use only Internet Explorer. Sites must be built to display well in all browsers, as well as have valid code, good download speeds, search friendly content, and more. Therefore, the use of those applications will not substitute for knowledge needed beyond what the application actually does. A Web Designer/Developer should also know about scripting languages, hosting environments, content, graphics creation, maintenance, search, security and more. The use of an application does not ensure knowledge of design…only a true web designer/developer can ensure that.


Because of the increase in popularity of the Web, location has become a thing of the past. By following through on the communication portion of this article below, you will find out whether a Web design firm has the ability to communicate with you effectively during the entirety of your project, even without face-to-face meetings. In this day and age, there is no reason why location should be a barrier, especially for those whose work revolves around the Web.


Once you have found a designer, or designers, that you think you may be interested in, and most definitely before even considering their proposal or contract, it is critical that you establish a line of communication. Without communication, you can be sure that you will not have much input in the design process or be happy with the designer. You should email them and never hesitate to ask questions, and above all, expect thorough replies to all of your questions. The replies should be courteous with responses that show the designer’s interest in you and in helping you understand. If this courtesy is not extended to you, move on to another designer.


It’s easy enough to check out a designer’s references. You can ask them for referrals to sites they’ve created, or better yet, look at their portfolio to contact their clients on your own, so that you get an unbiased review of the designer and not just from those that gave the designer glowing testimonials. The primary question to ask past clients, of course, is whether the client would recommend the designer. Other questions would be whether the designer met goals and deadlines for the project, as well as whether the site was made to the client’s specifications.


Creativity is paramount, and a unique design is important to make you stand out from the crowd. The last thing you want is another business having the same design as yours. So if a design firm offers you a page of pre-designed layouts to choose from without considering your input, this could signal lack of creativity and other sites out there looking just like yours. Therefore, you’ll want to look through a designer’s portfolio paying attention to variety in design.

Quotes / Prices / Contracts

Although the designer offers a quote form, you will still want to have that quote detailed in a proposal and/or contract. By doing this, you can get a detailed estimate or costs, timeframes, and notations of items that would cost extra, as well as whether those extras need your pre-approval before implementation. This will ensure that you have a set price and can control any other costs that might go into your project; otherwise, you can end up with a bill at the end that is far more than you bargained for. Too often, design firms get you in the door with a very low price for the design, but costs you never anticipated are thrown in as your site is built, so you need to be alert to this practice.

In Conclusion

You know that being an informed consumer benefits you, no matter your purchase. Hiring a Web designer is no different. It may take a little education and some work on your behalf, but when you are investing your money into something that displays for the world to see, you’ll find it pays to be informed.