You should look at:
1. The company's portfolio and verify their exact contribution to the
Some web design companies may include sites if they were involved with
an update, logo design or code modification. For example if you are
looking for creative ability or copy writing skills you need to ensure
their contribution was in that area.
2. If their portfolio has a number of big clients you know at least
they can deal with that sort of level and can satisfy those company's
3. References, the amount of £20k is not insignificant it would be
wise if possible, to ascertain if the company is easy to work with,
resolves issues quickly etc.
4. Checking their response times, you may already be doing this
indirectly with your enquiries. If they are slow responding at this
stage before they have your business, it is unlikely to improve after
they have your custom.
5. Who will be actually doing the work, as sometimes the slick
'trophy' website examples in the company's portfolio may be done by
designers who have since left the company or even subcontracted.
6. The scope of their services, if they offer extra services such as
search engine registration, photography, copy writing, corporate I.D.
7. Who 'owns' the site or code. Some companies may insist you host the
site on their servers and charge a release fee for moving it to the
servers of your choice, or be protective over the code in the
eventuality that you may want another design firm to take over for a
later update. Establish what you can and can't do in this area.
8. Who owns the copyright to the design, you or the design company
again this may be an issue if you want to transfer the site to another
company or you want to create print material which echoes the site.
Establish what you can and can't do in this area.
9. Them to build you a user updater system that operates through a
normal web browser (rather like Google Answers) that allows your
non-technical staff to update the text, keeping news, features, facts
etc current and fresh. This avoids the intervention of a web designer
for routine copy changes.
10. If they design your site to be viewed in all browsers.
11. If they have qualified graphic designers and programmers, you will
be surprised how many in the industry are not qualified, (particularly
at the lower end of the market) though having said that there are many
who are very good at what they do.
12. Problem resolution procedures (should they arise)
13. Their client sites online and explore the navigation, ease of use
14. If they understand your needs and business
15. If they are proactive in suggesting solutions to suit your needs
rather than only acting on your command. They should be able to chart
your options for you and give you various scenarios.
16. Repurposing some of your data and strengthening your existing
17. Good communications
1. Any companies with 'international' a P.O. box or suite in the
2. Those that try to blind you with science or technicalities
3. Company's who have too many people in the chain which 'may' result
in poor problem resolution or execution of your requests.
e.g. senior account manager > account manager > studio manager >
senior web designer > web designer > web developer. with your message
is sitting in the account manager's inbox.
4. Account managers who do not have much of a clue technically, who
unintentionally give misleading information and cannot delegate
5. London companies who have higher rates due to higher operating
costs and more glamourous environments to impress international
clients, a company in Buckinghamshire might be equally as good. (if
budget is a concern).
6. Companies insist that you host your site with them.
7. Those that are not receptive to your ideas.
8. Companies that claim to submit your site to thousands of search
9. Any company which applies any form of sales pressure.
10. Companies that cannot provide you with a breakdown of costs
11. Those that refer to the 'Information Super Highway'
12. If you are looking for a creative design studio, avoid a studio
full of PC's.
Some say real designers don't do PC's - as a generalisation designers
use Apple Macintosh, programmers use PC's.
13. A graphic designer will understand corporate guidelines,
typefaces, aesthetic appeal better than a programmer.
14. Contacts who are never available or difficult to get hold off
15. Concepts that you don't really understand or are overly complex
Pros and cons of employing a web designer on a contract basis
1. Cheaper (e.g. with a design company if a meeting involves 4 of
their staff, you will be paying for each one to get and be there).
2. Good one to one communication, less garbled communications or time
delays associated with longer chains of command.
3. More motivated than an 'employee' of a company and more accountable
for their actions.
4. More flexible to requests, companies typically have more rigid
project planning, and any deviation from the agreed technical
specification will incur extra charges.
5. More personal service
6. Will not subcontract the work
1. Limited skills set (though some are talented!)
2. Project planning may not be as rigid or even non existent
3. Sick absence means no web designer
4. You 'may' have to provide a workspace if you want them to work on
5. Longer lead time as there is only one set of hands... however it is
not always the case, as often in a large web design company your job
can be queued.
6. Testing and evaluation of a prototype site may not be as extensive
as with a company
What you should watch for when work starts.
1. If the agreed timeframes or milestones are being adhered to.
2. If your attention points are systematically being dealt with and
not forgotten or misinterpreted.
3. If you are 'fobbed' off with 'that is technically difficult', try
to find other references which you can benchmark to.
4. If the communications chain is impeding workflow, try to negotiate
a short cut to the actual web designer.
5. Try to forward instructions in writing rather than on the phone, or
at least follow up in writing as confirmation of desired actions.
6. Ensure you are entirely happy with the concepts or stages as they
happen, do not assume that it will perhaps get better. Changing or
stepping on people's toes now will be less expensive than to implement
the change further down the line - especially when your worst fears
are realised and the end results aren't really what you had on your
7. Make sure the designers don't use your site as a showcase example
of their design skills as portfolio material. Your site has to perform
a certain function for your company.
£20k or £200 a page sounds 'reasonable' for a corporate site but that
budget should be viewed in relationship to the size of your company.
Which then makes it sound expensive if you consider your site is
probably a 'brochureware' site with no e-commerce function, or back
end database programming. Shopping around you could be possibly
looking at around £120 per page or £12k for the same level of
Indeed if you are talking of contractors that would be perhaps in the
region of £6-8k, but at any price level I would expect them to build
in an updater system to facilitate easy administration of your text
content. Photo content can also be updated but is slightly more tricky
to control the photography input of your staff, digital cameras are
fine but if the user is not experienced, the quality of the
photography will pull down the image of the professionally designed
site. A page updater system will not require your admin or
secretarial staff to learn Dreamweaver or HTML.
However as a researcher, a personal subjective response needs to be
supported by research material. So here it is;
"Choosing a web design company" by Paul Boag Jul 5, 2002
"Choosing a Web Design Firm"
"Choose the Right Web Development Firm for You" By Christine Harmel,
CEO, The Interactive Resource, Advisor.com
"Choosing a website developer" Enterprise Ireland
"BUYER'S GUIDE TO WEB DESIGN & NEW MEDIA MARKETING" OneStopClick
UK Web design company directories:
- UK Web Design Directory
- The UK Web Design Association
- British Web Design and Marketing Association
- Internet Works web designers
Sources for UK web design contractors:
- Smarter Work
- i-tik.com (this one is quite new, so as a resource it is
underdeveloped at the moment) This is a reverse auction, where
contractors bid for your project.
- Internet Works Directory 'Find a Service'
- UK Online for business
choosing a web designer
choosing a web design company
"web design agency" choosing
If you need any clarification of the answer, just ask.
Clarification of Answer by
01 Oct 2002 19:44 PDT
The UK Online for Business website is a resource for companies seeking
a direction or advice to get online, their document "E-COMMERCE:HOW
TRADING ONLINE CAN WORK FOR YOU", contains some useful information on
page 5 "Building the Site"
Personally I would draw up a list of candidates initially based on
their portfolios, perhaps design styles that fit in with what your
company is looking for. Meet a few web design consultancies who are
focused on creative web design rather than programming (as your site
is not e-commerce enabled). Also interview some freelance designers
and draw your own real world comparisons of how your company can
interface with a freelancer or company. You may find it is a certain
'chemistry' in the relationship, rather than raw prices and ability.
A good web design consultancy will explain their offering and the
stages involved. During the first round, you may receive feedback on
different approaches which will trigger ideas or build on existing
ones. It would be advisable to see a short list of candidates again
after streamlining your brief in the light of comments or suggestions
raised in these meetings.
After final meetings and supplied costings you should have enough
material to make an informed decision. If you have been allocated a
large budget by the company, use it if your objective is to build out
a prestige site, if your set objective is to save money try a
If you want to be cautious, try to build in distinct stage structures
to the project, and make it clear that you can exit at say concept
stage on payment of fees. This allows you flexibility to change
without committing to the whole project.
Most sizable clients generally go for web design companies as they
project manage the development keeping that burden off the client
executing the whole package with their multidisciplinary skills
(though smaller companies may subcontract). With a freelance
contractor you will be more involved with the management especially if
you bring it in house.
I hope that helps,