A meeting with a web-design company is an interview. You want to make sure their business is legitimate, and you want to get a sense for the personality and culture of the company.
Most of all, you need to understand their approach to the unique challenges you’re tackling with your project
In 5 minutes, these 5 questions will tell you more than any hour-long presentation could:
Question 1: What is your approach to usability?
More than any other question, this will help you quickly differentiate between experienced web designers and novices.
Asking about usability will help you understand the company’s focus – namely, whether or not they have the most important thing in mind: the visitor.
A company without a good answer to this may build a site that they like, or one that you like, but that visitors find confusing or difficult to use. You want a web-design firm that thinks at the highest level: user-centered design.
The best people working in web design today will light up when you mention usability. They will be grateful for the question, and they’ll be glad to share their opinions, experience, and the latest research.
Question 2: Can you show me examples of projects with similar goals?
Ask for examples of sites with similar goals and features.
Need an event registration tool? Talk to people who can show you one. That way, you can ask why it was built in a certain way, what the challenges were, what results have been measured, and how those results met the project’s goals.
Suppose they haven’t built a similar site before. Are they up-front about it? Do they have any ideas? What challenges would they expect?
Is design your main concern? Rather than searching for a firm with a portfolio piece that seems to fit with your needs, look for a company that can show you a wide range of designs. This indicates a healthy creative philosophy: a company that listens to its clients, considers the brand, and doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the design process.
Question 3: Can I meet the team?
This question will instantly reveal if the team is in-house or outsourced.
A lot of companies farm out the various parts of a project. Perhaps the firm you’re considering is a reliable partner company. Or maybe it’s an ad hoc team of freelancers who have never worked together before – and who may not be there down the road.
Or is it a team at all? The “company” you’re speaking with could in fact be one person offering to sell the project, do the analysis, design the site, program it, and manage the server. Is this person likely to be an expert in all those things?
For any site with serious goals, you should look for a team of specialists. If the team is in fact just 1 or 2 people, ask about their capacity to handle your project. Are they going to be busy selling new clients while working on your site? How important is your project to them?
Question 4: What if I want to make changes later?
One of the most fundamental differences among web-development firms is their approach to ongoing changes.
Every website will change over time. Some companies charge hourly for these changes, while others set up a content-management tool that makes it easy, fast, and free to update text, upload images, and add pages.
Question 5: How will we measure results?
It’s not a bad thing if the answer to this question sounds a little technical.
Listen for terms like bounce rate, unique visits, page views, time on site, inbound links, search-engine rankings, conversion rate, etc. If you start hearing jargon you’re not familiar with, ask for explanations in simple English.