What to ask a web designer

Ruth G. | October 22, 2020
13 mins

So you’ve done your research, and looked at a lot of websites for inspiration, and now you’re ready to start designing and building your own. The trickiest part of any creative endeavor is taking one’s ideas from that initial brainstorming and putting it into practice. 

Visual aesthetics are a language that designers can translate for you. In your initial meeting you’ll explain your needs for your small business and talk about what you want to see on your website. The designer can translate this into a look and feel that is not only good-looking but practical.

Designers spend their lives thinking about how to make form elegantly follow and function. Finding a good designer that shares your visual sensibility, can translate your ideas, and can put it into practice can be tricky, but with these lists of questions you’ll be able to weed out the amateurs and find a great pro.

A web designer might have the skills of a developer who focuses on functionality first, but more than likely they are a graphic designer who creates a visual style and language. An overall streamlined look and feel is essential for any website be it personal or business-focused.

Have you worked on similar websites?

Look at the designer’s portfolio. This first step might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how it’s often overlooked. Imagine you don’t request specific examples relevant to your small business. Instead you’re enamored with the bells and whistles on the web designer’s public-facing site that are beautiful but not exactly related to your line of work.

If you hire them to create a commercial photography page and this is not their specialty, how do you think the end-result, let alone the process, is going to work out? Save yourself precious time and money with this vital first step.

Searching for web designers can seem overwhelming even with personal referrals. Start by using keywords targeting your business needs, and think about time-zones and locations. Of course it is ideal to hire someone in your city or town for in-person meetings, but this is not always necessary in this modern era.

The most important first step is gauging whether or not your aesthetics are similar. If the answer is yes, move on towards the next step and ask the web designer to send you a portfolio of recent work related to your small business needs. If they have experience designing sites within your industry, that is a very good sign you are on your way to hiring the right person for the job.

How many rounds of revisions?

Revisions are something the web developer will establish in advance of signing a contract. This is something you should be aware of before beginning a working relationship. Endless changes are not reasonable to ask for, so create a structure of milestones and number of edits (revisions) allowed, and establish boundaries and expectations.

Ask if they provide wireframes of each page. A wireframe illustrates the website at a very basic level, similar to a storyboard for films. It is used to present the layouts and functions to show the elements of the website prior to filling in with your content.

Two to three revisions is a reasonable expectation but requesting anything more that and you should expect a higher bill. It is helpful to know if the revisions will be at certain milestone points, or once the website is ready for launch. Be sure to ask at what stages the web designer allows for client revisions.

Can they roll in development work?

Depending on the complexity of your website, this a very convenient and money-saving question to ask. If your small business website is not an overly intensive eCommerce online presence, chances are you can get by with design and development in one package.

The important thing to ask your designer is if they can not only create an aesthetically pleasing webpage, but make it function. Ask to see case studies that show where they’ve done the coding for similar sites.

Most likely requesting development on top of design will cost extra so be sure to request this in the quote for the project. Are they are offering customization beyond working with established WordPress templates? If the development is not possible, ask if they can assist with referrals to a web developer or if they’ve worked closely with someone in the past that they’ve outsourced on various projects.

While it might not be their job to specialize in SEO, they should have a working knowledge of the topic. Ask about SEO integration and if they will design with this in mind as you go along through the milestones.

What do I need to prepare in advance?

Your web designer will request a lot of material from you before getting started. Expect to prepare your files and ideas in a cohesive format so they can begin without having to sort out or constantly request files from the beginning. Ask for a specific list of what they need from you, and in what format. If you’re not media-savvy, ask if your web designer can help prepare files for the web and if this will cost extra.

Let’s say your business does not involve a lot of imagery or multi-media. That doesn’t exactly make for an exciting online presence because you’ll want your website to be eye-catching. In this case, stock photography comes in very handy. Some designers will rely on stock photos or illustrations in addition to their own creations. Ask for approval on which images are chosen during the initial design phase.at page and find shoes and socks among them. That will add confusion to the mix and probably put them off.

Here is a list of just some of the content your web designer will request to get started:

Visual Content

  • Logo
  • Favicon
  • Product photography
  • Media: videos, audio


  • Company Contact information (address, phone, hours, etc)
  • Previous blog posts to migrate to new website
  • Legal notice
  • Team bios & Headshots
  • About page content
  • Categories
  • Titles

Other Essentials

  • Social Media links
  • Outline of website
  • Categories

For eCommerce

  • All product info such as images, pricing, categories, dimensions, etc.

How long will this take?

How long will this take? Of course this answer depends on how complex your website will be. A good question to start out with is asking if they have a workflow model they use for their clients that estimates phases and duration per phase.

What happens if you run over-time on revisions or for any other reason? Situations can arise that push your project back by a few days, weeks or even months. They could be related to your business model or of a personal nature. If the project must be put on hold or if larger changes are required mid-way, will there be a fee involved?

Get a sense of clear deadlines and deliverables. With dates on the calendar, you can start to think about your marketing plan for launch while the website is being built.

Ask about overtime fees, and how great their workload is at the moment. Are they able to concentrate on your project or do they have too many clients to pay attention to your business in the time you need it?

How much will this cost?

Not all web designers have the same pricing structure. Some will charge by the hour, some by the milestone and some with a fixed project fee. If your designer includes development tasks to the project, expect to pay more for essentially two roles in one shop.

Ask your web designer what is included in their contract, and what they typically charge more for, or will not do and rather outsource. Items such as coding from scratch might be out of scope for them, but not unreasonable to ask for in a simple task.

The WordPress CMS offers a seemingly unlimited amount of choices from free templates, to purchased themes, and a wide variety of plugins. Your designer may also customize a theme to suit your specific business needs. You may be happy with an existing theme, or request a slight modification that requires a few extra hours of coding. Depending on the needs of your users (and your ambitions) you might need a large change made to the code of a purchased theme. This can all add up on the invoice, so think carefully about the necessary elements and be prepared to cut what isn’t a must-have feature.

When interviewing your potential web designer, be on the lookout for them insisting on extensive customization of everything. If your website isn’t an enormous affiliate business or eCommerce endeavor, you don’t need all the bells and whistles that could put you over-budget. Custom themes will take a lot more time as well. Consider all these aspects before agreeing to full customization of a WordPress theme and request a detailed estimate upfront.

Be sure to ask if the WordPress themes or custom alterations will be responsive on mobile and tablet. All design should be implemented with usability in mind both for your customers and yourself as the point of contact and manager of the site.

It all comes down to scope, and of course what you can afford. If you take the cheapest route, expect to get what you pay for. You neighbor’s sister’s best friend’s son in art school is not going to deliver a good website and you’ll wind up paying someone else to fix it anyway. We highly recommend spending a little more than you anticipated. Once you discuss the scope of the project with a few web designers, you’ll get an idea of what to budget.

Who owns the site?

Do I own my brand new website? Yes and no. You’ll want to have this discussion upfront and what the designer’s standard contracts explain. Ask if they can put a clause into the agreement that transfers design ownership when the project is completed.

To be clear, there are certain elements you will own such as

  • Original written content
  • Your own photography
  • Your own audio & video

Your business name.

What you do not own (& why)

Domain Name

It might seem confusing that you wouldn’t own the name to your website, but you do not. In fact, you register the domain name with a domain registrar company such as Namecheap.
According to Wikipedia:

According to Wikipedia:

Domain names are often simply referred to as domains and domain name registrants are frequently referred to as domain owners, although domain name registration with a registrar does not confer any legal ownership of the domain name, only an exclusive right of use for a particular duration of time. The use of domain names in commerce may subject them to trademark law.

Web Server

The place where you rent space, i.e. the data server, is owned by a data center. You’ll pay for ongoing hosting services rather than own a personal web server.


If you wrote the CMS code all by yourself, yes you’re the owner. This is unlikely as you’re not going to be scripting your own software. You will be licensing the CMS from the authors who created it. Of course, you own the content populated onto the CMS, but you do not own the actual CMS.

Web Platform

The specialized system running the software on the web server does not belong to you. Common web platforms on which most websites run are Windows (IIS, ASP .NET and MS SQL) or LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP).

Database Software (or Programming Language used to build your site)

While you own the data, you do not own the software built to house that data. Nor do you own any custom source code written by your developer or designer.

What you may be allowed to use under certain license rights:

Intellectual Property such as stock photography and / or illustrations

Request all source files and historical files (if you are replacing an existing website) upon completion. We recommend you choose your own hosting company outside of your web designer or developer. This way you will not have to rely on your web designer or developer for every little modification after the fact, and if you want to hire a different company in the future your website will be independent of their business.

Can you train me how to update the site by myself?

Say for instance you hire a web designer to create a beautiful website that you’re very happy with in the first six months after launch. Pretty soon you’ll need to add something, change something, delete, etc. What happens when you realize you have no access to the backend, or you do and it is beyond your technical abilities to decipher? What if your web designer is on vacation, or closed up shop and quit the biz?

It is vital to have a functioning website that is not only nice to look at but easy enough to adjust on your own. Request training and guidance on how to make these changes, upload a blog post, and more before the job is done.

If you plan on updating the site by yourself, the designer will have to send you original files as completed for web, and layered Illustrator or Photoshop files. Even if you don’t know how to use these programs yet, you can outsource updates to another professional if your designer is unable to assist you in the future.

Ask if they’ll send you the content management system (CMS) because if you don’t have access to this, you’ll be depending on them to make simple changes which will add up over time. Some designers will allow you to make changes yourself, but only very basic ones, and others will create a site that you can alter completely on your own.

Future updates and maintenance package?

Your website is an ongoing project, it doesn’t end at going live. Sites need careful monitoring, updates and security checks at the very least, not to mention regular data backups. Consider how you’re going to maintain your online presence.

A website maintenance plan takes the pressure off you so you can concentrate on running your business. Ask your designer what they offer in terms of updates related to WordPress plugins themes and core files at the very minimum.

Key questions

  • Do they have a maintenance package after the site goes live?
  • What does the maintenance package include?
  • If technical issues arise that are beyond their expertise, who do they work with that will handle the problem?
  • If there are technical issues, are these fixes guaranteed into the initial cost of design for fixing within a certain time-frame of launch?
  • Do they offer discounted rates if they set up the site from the beginning?

Choosing a web designer is a very important decision as you’re putting your trust in their hands. Creating a small business website, or even building on an old one, can seem daunting at first, but hiring a talented designer to help you removes a lot of that pressure. 

Once you find the right person or firm you’ll be happy you ran through these questions with them upfront. It will boost your confidence in the process of building the site, and plant the seeds for a solid working relationship from day one. Starting off with assurance in a designer that understands not only your business goals, but your aesthetics, is worth every penny.


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Ruth G.

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