It’s time. Your site needs a refresh (or maybe you’re just getting started!) and you’re looking to tackle the daunting task of designing a new site. Most of us are not web designers, and thankfully we don’t have to be. There are key questions to keep in mind though when outsourcing web design to a freelancer or agency. We sat down with Aaron Shoemaker, Sr. UX/UI Designer here at Freestar, and asked him his thoughts on some crucial questions to ask when starting your site (re)design journey.

First, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been in web design?

I have been designing websites for over 15 years. From Agency work, where the design emphasis was to make the coolest looking thing, to Lead Generation companies where the emphasis was on design whatever will get the user to take the action you want them to take, I’ve designed a lot of different websites. Which is what transitioned me to UX design where the emphasis is on designing the most functional thing and make it look cool while I’m at it.

Website design for SheKnows Media by Aaron.

Today the line between designer and developer is definitely getting blurred. Most web designers are learning to code to round out their skill set.

Can you walk us through the key differences between a web designer and developer site owners should be aware of?

Today the line between designer and developer is definitely getting blurred. Most web designers are learning to code to round out their skill set. I first got into development because I found developers not carrying the integrity of my designs into the development of the site I was designing.

Today’s Designer should be able to design and code the frontend of their design. This is important in a designer because they understand what the final product the end user will be interacting with looks like. This would include languages such as HTML and CSS.

Today’s Developers are usually coding more technical things like hooking up data from a database or integrating API’s into the publisher’s site. These developers are focused on what we call backend development.

The problem with someone who claims to be a designer and a backend developer is they probably aren’t really solid at either end of the spectrum so you could end up with a poor design and an even clunkier backend. Although these unicorn design/developers exist they are extremely rare and expensive.

Agencies can be expensive, leaving many turning to individual freelancers for their website’s needs. What if an individual does offer both web design and development in their scope of work? What questions should publishers ask?

If you’re interviewing or interested in a designer who offers both, I would really look at their portfolio. Make sure you see different projects that show a range of skill and diversity. You also want to make sure you see a project that is in the same wheelhouse to what you are looking to do. It’s a great reference when communicating the expectations for your project.

Don’t be afraid to get on the phone and chat with them before you move forward. Ask them to tell you about a project they worked on and the challenges they faced and had to overcome. This is a great way to hear the passion and pride in their voice as they talk about the work they have done and also some insight into their problem solving skills.

What kind of materials do you as a designer suggest a client have ready when looking for and interviewing designers?

Scope and content. You never want to hand a designer a blank piece of paper. As Zig Ziglar said, it’s impossible to hit a target you can’t see. Make sure to give the designer a list of things you want to accomplish and break them up into clear deliverables with due dates and then prioritize the list.

Also, have assets ready like logos, content, old designs. The better organized your assets are the easier they are to share with your web designer and get the project off to the right start. You may also need to hand over credentials like FTP access or WordPress logins to your designer and developer. It’s important that you create new logins for such projects when collaborating with an offsite team.

What consideration should publishers give revenue streams like advertising, when consulting a designer and deciding on a new design?

There are several types of designers, make sure you find a designer who has experience designing for web. If advertising is a revenue stream, have a list of your top ad unit sizes available to have your new site designed around. Having your ads in prominent placement as well as having them be part of the design can make you more money and they’re more likely to compliment your site’s design rather than looking like an afterthought. Being thoughtful about where and how you integrate ads in your design can go a long way for user experience.

Just for fun, what is your personal favorite trend / principal in web design today?

Space. I still hear clients talk about “The Fold” today and I ask them, “What’s that?”.
The fold was anything visible in the viewport before the user were to even scroll. Now with the wide range of devices and apps with endless scrolling content the days of fitting everything in a 600px tall box are behind us. As designers we can now use white space, large typography and graphics to break up content and emphasize what the user might find useful and important.