How To Hire a Web Designer and Live Happily Ever After

How to hire a web designer

We’ve all heard the horror stories about the web design project from hell. And I’ve personally been on both sides of this tragic occurrence.

You have a great vision for your new website, you hire a web designer, and usually things start off well, but soon things devolve and both sides are feeling frustrated and you just want to pull your hair out.

Two totally wonderful people have been reduced to lobbing insults over email, or completely avoiding each other. Resentment, anger, and complaining to your next web designer usually follows.

What went wrong? And more importantly, how can your next web project go smoothly so that both you and your designer can live happily ever after?

How To Hire a Web Designer So Your Next Web Project Goes Smoothly

1. Setting Expectations and Misunderstanding Technical Difficulty Levels

In my experience, things start to fall apart quickly because there is a mismatch of expectations and miscommunication when it comes to technical things involved with web design.

During the initial intake conversation, you might say you’re looking for a really simple website. The web designer has an idea of what that means to them, but if you want 3 different functions that require hours of custom programming, even if these appear to be simple on the surface, they’re going to require more work than your web designer originally budgeted for.

Solution: be really clear about the functionality you’re looking for, and be open to feedback from your web designer on whether it’s realistic within your budget.

2. Timing and Managing Many Clients At Once

Most web designers work with multiple clients at one time, depending on their fees, to make ends meet. That means that at any one time, you might be getting their divided attention and that can slow down communication and responsiveness.

It also means that when you have an agreed upon timeline where you’re expected to contribute things like written content for your website, photos, and feedback, you need to be prompt or you’ll risk your project going over time and running into other clients’ allotted time.

This slows down the process even further, and gives web designers a massive headache. So the best thing you can do is stay on track with deadlines, and understand why things take time no matter how simple your changes might seem.

3. Estimating Costs and Scope Creep

Most web designers charge for projects based on an estimate, and if you change your mind or want to add more functionality than you originally spoke about, it can cause stress for both the timeline and the web designer’s bottom line too.

Some web designers work with a team and end up paying out more to their contractors than your project brought in. That can cause any sane person to be a little cranky.

So the solution is for web designers to stand their ground on your agreed upon project scope and also for you to recognize when you’re stepping outside of the scope.

The best way to handle changing priorities to new features is to ask for a Phase 2 project quote and to schedule that separately from the first round.

4. Communication and Explaining Visual Aesthetics

You might have a really clear vision in your head of what your website looks like, and your web designer might be able to translate that perfectly onto the screen… or they might have their own vision entirely.

Communicating about visuals using words can be difficult, so anything you can do to provide a shortcut is helpful. Think about creating a pinterest board with fonts, colors, and brands that inspire you.

Another tip to help you communicate clearly with your web designer is to create mock ups or wireframes of the site. That way you can explain where everything should go, and you can also detail the functionality you’d expect.

For example, you might have a button and a note that says “when someone clicks this button, it takes them to page B” or if you wanted different functionality “when someone clicks this button, they stay on the page but a small popup window opens with more options”.

You can make these wireframes yourself using plain black lines on printed paper and scanning them, or using simple software that you already have on your computer like Powerpoint or Keynote. You could also use Canva or these other online graphic editing tools.

And please, do not reference your favorite website as the entire inspiration for your own site… instead pick one or two specific features that you want on your site, and add your own flair.

It can take a few iterations to arrive at the perfect visual style, so be kind and understanding when offering feedback.

5. Changing Technologies, Mobile, and SEO

Once the website is built, there are a few other things you might be concerned about. From maintaining your own website after you work with a designer, to making sure it’s search engine optimized.

These are things that your web designer might not be on board to do, so get clear on that before you get started. You’ll also want to talk about your mobile website strategy before you get started and design with mobile in mind first.

Not all web designers are used to designing for the mobile web but they might be able to partner with someone to implement that for you.

I highly recommend getting comfortable with the technologies your site will be built on so you can update and maintain your site without being dependent on your web designer or feeling like a victim of your own site.

How Have You Made Working a Designer An amazing Experience?

Now, I don’t want to hear your web design horror stories. Instead, I want to focus on the positive. When have you had amazing web design projects and what did you do to keep things on track and happy for everyone involved?

Leave a comment below!


  1. Razwana on July 9, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Natalie – awesome, practical advice. I recently hired a web designer and I must say, the experience was brilliant.

    It helped that she was very organised and detailed orientated. I also ensured we agreed timelines in writing, and stuck to them!

    It means constant communication of what we both wanted and were doing. Both parties being professional definitely helped.

    The same goes when hiring a copywriter. I give my clients detail, project timelines, and expectation up front. Even though a contract is signed, bad project/relationship management can sour the entire process.

    – Razwana

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks so much for chiming in Razwana! I love that you used your experience as a copywriter to work well with your designer, too! It’s great that this skill can cross over to many different aspects of running a business. :)

  2. Michelle Arsenault on July 9, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    When I finally had my first, ‘real’ website, I was completely clueless about…well, everything:-) The person who built it for me did so for free to gain experience but later when it was hacked, he kind of disappeared. Although I was originally overwhelmed, this experience forced me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to learn how to rebuild and maintain my own WordPress site. Granted, I don’t have a crazy, super cool website compared to some on the Internet but I do have the confidence that enables me to make my own changes and continue learning and at the end of the day, that is pretty empowering.

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      I love how you took charge when the time came Michelle! It can be daunting, but it sounds like you were able to get things back on track and now you’re ready if anything were to happen again. Kudos! :)

  3. Marsha from on July 9, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Nathalie, you have such a knack for writing EXACTLY what I need at the right time!

    I’m just about to start thinking about getting a new design for my website. My plan is to use Laura from Studio Baurelis, because I’ve used her for designing a few little things (some PDFs and the soon-coming squeeze page for my opt-in) and she’s been AMAZING – really responsive to all my ideas, comes up with things I really like, does just the right balance of using her own initiative where necessary, but also always paying great attention to instructions! She’s here:

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 9, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Awesome Marsha! I love it when people share their favorite resources and business people they’ve enjoyed working with. Yay!! :)

  4. Fran on July 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Hi Nathalie! I am a website designer, so I resonate on all these points today!

    I love that you have put a video out there about this. I was talking to my coach this morning about trying to work out a new procedure for making sure my clients hit their content deadlines. This is my main problem with workflow.

    I feel like it’s the website designer that must have procedures and communication in place for all these points, as we can’t expect clients to know, unless we clarify at the beginning of working together.

    And to bring up another one of your posts (the smiley face at the end of the sentence one!), I feel that it’s the designers job to be extra nice, extra understanding and extra communicative with these points, as we deal with these challenges every day, whereas it’s like our clients are stepping into a dark room!

    Argh sorry for the mind download, thanks for bringing this up! xx :)

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 9, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Woo, love your input here!

      I think it’s awesome if the web designer has all the processes in place, but I sometimes see web designers turning into therapists or coaches because to complete the project they need to coax their clients to finish their deliverables. It’s fine it that’s your skill set but it doesn’t always end well, so it’s good to set clear outlines up front! :)

  5. Marama Carmichael on July 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Great post Nathalie!
    As a web designer myself I echo everything you say. Especially point 1 – the “simple website”. That comes up all the time.

    I think it’s really important to work in partnership with your designer / developer. Just because something isn’t possible within your original budget doesn’t mean you have to give it up forever. Websites can evolve over time just like your business. If you find the right fit it can be one of the most powerful long term relationships your business will have.

    btw Jing is a great free resource for visual communication too.

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 9, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      Ooh I love that you’re jumping in as a web designer! I totally agree on the “simple website”, I even find myself thinking “oh that’s going to be a simple task/project” but being realistic with myself helps set better expectations. It’s just different when you’re working with someone else on a project and the expectations don’t match up. :)

      I also love Jing! :)

  6. Heath Brockwell on July 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Excellent post! I’m a partner in a web design studio. I can stress enough how important it is having a contract that clearly states what the expectations, milestones, and deliverables for the job will be. This has saved us SO much time and makes everything crystal clear for the client. Contracts might sound boring, but they really save you so much time and frustration in the long run.

    Keep up the great work. Love your blog.

    • Nathalie Lussier on July 11, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks so much Heath – so totally agree that contracts with milestones and deliverables are key! Happy to hear it’s made a huge difference, and for anyone who is hiring a designer or developer take note of this key point!

  7. Janet Denison on November 23, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Nathalie I wonder how options like Leadpages and Optimize Press fit into this equation. I’d like to use a WordPress site I can manage myself, but I could sure use some help fitting all the pieces together. Can you expect a web designer to act as more of a consultant in this case?