How to find and hire a web designer: a step-by-step guide


These days, a website is essential for business, whether you need to set up an online store or simply need a place for your customers to find information. To keep up with this demand, web designers are in high supply, and there is no shortage of ways to find and hire a web designer. But more options aren’t always a good thing.

Consider the phenomenon of choice overload, in which an abundance of choices actually makes it harder to pick one since more options also means more possible wrong ones. The potential to be overwhelmed is only exacerbated if you’re a total newcomer to working with designers. That’s why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to walk you through the process of hiring a web designer from start to finish.

How to find and hire a web designer
Illustration by OrangeCrush

Step 1: Start with a web design brief

Before you hire a web designer, you should have a firm idea of what you need. You might be thinking, “I need a website…obviously.” So what kind of website? How many pages? What content needs to go on every page? What are the headers and paragraph text? What kind of style are you looking for?

These (and others) are all particulars you will have to communicate to the web designer.

Colorful sushi restaurant web design
Web design by Iconic Graphics

If this is your first time getting a website (or working with any type of designer), you might be unclear on what exactly a web designer does and doesn’t do. Generally speaking, a web designer will take the bare website content you give them and style it based on your brand and their own expertise of web design standards. With that in mind, make sure you have as much of the following ready ahead of time to set yourself up for success with a web designer:

  • Digital strategy: Why are you making a website? What are the (measurable) goals? A marketing consultant can help you with this.
  • Market research: Include both target audience and competitors.
  • Budget and time: Consider both your ideal and maximum timing and price.
  • List of pages and necessary site elements: Consider creating a rough wireframe and site map.
  • Logo and branding: A logo and/or branding designer can help you with this. Make sure to include considerations like fonts and color schemes.
  • Website copy: A copywriter can help you with this.
  • Images and video: A web designer can find stock images on their own, but be aware you will still need to purchase the licenses. For a more authentic touch, you can supply your own media, though keep in mind you might need to hire a photographer/video producer to get good quality.
  • Stylistic references: Browse some web pages to find styles you are looking to emulate or avoid.
  • File requirements: If you are working with a coder, make sure you know what types of web design files they will need.
Web design for a film production company
Web design by KisaDesign

Finally, you will need to put all of this together in a creative brief so that you have your project specifications ready to hand over to a designer.

Step 2: Decide what type of designer you need

“Web designer” is usually the first type of designer that comes to mind when people say, “I need a website!” But the truth is that web design is just one discipline among many within the broad field of digital design. It is important you understand the different disciplines to make sure a web designer is exactly who you need to accomplish your goals. In some cases, you may need multiple designers or specialists.

Refer to our full breakdown of the different types of digital designers >>

Generally, “web designer” describes professionals who are focused on the visual (or “front-end”) portion of the website that visitors see and interact with. They will deliver offline mockup images of the website, using software like Photoshop or Sketch. Web developers (the people who write the “back-end” code that makes the web page work) are needed to take these mockups and translate them into websites. So to reiterate because it’s important: web development and web design are separate disciplines, and you need both to create a website.

Sketch-style illustration of a designer working at multiple computers
Illustration by Konstantin Kostenko

In terms of mobile design, most web designers these days will handle both mobile and desktop versions of the site to maintain visual consistency (though you will need to check for pricing with your designer ahead of time). At the same time, if you need a mobile design with higher levels of user interaction (such as shopping, chatting or creating profiles) you will likely need an app designer and/or UX designer.

In addition to choosing a design discipline, make sure you factor in other considerations specific to your project and preferences. For example, are you comfortable with remote collaboration or will you need a designer who is local? Is this a one-time website design or will it need on-going maintenance and design updates—in other words, do you need a temporary or permanent web designer?

Step 3: Gather a list of potential web designers to hire

Now that you have a better idea of what you need to make and who you need to make it, all that’s left is to actually find the web designer. Of course, you’ll have to find more than just one: you should cast a wide net and create a list to make sure you have options to choose from. Let’s go over some of the most common resources for hiring a web designer.

Web design for adventure brand
Web design by page1 Branding
  • Referral: One of the most obvious and most reliable ways to find a web designer is to simply reach out to your professional contacts. Ask them if they’ve ever worked with any web designers they’d recommend. Not only will this help you find a designer but a trustworthy endorsement of their standard of work.
  • Freelancer websites: Freelancer platforms are global online communities designed specifically to give creatives and clients a place to meet and get work done. On a platform like 99designs you can easily browse designer portfolios, message designers, negotiate pricing, collaborate through a project workspace, send and receive files, exchange secure payment, and leave a review all without leaving the website.
  • Professional networking sites: You can create a job posting on a site like LinkedIn. This might allow you to reach a wide variety of candidates, but you will need to do the vetting yourself (though many companies use software to automatically screen resumes). This is generally more useful for ongoing positions than one-off projects, but they also help with finding local talent.
Web design for video production company
Web design by Bee^Dee
  • Recruitment/staffing agencies: These use your project brief to provide you with candidates to interview from their own vetted list. Agencies like these will charge a referral fee for any candidate you hire: usually equivalent to a percentage of the new hire’s first year salary. Creative Circle is one example for finding web designers.
  • Web design firms: Web design firms are fully staffed agencies dedicated to providing design services. These are usually a one-stop shop, in which clients can receive everything from marketing consultation to web design to coded web development. Instead of working with a single web designer, clients get an entire team of professionals. With that said, this is on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, in the tens of thousands. You can browse design agencies through sites like Clutch who perform market analysis to create ranked lists of firms.

Step 4: Choose the best designer for your project

Now, it’s time to narrow down your list of candidates. Keep in mind you need more than an excellent web designer—you need the right web designer. To find this, you’ll need to review each designer’s portfolio and professionalism.

Colorful web design for psychology brand
Web design by Realysys

Their portfolio should, of course, look good. More importantly, it should look good all the way through. When reviewing a portfolio, go beyond their first few pieces (which are usually the best) and make sure they have both plenty of examples and a consistent standard of quality across them.

While it can be easy to recognize ‘pretty’ design, it is important to be practical in your evaluation of design quality. Namely, you want to bring it back to your brand: regardless of how talented a designer is, their style must fit your project and audience.

Review how to evaluate design quality >>

Web design for recruiting consultant
Web design by Smashing Boys

At this stage, you should also reach out to candidates to discuss the project in more detail and make sure they are even interested. You can also get a good sense of their professionalism and communication style. This can be a hard thing to gauge as it depends on interpersonal factors, your own perception and gut feeling.

Professionalism is about more than politeness. It is about competency. Do they talk like they’ve done this before? Do they set expectations? How clear are their terms? Do the questions they ask about your project seem shrewd and insightful? And finally, do they seem genuinely enthusiastic about the project and brand?

Step 5: Negotiate terms and pricing

The final consideration for hiring a web designer is the most practical: finding out whether their budget and schedule can work with your own. When it comes to cost, some web designers will standardize their pricing (per page, per hours worked, etc). Some will vary the pricing from project to project, once they’ve estimated the amount of work it will take.

The important thing is that you make sure you understand what specifically the terms of pricing are. When and how is payment handled? Are mobile and tablet versions included? How many revisions can you request before you cross the line into extra labor? What happens if the web design takes longer than expected? What happens if either of you need to cancel the project?

One of the most surefire ways for a project to go wrong is miscommunication of exact terms in the early stages, so try to exhaust every detail you can think of.

Find out which questions to ask before hiring a designer >>

Web design for TikTokers
Web design by andrei2709

Finally, you must also agree on how work will be conducted. Will your correspondence take place over email or in a secure workspace like 99designs’ 1-to-1 Projects? If you need to have regular meetings, how often and where?

If you are unable to agree on terms, return to Step 3. Otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to get these terms in writing—preferably in a freelancer contract. One of the most important terms you would need is the agreement that your payment grants you the exclusive intellectual property rights to the design. For example, 99designs proves the Design Transfer Agreement to users specifically for this purpose.

Hire the right web designer

Thanks to the high demand, you can find a web designer to hire virtually anywhere. But bear in mind that the real challenge comes after you’ve hired a designer. Now, you have to actually create the web design! This isn’t all on the web designer: the key to a healthy working relationship is communication and thoughtful feedback, and it can take some work on your part to get this right.

Afterwards, don’t neglect to leave a review on the designer’s platform of choice if the collaboration went well. And whenever one of your friends or colleagues needs to hire a web designer, you’ll know just whom to refer.

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