When creating a new website, a business faces a challenging choice regarding website design. On one hand, the business can build the site in-house, perhaps from scratch or using a web template or platform. On the other hand, they can offload the responsibility, and increase cost, by outsourcing the job.

The In-House Solution

In-house website design is less expensive. It’s also more time-consuming. So it comes down to a matter of how valuable your time is. Generally, early on, especially with single-person operations, that value is rather low, even though it may not feel that way. Fortunately, do-it-yourselfers have a wide array of powerful and efficient options; for instance, a content-oriented business can have a professional WordPress-powered website up in a matter of minutes.

The Outsourced Solution

The biggest issue with templates and platforms is that most derived sites seem similar, which can make it difficult for a website to separate itself from the pack. So one of the biggest benefits of a custom solution is that it’s unique, and more importantly, it accurately reflects the brand. In fact, most design firms will create the entire theme and structure around the branding itself. If this is a new business, it’s also possible to have the design firm to create the logo and choose the domain name as part of the process.

Custom Design — Pros

• Unique design
• Reduces responsibility
• Expert guidance
• Theme and design reflects brand
• High-quality aesthetics bolster business image

Custom Design — Cons

• Can be expensive
• Can be time intensive (varies based on rate)
• Not easily maintained in-house

How to Choose a Design Firm

If the business decides that custom professional website design is the right course of action, then the next phase is choosing and hiring the design firm. This can be a complex and time-consuming process. Any business on a tight budget should consider using freelancers. This requires the business to break the job down into smaller tasks, but it’s often much more manageable when working with time and budget constraints.

When choosing a firm or independent contractor to handle the entire job, that developer or team should possess the following skills:

• Manual creation of HTML and CSS code
• Manual creation of code for JavaScript and other appropriate scripting languages
• Manual creation of forms and interactive content
• Graphic design, or a willingness to handle the outsourcing
• Expertise in search engine optimization
• Expertise working with websites in secure server environments

SEO is usually crucial. Know your business. Some businesses are fortunate enough to derive most of their traffic from non-SEO-related sources. For most websites, however, effective SEO is a lifeline. A website design team should develop the site specifically with SEO in mind, and there should be a mechanism in place that allows non-IT employees to add content in an SEO-friendly way.

As a rule of thumb, interview at least three separate firms or independent contractors. Start with general quotes from twice or three times as many, and then use a brief interview to whittle that list down to three or so. Finally, use a full-blown interview to settle on one. During the process, look for warning signs. Effective, established designers exude confidence. Avoid a designer that is unable to express his or her mastery of the skills that you require.