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How To Choose a Web Designer
- What's Good and What to Avoid

It can be very difficult to know how to choose a good web designer. There are many companies and individuals offering web services. Some charge way too much for what they do, some don't charge as much as they should. Many are not knowledgeable, or don't care, about issues like search engine optimization, usability and accessability. Or they may not have the skills to incorporate more complex features onto your site, such as shopping carts and other scripting work. This article will list things to look for, things to avoid and a few things to ask while deciding upon someone to build your site.

What's Good

- Capable of hand coding HTML

- Uses style sheets

- Has some scripting ability, at least enough to be able to configure a prewritten CGI script, customize it, install it and set the permissions correctly. Should be able to do at least a little javascripting. Ideally, has some database experience also.

- Has completed at least a few web sites and can give you their URL's to look at them.

- Can at least recommend a good hosting company to you, but ideally offers hosting services along with design.

- Understands search engine optimization, usability and accessability issues.

What to Avoid

- Anyone who doesn't know HTML

- Someone who uses Frontpage. There are security holes in the Microsoft Frontpage extensions, sites made with Frontpage are difficult to maintain without the continued use of Frontpage, it doesn't generate standards-compliant HTML, there is a good possibility that someone who uses it does not actually know HTML. This is a possibility with anyone who uses any WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software, designers/ developers who handcode are highly recommended.

- Any person or company that does not have a business web site with their own domain. Their site should not be hosted on GeoCities, Angelfire, etc.

What to Ask

The following are a few questions to ask a potential web designer:

1) Can you code an entire site with a plain text editor?

(A: Should answer yes)

2) Explain the difference between structure and presentation in terms of HTML and CSS.

(A: The structure of a site should be indicated within the HTML, and the presentation instructions by using style sheets)

3) What does 'chmod 755 filename.cgi' mean?

(A: It is an Unix command to change the permissions of a file named: filename.cgi. If they include in their answer exactly what the 755 means - that's even better.)

4) What OS and server software do you recommend for hosting my site?

(A: If they are unable to answer this at all, find someone else. Ideally, they will answer Unix or Linux as the OS and Apache for the software, as NT servers tend to have security problems.)

5) Who is the most well known expert on web usability?

(A: Jakob Nielsen)

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