How to find and hire a web design agency

When you are selecting a digital agency to build your £60,000+ website, there's a lot riding on your shoulders.

What should you look for in a web design agency? And how do you find the right one for your organisation? In my experience, there are two ways of finding your perfect match.

  1. You can take the long and slow road and visit digital agencies as part of your job, knowing that you're planning to rebuild your site in the next few months. This approach means you can get to know different teams and track how they're doing. 
  2. Alternatively, you wait until you're ready to go. Budget in hand, you trawl the internet and talk to contacts for recommendations, compiling a long list and approach the best ones for proposals.

The advantage of the first approach is that you already have a good idea of who has the right skills and whether you can work with them. You know whether they pick up the phone, answer emails and are good to talk to.

The second approach has a much more agency/supplier feel to it. It also massively limits the time you have to judge agency credentials, understand what their skills are and how you'll work together. Combine the amount of time you have in a pitch meeting and pre-briefing and you'll have around 3-4 hours to gauge what they're like to work with.

WEBSITES ARE BUILT ON RELATIONSHIPS NOT JUST CODE

I would measure the stress levels of building and launching a large new site in the same league as getting married and/or buying a house. So 3-4 hours ins't a long time to figure out if the agency team will make a good partner for such a challenging project.

Too often I hear stories where someone had £x to spend on a website and they found someone who can deliver it - maybe a friend's friend or cousin. It's treated like buying a shed. But then the problems start. It doesn't work on a mobile, users can't find info, or the client assumed the website would do x, y or z and it doesn't. Then communications can start to break down and your money heads towards the drain.

IS THERE A PERFECT AGENCY FOR YOU?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of agencies in the UK. All differ in size, ethos, experience, skillsets, location, pricing.... so finding the right one is challenging.

The core skills you should be looking for in an agency are: UX and design, technology and strategy. Take a look at any agency's website and the three they've most recently launched and you'll soon be able to see if they're worth talking to.

Are their websites mobile responsive? If so, do the pages perform well at different screen sizes? Does the search function work? Does the e-commerce integration work? Would you be happy with the site if you commissioned it? Think of a few tests and perform them for every agency you're considering. You'll quickly uncover any issues with design and technology.

Budget, chemistry and strategy will be flushed out at the proposal stage. You're very unlikely to achieve 100% perfection, so you need to think about what are the most important aspects are and what the right balance is for your organisation.

Below I've weighted in importance the different skillsets and how they could make a difference with your selection decision. If you can achieve 100% you're laughing. If you have 0% chemistry, you won't be.

Choosing the right agency > getting the balance right