You’ve got skills, a great portfolio, and stellar recommendations.

Looking to hire a web designer? Then you need to look out for these warning signs.

We’ve all heard the horror stories. A promising designer who fails to deliver. Another with an impressive but plagiarized portfolio. And one with a fat stack of references but no results.

Hiring web designers can be a minefield, especially for inexperienced employers. You can’t always tell a great designer from a merely average one. And it can be even harder to tell real skills in a puffed up resume.

What steps can you take to spot great talent? Are there any warning signs you should look for when you hire a web designer?

I’ll share some answers in this post and help you zero in on the ideal candidates.

Sign #1: They don’t have a portfolio

If you see a web designer in your resume pool without a portfolio, hit the “discard” button immediately. This is a major red flag.

To understand why, you have to first understand the role a portfolio plays in any creative field – including web design.

As MIT notes, a portfolio is a “visual representation of your work, complementing your resume”. They’re standard in any field where work can be organized into projects – architecture, computer science, graphic design, and even creative writing.

While portfolios are meant to showcase skills, it also serves as a “record of growth”. As a designer’s skills improve, so does the portfolio. You can trace the trajectory of this growth through the portfolio.

An example of a web design portfolio on Dribbble

Portfolios are particularly important in web design since most designers tend to be self-taught. Since it’s not always possible to filter by education, employers have to rely on other metrics to shortlist candidates.

Hence the focus on portfolios.

A designer without a portfolio is telling you two things:

  • The designer doesn’t care enough about her work to create a portfolio
  • The designer doesn’t have enough skills to produce a portfolio

Either of these cases is a massive red flag.

Sign #2: They don’t have a website (or have a bad one)

A web designer without a website is like a mechanic who doesn’t have a car.

It’s not a sure sign of a lack of skills, but as far as red flags go, it’s a pretty big one.

Even worse than a missing website is a bad one. If the designer’s site looks like it was built in FrontPage circa 2001, it’s better to look elsewhere.

Their inspiration should be Amazon circa 2019, not 1994

For most creative fields, a website acts as an information placeholder. You visit it to learn more about a candidate beyond the resume.

But for web designers, the website is as much a showcase of their skills as it is a place to learn more about them. Web design, after all, is an “interactive” skill. It’s not enough for a design to exist on (digital) paper. The designer should also be capable of bringing it to life.

This is where a missing or bad website becomes a big warning sign. A designer who can’t be bothered to invest in his own site is a designer you don’t really want on your team.

Sign #3: They don’t have an online presence

Of course, not every designer you hire – full-time or freelance – needs to have a thriving presence across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

But a designer with a curiously sparse online presence can be a red flag, especially if they’re missing from major design channels.

Web design is a rapidly evolving field. The standards and aesthetics that were dominant four years ago are barely used today. Designers who care about their craft are always looking to pick up the latest trends.

And the place to learn about these trends is usually on major design-focused communities.

Do a quick Google search for your shortlisted candidates. Ignore a missing presence on personal social channels – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. There has been a flight away from these channels anyway.

Instead, look for them on design communities and professional channels, especially Behance, Dribbble, and LinkedIn. Bonus points if they’re also present on platforms like HackerNews, ProductHunt, and DesignerNews.

If they have published tutorials, articles, or thought pieces on design-focused blogs, then even better.