When we need a new website design, where do we go?
An agency right?
And if we’re going to use an agency, we should probably get one of the best agencies, right?
Turns out, web design agencies are usually a waste of money. There’s one situation where they’re worth it. In every other case, you have a lot options to get a top-tier site design for a fraction of what major agencies will charge you.
Let’s break down all the options
The Best Web Design Services Options to Consider:
- Site Builders
- Premium Themes
- UI/UX Agencies
When It Makes Sense to Invest Into Web Design Services
In the early days, I strongly recommend using a theme for your website. Most site platforms like Wix, WordPress, Shopify, and all the others have themes already available. Even if you want to go outside the official themes already provided, there’s usually a huge selection of third-party themes that can be easily installed with a few clicks.
Many of these themes are free, work great, and the premium themes only will cost $50-200.
We always start here with our projects.
Even when you get big enough to warrant a custom website, I’d still rely on freelancers and small local agencies to get that work done. The cost will be much more reasonable than a major agency.
Consider looking for a few good freelancers that can help you out when you’re comfortable spending $10,000 each year on your website. If that amount is outside your budget, stick with one of the out-of-the-box themes that you can find.
#1 – Site Builders — The Easiest and Fastest
Site Builders have come a LONG way over the years
These days, you can build a site that looks very professional within 15 minutes at a very reasonable cost.
You don’t need to know how to code either. If you can type while doing some drag-and-drop setup, you have everything you need.
Our favorite site builder is Wix.
Here are some of the top features:
- Drag-and-drop editor: This is just one of the many features that make Wix easier to use than other web design services. You can drag and drop everything from text to images to videos, allowing you to experiment with an infinite number of layouts before making a final decision.
- Variety of free templates: While you have the option to build your website from scratch, you don’t have to go down this path. Wix has hundreds of free templates to choose from, which act as a good jumping-off point for your design.
- Free and premium versions: If you’re just getting your feet wet, the free version of Wix may be more than enough. But if you’re serious about building the best online experience for your audience, one of the premium levels is best for you. You can learn more in this article on the Wix website.
On the other side, here are some potential pitfalls:
- Built with beginners in mind: Wix may not be able to accommodate all your advanced web design needs, thus limiting your creativity.
- Expensive add-ons: There are a variety of add-ons, such as those for accepting payments, but the cost can quickly add up.
Wix is no slouch in the customer service department, with its industry-leading live chat feature allowing you to get all the help you need.
Wix can accommodate almost every company’s needs, but it’s definitely best suited for beginners.
#2 – Themeforest — The Widest Selection for Themes
We always start with ThemeForest when working on new sites or trying to refresh them.
Site builders don’t gives us the flexibility and scabbily that we want from sites which is why we start with an out-of-the-box theme.
Themeforest a marketplace of design assets and has a limitless selection of themes for all the major site platforms.
They have themes for all the major site platforms like:
- Tons of others
Even though most site platforms like WordPress and Shopify have themes built-in already, they’re usually pretty basic. Paying for a theme gets you a unique look and plenty of extra features so the site works like you want.
And most of the themes are in the $20-50 range. That’s a fully built-out theme with tons of features, a look that you want, and can be installed with a few clicks.
You can usually get the theme to match your branding too:
- Most themes have a spot for your logo
- Most design elements can be changed to the colors of your brand without editing any code
The downside to these theme marketplaces is the theme quality isn’t always consistent. Some are coded poorly or have weird quirks that you’ll have to work around. While $20 still gets you a good theme, it is only a $20 theme.
#3 – Premium Themes — Best for Reliable Themes
Theme marketplaces are great for finding a solid theme on a tight budget.
But sometimes, you just want a great theme that won’t have problems and are willing to pay $200 or so for it.
This is where premium themes come in.
- The code is rock solid. You won’t have ongoing problems or bugs from your theme.
- Ongoing updates. Most theme studios keeps themes updated for years to come. That reduces bugs and security risks.
- They look amazing. These studios have great designers working on each theme so it’s a way to get an amazing design without having to pay a world-class designer yourself.
Our favorite premium WordPress theme studio is StudioPress. They’re actually owned by WP Engine now, all their themes are available for free to WP Engine customers. But you don’t have to use WP Engine as your web host, you can still get pay for any of the StudioPress themes individually.
If you’re on another site platform, search around for a reputable theme studio that specializes in that platform. They will charge more per theme but it’s absolutely worth it in our experience. And it’s still way cheaper that having an agency or freelancer design a site from scratch.
#4 – Freelancers — Best for Branding Standard Sites
At a certain point, you’ll outgrow any theme that you’re using. You’ll need too many custom elements to truly express your brand effectively.
There’s still a way to get an amazing site at a very reasonable cost.
Instead of working with an agency, find a web design freelancer. There’s tons of them around.
Look for them on:
Even with sites that have millions of visitors per month, we still use freelancers because:
- There’s plenty of web design freelancers out there, many of them are very good.
- They can give you all the customization that you need for your brand. If they can’t handle your request, you’re probably asking for too much anyway.
- Most will charge a few thousand dollars for a site design. Even a top-tier freelancer will only charge $10-20K per site.
The downside to this is that you also need to get the design built, usually by a front-end engineer. Some designers can also do this themselves but not all. Make sure to clarify with the designer whether you’ll be reasonable for getting the site built or not.
While this is an extra step, there’s also a ton of front-end engineers that freelance too. You should have no problem finding one that can get your site built for a reasonable rate.
To be honest, most websites never need to go beyond a few key freelancers. Even with millions of visitors per month, they can handle it.
#5 – UI/UX Agencies — Best For Complicated Sites and Products
What if you’re building an entire product?
Or need an incredible complicated site designed that matches the need of your market perfectly?
In this case, you don’t need web design anymore. You need a UI/UX agency. You’ll get a lot more than you would from a typical web design agency:
- They’ll do customer development with your market to find the exact flows and features that your product needs.
- The site will work as a cohesive whole. Web designs think in “pages,” UI/UX experts think in “flows” and “users.”
- Every pixel on your site will convey your brand.
- You’ll get the experience and skillset from an entire team of folks that have been doing this work for decades.
If you tried to do this work yourself, you’d have to build an entire Product and Design team, easily spending millions of dollars.
Digital Telepathy is a great example, they’ve worked on products like New Relic, Quip, and Marriott.
In our opinion, standard web design companies are usually overpriced. You’re paying for a team when you really only need 1-2 good freelancers. But when you need real UI/UX work, only a team can pull that off anyway. This is when it makes sense to find the best agency out there. Then pay them whatever they want.
Methodology For Choosing The Best Web Design Services
With so many options, it’s difficult to choose the best web design service. However, as you compare the pros and cons of each one, it becomes easier to decide on how to best proceed.
The main thing to consider is the stage of your business and the complexity that you’ll need from your design:
- Basic sites: use a site builder that can get a great site launched with a drag-and-drop interface.
- Early stage standard sites: use a theme marketplace to find a theme that you like for the site platform you’re already using.
- Standard sites with a bit more polish: find a premium theme studio that specializes in your site platform.
- Custom sites: get a web designer to design that site you need for your business.
- Complicated sites and products: skip the web design agency, go with a great UI/UX agency instead.
After decades of building sites ourselves, we believe this criteria gives us the most value per dollar on any website.