Picture this: You’ve just met a potential business partner and everything seems great. You’re ready to sign a contract and then they invite you to their office—a rusty van under a bridge! Gives you second thoughts about doing business together, doesn’t it? Well, that’s how your clients, customers, and potential investors feel when they arrive at a shoddy or outdated website. I’m sure you’d rather show them a sleek and high-functioning website to get them enthusiastic about working with you.
But how much is that going to cost you?
Considering that 75% of users judge a company’s credibility by its website design, an investment in a better site almost always pays off. The problem is finding the right web design price to fit your budget.
In this article, we talk directly and candidly about web design costs. We’ll explain what you can get for your price range, and what to expect so you don’t get short-changed.
Scalable price tag
The first and perhaps most important consideration when discussing web design cost is that it’s entirely scalable. Through the proper channels, you could manage a website for as little as $20 a year… but it won’t be pretty (or worse, usable). And that’s our point: what you get out of web design depends on what you put in, but what you put in is entirely up to you.
Below, we break up the best web design methods into 3 categories, but they can also be read as “low, medium, and high cost.”
The lowest web design prices belong to DIY methods like templates. These supplant financial costs with time and elbow grease. But if you’re using a free template, and you want to get more out of it, your website would benefit from a professional designer in some capacity.
The medium level and most common method is working directly with a freelance designer to get your web design done. Depending on the designer, this could be your ideal balance between cost and quality. You need to spend some time and effort collaborating with your designer, but you’ll end up with something unique and custom-made.
The cost of a freelance designer is based on their own skill level. A master designer with decades of experience obviously costs more than a recent graduate on their first assignment. Still, when all the tallies are marked, a freelancer is almost always cheaper than their agency equivalent, even at the same skill level. Agencies will provide additional services, but with freelancers you’re only paying for the design work, and nothing more.
The most expensive web design costs come with web design agencies. Mainly for enterprises and already established companies, agencies take care of everything and require minimal effort on your part. The final product is usually great too, but the major gatekeeper is the price of admission.
“Form ever follows function”
Another crucial consideration in managing your web design costs is the distinction between how your site looks and how it functions. Don’t mistake a site that looks good for a site that’s actually good. The truth is, a site’s functionality is always more important than its looks. It harkens back to a maxim of modernist architecture in the 1940s, “form ever follows function,” meaning a building’s purpose comes first and dictates how the building looks. So before you start thinking about your site’s design, you should figure out what you need it to do.
To make this more clear, here’s a quick overview: “Web design” is an umbrella term that encompasses a few different fields, although they tend to overlap:
- User Interface (UI) Design: The controls on your site; how easy/difficult it is for visitors to move around, interact with the site, and complete tasks.
- Graphic Design: The ability to communicate through visuals (including images, color schemes, buttons, icons, and typography), capable of increasing conversions, displaying brand personality, and improving usability through influencing what your users see first.
- User Experience (UX) Design: How the user feels while using the site: is the experience intuitive or frustrating, relaxing or annoying?
At the end of the day, your site’s UI design is the top priority. Start thinking about functionality instead of form; what do you want your site to do, not what do you want it to look like. Don’t get us wrong, visuals are crucial to good web design—but they should only be handled after mastering your site’s usability.
This isn’t just general advice either. What you want your site to do determines your web design price. Complex interfaces, additional features, and extra pages all add on fees to your design and development costs. Before you spend a dime on web design, first outline what you need for your site. This sheds light on which method is the most efficient use of your money.
Your 3 main web design choices
Now that we’ve explained some background for choosing how to get your site designed, let’s go through each of the methods individually. Here you can see where your money’s going, what you can expect, what types of companies it works best for, and even a few casual tips for making the most out of your decision.
NOTE: Prices do NOT include things like development, hosting, maintenance or other fees.
1. DIY using a template site
Price range: $0 – $300
Sites like WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly, and Shopify are ushering in a new era of DIY web design, allowing anyone to build and manage their own site for minimal costs.
The first choice you make is which site to use. Different sites appeal to different styles and industries; Shopify is exclusively ecommerce, WordPress has a large community of third-party designers for more customization options, etc.
These sites target people with little or no prior design knowledge, so their usability is built around ease-of-use, often with drag-and-drop functionality. Design inexperience shouldn’t deter you from using one of these sites, but if you need some advanced design techniques, you should consider your own personal time investment in researching and learning.
The way these sites simplify such a complex process is through templates. Most of these sites are structured around template components, preexisting themes, and add-ons; you either choose one of a series of presets, or download the particular options and features you want.
The drawback is less options for customization. If you have new or original ideas, templates can stifle creativity; you’re limited to what has already been done before. While sometimes you find the perfect piece or jerry-rig something close to your vision, more often than not you’re left disappointed after wasting hours browsing catalogues. And to make matters worse, there’s the possibility that other sites (even competitors) may be using the exact same parts as you are.
The cost of templates and add-ons varies widely, starting from free for basic ones. One of the biggest misconceptions is that these DIY sites are a flat fee, but in reality you often spend extra buying new components, themes, or add-ons. These sites often hide their best “design parts” behind a paywall or simply charge a higher price than the standard components. Some sites like WordPress allow add-ons from third parties that can charge whatever they want.
To calculate an accurate web design price, research the costs of the components, add-ons, templates, or themes you need. (This is where outlining necessary functions beforehand comes in handy.) Sometimes what you need is too expensive or not even available, so plan it out early so there aren’t any surprises later.
Works best for…
In general, this method works best for companies just starting out or sites with bare-bones necessities. Basic landing pages, online stores for “weekenders,” portfolio sites—nothing that can single-handedly support a business in the long-run. While these are a good starting point for someone on an extremely tight budget, we’ve found that most businesses move on from a template site within the first couple years.
If you have a little extra money to spare, you can actually hire a designer to help customize your DIY site. Hiring a designer to work within a template site costs less than commissioning an original site, and the level of quality will be better than if you did it yourself. This is especially true if you hire a designer who specializes in your platform; for example, WordPress has an extensive library of add-ons, so it’d be helpful to hire someone who knows what they’re looking for.
At the very least, consider hiring a designer to work on your branding materials like a logo or brand identity. A polished logo or a professionally curated color scheme can inject a DIY site with a little extra quality and class, so make sure to get your logo done by a professional designer.
2. Hire a freelance web designer
Price range: $500 – $5,000+
The most common method for web design, hiring a freelancer, balances cost and the quality of the final product. It’s also a stable middle ground between doing everything yourself and not doing anything yourself.
Hiring a freelancer is more of a collaboration and less like outsourcing. You or someone on your team has to liason and explain your company’s vision, and some background in design helps in back-and-forth communication.
Moreover, you and your company must first know what you want, with realistic expectations and informed design decisions. If you leave all your design decisions up to your freelancer, chances are it will turn out a lot differently than you expected. But rest assured, a professional designer will create something that’s both functional and good-looking.
Depending on what kind of functionality you want, you may also need to find a developer. Developers deal in technical aspects of building a site, while designers handle the aspects you can see and interact with. Development is an additional cost that comes with hiring a freelance designer (unless you’re hiring a designer to work in a DIY platform), and developer fees on average run between $75 – $300 per hour in North America, but can be cheaper if you’re outsourcing to a freelancer living overseas.
Sometimes you can hire a designer who’s also a developer for the complete package, but you’ll need to check with your designer to find out what services they offer.
When it comes to pricing a freelance web designer, the costs vary depending on the workload and the designer’s skill level. The more pages you need, the more work needs to be done and therefore the higher the web design cost. If you need a lot of pages with the same structure and look, one way to curb this price is to hire a designer to create page “templates” that you fill with content yourself. For example, if you run an online store, you could hire a designer to make a single product page template, which you can then use for each product.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if you require heavier maintenance than normal, you may want to consider hiring an in-house designer. Freelancers work best for most sites, but a minority of sites will need constant updating and revising.
Works best for…
As the middle route, hiring a freelance web designer is the smartest choice for most companies. A vast majority of businesses have online needs that fall well within the capabilities of freelancers; the only exceptions are businesses with unique functionalities or exceedingly complex needs.
Hiring freelancers is also a smart move for companies that are big enough to need regular design work, but too small to hire an in-house designer. In many ways, the freelancer route it a transitional step before reaching more ambitious goals.
We’ve talked a lot about what freelancers can do, but the hardest part of hiring a freelance is the actual hiring process. For one thing, it’s hard to gauge a designer’s skill if you’re not fluent in design, but the design-illiterate benefit the most from freelance designers. Then there are the logistical details, like where to find them and knowing what an appropriate cost is. To make the process easier, here’s an article on how to find and hire a freelance designer.
If you truly want to find the best designer in your price range—or simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of the hiring process—search our database of web designers for the right fit and begin working 1-on-1 today.
If you already know what you’re looking for, our personal ranking system makes it easy to browse designers by skill level and specialty. You can even filter results by your own criteria, so all you have to do is browse styles for the one that speaks to you.
There's a beautiful web design waiting for you!
All you need to do is find the perfect designer for the job.
In case you’re still looking for ideas and inspiration on what kind of design you want, check out the design contest option. With the crowdsourcing approach you get dozens of design samples based on your specifications, so you can see a variety of options before sealing the deal.
3. Work with an agency
Price range: $3,000+
An agency is the best design option money can buy (although the quality of different agencies varies). Hiring an agency to design your site delivers the full treatment, but at the expense of web design costs, sometimes up to 6 figures.
In addition to the actual design talent, the extra money goes into additional benefits. The beauty of agencies is that you have an entire team working for you instead of a single employee. That means you have individual specialists—a separate graphic designer, UX designer, content writer, SEO engineer, developer, etc. This format tends to produce fuller results than an individual handling everything. You’ll end up with the complete package.
The other main advantage of agencies is that, once you sign them on for the project, your job is more-or-less done. You can still oversee their progress and give notes, but you won’t be bothered by the actual day-to-day work or trivial roadblocks.
However, if you choose the wrong agency, those “advantages” can turn against you. You need to make sure to pick one that fits the style you are going for. Also remember that in some cases more manpower can turn into a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. And if you prefer a hands-on approach, being left out of the loop could be frustrating.
If you’re interested in hiring a design agency, as always you should outline your necessary functions first to determine whether the high cost is justified. Most sites don’t require such intensive treatment, but if, for example, you need a custom content management system (CMS) to handle all your usability requirements, that’s a lot to ask from a single freelancer.
Works best for…
Aside from enterprises and conglomerates, agencies are also the best option for companies with complex site needs. Sites using experimental technology or hosting excessive amounts of pages require the extra hands from agencies. If your project is more within the normal requirements of web design, a freelance designer should be able to cover it, and at a fraction of the cost.
Ask agencies for a price breakdown to make sure you’re only paying for services you need. Some agencies outsource their work to freelancers themselves and charge their clients for handling everything for them. If you don’t mind doing it yourself, you could easily sidestep this fee by hiring the designer or other specialist yourself. In other words, pick and choose which services to use freelancers for and which ones to use an agency for. That way you can always get the best deal.
Takeaway: Know where to look
We broke the main web design methods into 3 basic categories to make web design cost easier to understand, but the truth is the level of quality within each category varies greatly. Some top-shelf freelance designers cost more than the less-pricey agencies; some DIY sites cost more than hiring a freelancer.
It’s not enough to choose your method, you also have to find the right platform, freelancer or agency for you among the pool. But, once again, knowing what you need beforehand makes all subsequent decisions easier, including finding the designer that’s right for you.