A word from Robert: In our blog, we usually focus on how beginners can quickly and easily create their own website. This great post, however, talks about web designers and the challenges they may face in their day-to-day business.
We all have different wishes and expectations of how a smooth website design project should run. This is mainly depending on our experience and the amount of web design projects we have successfully completed. The best scenario for most though would be:
The client gives us the project, we design them an awesome website, they are extremely happy and pleased, we get paid on time, and they are so stunned with the work that they assign us more projects!
In reality, many things can go wrong during a project and can cause bad relationships between you and your client, and we can sum up the reason behind this to colliding expectations.
In order to achieve a good relationship with our web design client, we have to ensure that the whole project will run smoothly and at no point does neither the client nor the designer becomes displeased with the other.
Let’s examine how we can achieve this.
1 – Make sure you understand the briefing and the requirements
Ensure that you have understood the briefing and the requirements properly. If you have questions or you feel something is missing, clarify it. If there is no briefing at all then guide your client with questions to establish one. If you feel the briefing is contradictory to the intended message or disagree on the requirements for any reason, discuss it with them. For instance just because your client likes pink doesn’t mean it would be the proper color to use in his legal firm’s website!
We are not making art and we are not software operators who mindlessly do as told. We are designed for an explicit purpose. And for our design to be efficient it needs to communicate the correct message to the intended audience. So make sure that both you and your client understand that, and you are on the same page as far as the briefing and requirements are concerned!
2 – Prepare a realistic project plan
If you wish people to treat you as a professional, then you have to treat every project, even the simplest ones, professionally. This means that for every commission, you have to prepare a detailed project plan and stick it to it no matter what!
In your plan you need to account for the time you will spend on communications, client approvals in certain stages, and of course, contingency time for emergencies that might happen during the project.
This plan will enable you to give your client an accurate estimation of the time required to complete the project and to also inform them if their deadline is realistic or not.
It’s a strong debate if “under-promise and over-deliver” is a good business practice or one that in the end it will backfire at you. But let’s face it. No one likes unorganized people or people who can’t deliver their promises on time so at the very least never miss their deadlines!
3 – You are the expert (or at least you should be)
When people go to their doctor or lawyer or other professionals they never question their advice. Their word is absolute because they are the experts and they know exactly what they are doing. For some weird reason though, many people don’t treat designers the same way and they think that just because they have opened Photoshop once, they are designers in their own right. Of course, this is as absurd as claiming to be a doctor because you watched a medical show on TV!
Design is a field that requires expert knowledge too and on many principles, like visual communication, typography, color theory etc. Make sure that your clients understand from the beginning of the project that you are the expert. And that’s why they came to you after all.
Every decision you make on a project must have a reason underneath and you must also be able to explain ‘the why’ if asked. If you want people to respect your profession you must first learn to respect it yourself and master it.
4 – Explain your design process
Explain to your client about your design process and the involved stages. Talk with them about the estimated times, what stages would require their feedback, approval, or other actions from their part. If at some point, their current website has to go down, which in some redesign cases has to happen, they should know about it.
5 – Involve your client in the design process
Good and constant communication with your client is crucial to ensure the success of the project. You might be the expert but your client’s feedback and involvement in every step of the project is vital. You can’t read their minds and you don’t want to spend the last remaining days of your deadline working down a huge list of changes. So make sure that you keep your client involved in the process and well informed on the progress.
6 – Be straightforward in your dealings
We all know that short reckonings make long friends, so after you establish the brief, requirements, and project plan, make sure you both sign a clear contract explaining your obligations, deliverables, number of changes or alternative designs, the fees you will get paid for the project and when.
7 – Don’t make promises you can’t keep
Don’t promise more than you can deliver simply to get a job. No one likes dishonest people. If you know that the suggested functionality or feature can’t be implemented for ‘x’ or ‘y’ reason, or that it will cause issues because it is unsupported in the majority or some of the browsers, you need to explain it to your client. If you are not sure, be honest with them and tell them so.
8 – Rules are not always meant to be broken
It might be obvious but let me say it anyway. The contract you sign is meant to be followed by both parties. Most people have a tendency to sign things without reading them, especially if they are full of boring legal terms. Well, the purpose of this contract is not just to be signed but to be followed! It’s what will keep your relationship professional and healthy.
So make sure that you read it to your client, clarify everything they have questions about, and ensure that they fully understand your obligations and theirs.
As I mentioned at the start of the article the main reason for a bad ‘client – web designer’ relationship is colliding expectations. By having those expectations clarified and well set from the beginning, you can establish a framework where most (if not all your projects) will run smoothly and have good and lasting relationships with your clients.