Building a great website isn’t just about making something that’s visually appealing. The client and designer must work together collaboratively to achieve the most effective solution. This allows the designer to create a design that meets both visual and business objectives.
This post shares 8 tips to help you the designer to work more effectively with your clients.
This will ensure that they understand the direction of your designs and reasons for certain decisions. You need to keep clients updated with your every move. Best case scenario is to sit down and have an early whiteboard session with your client. After a preliminary meeting, go away and get your ideas together. Then set-up another meeting with your client and walk them through your design ideas, ideally sketching them out on a whiteboard or similar. Let them take part in the innovative, exciting process that goes on in designing a website. Get rid of the techno speak and get them on the same page as you. This will save you time and money!
If you’ve followed the first tip, this is less likely to be an issue but, NEVER try and surprise your client, this almost always ends in disappointment. You’ve been working on a new design for your client, hidden from your clients view until it’s ready for the big ‘ta da’ moment. Finally you send over the designs, and all you receive is a blunt, ‘We don’t like it’. By not keeping your client involved in the process, it’s much harder for them to see the reasoning behind your design decisions. And seeing as they are the decision maker, you’re not even giving them the chance to make some decisions! Try to share your designs in small chunks, often and early and ideally meet them in person, get them involved in the process.
Every web designer will have done this at some point. Put together some mockups, sent them over to the client in an email saying “What do you think of the new design of your website”? Don’t ever do this! It’s not about what the client thinks, it’s what their users think. Spend some extra time in your email educating clients on what sort of feedback you’re looking for. What would their users feel about this design? How does the client feel this design would represent their business? This can be a touchy subect but the idea is to try and avoid personal bias. Design is a subjective thing, your aim is to build something that meets the requirements of the majority of it’s users. Not something that the client themselves thinks looks great.
Luckily most of the projects I’ve worked on have given me direct contact with the key decision makers. However, in the past I have worked on projects where the key decision maker is not directly involved in the project. This can often lead to problems, wasted time and delays. Always find out who is going to sign off your designs and if it looks like it has to go through some kind of ‘committee’ you’ll need to spend some time educating the client on why this is a problem. You need to ensure there is a clear vision for what is being built as it’ll be no good for you, the client or the final design if you’re trying to mould together 8 very different opinions into one design.
Some clients believe that they are ‘different’ and that’s why they need to break the common design conventions on their website. Unfortunately this is rarely the case but to prove this to your client you’re going to need share the facts and do some testing. I’ve had clients who have told me that they wanted error messages to be in green because they felt red was too harsh. Fine, I get the reasoning behind that BUT, the research and testing showed that this would defeat the object of the error messages, confusing the user. If they still don’t believe it, set-up some live testing, let them watch their users fail to understand or get confused. (Assuming you’re right!)
Often businesses get in touch with a website designer when one of their competitors has just had their own website re-designed. Seeing this shiny and fresh site, the client comes to you and asks you to make a site better than their competitors. Be weary when this happens, clients usually mean they want something very similar with their own content. This isn’t good practice for you, the client or the industry. You may need to spend some time educating the client on the problems with this. Then spend the time to extract more information from them. What exactly is it that they like about this competitors site? Why do they like it? Why and how does it represent the personality of their own business?
Clients can get frustrated when you’re just not solving the problems they have with a design. They don’t understand why you won’t use the exact colour they have provided or why you won’t make the logo twice the size. Keep them focussed on the problems rather than allowing them to provide solutions. Explain to them the reasons why a logo might not need to be twice the size and find out from them why the colours are such an issue for their business. Avoid getting solutions from clients, you are the designer and need to take the reigns in solving the problems.
Make it clear to a client that things can be changed, iterations can be made. A website is never truly finished, continuous iterations, however small, should always be part of the process. It’s unlikely that clients will be aware of this unless you tell them. Make it clear that things can be changed and that if the design doesn’t work it can be changed. Sometimes you need some good usage from users to really understand if something is right.1 Comment
Logo size is a real sticking point for lots of clients when having a website built or re-designed. It’s a classic problem, something I’ve experienced (in one way or another) with almost every single client I have ever worked with.
I share my design work, having spent hours finalising every pixel, defining the perfect colour scheme and the most effective layout, only for the client to then spend most of the time focussing on the size of the logo. When I try to explain other elements of the design, they just can’t help it, suddenly we’re back on the logo discussion again, ‘it’s just too small!’
The biggest reason I have come across is that clients feel the size of their logo has a direct relation to their brand presence on the web. They feel that by making the logo bigger, people are more likely to recognise their brand and remember it again in the future.
Emotional attachment to their logo
Another reason is that clients are emotional attached to their logos and branding. To be honest, that’s perfectly fair and I completely empathise with this. A logo can represent all the hard work a client has put into a business. They’re proud of their business and want to advertise it as much as they can.
Finally a slightly controversial one, I sometimes feel that clients use the logo as a way to gain some control on a project that is otherwise completely out of their control. My point here is that often a website is completely foreign to the client, they do not understand it. But this is their business and they feel like they need make decisions and take part in the process. One way they can do this is with the logo.
I’m sure there are many other reason’s but the above are some of the ones I feel I come across most often. I totally get why clients genuinely worry about their logos, it’s the one thing they can relate to and visually feel it’s one of the most important parts of marketing their business. However, good designers aren’t trying to sabotage your website. The chances are there’s a good reason the logo is a certain size. Here’s some reasons why you should worry less about your logo.
Each page needs to have some visual hierarchy
Basic design theory suggests that each web page should have a visual hierarchy. This means making the most important elements of a page more prominent. Take the example below, the logo in this case “37 Signals” is out-of-the-way, letting users get straight into the ‘meat’ of the website. This is because the content is far more important than the logo. People don’t gain anything from the logo but they will gain something from finding out that ‘millions’ of people are already using this product.
People don’t buy based on a logo
Think about the times when you have hired an electrician or hired an accountant, ‘Did you hire them because of their logo?’ I suspect you didn’t. You probably hired them because of a recommendation or because of some marketing material that told you exactly what they could do and the benefits this would give you. This is what was most important to you. Take this thought process into your own website and consider what’s really important to articulate to your users.
Users don’t visit your website to marvel at your logo
No matter how good your logo is the fact is that users do not visit your website to marvel at the logo. The most likely reason they’re there is to find out information, enquire about a service or browse/buy products that might be for sale. With this is mind, users may actually be distracted by a large logo, stopping them from completing the core activities you want them to.
Your brand is much more than just a logo
As much as I can understand that clients believe making the logo bigger will make their brand more recognisable, the fact is that getting people to remember your brand is much more than just having a nice big logo. Take a look at the apple advert example below. They don’t care about peppering you with their name and logo, they want to focus you on their brand, this is what you will remember.
So to finish, next time a designer shows you some designs, avoid focussing your attention on that ‘small’ logo. In most cases, making it bigger won’t offer you anything extra, if anything, it will be detrimental to the overall design.
Feel free to share your thoughts, let me know as a client why you worry about logo size? And let me know as a designer how you try to stop your clients worrying about logo size?2 Comments
Ask yourself this, have you ever started to build your own Web Application only to never get close to finishing it? If that’s a yes then don’t worry you’re not the only one. Creating your first web application is incredibly difficult to do, and I’ve got dozens of unfinished pet projects! Finally, however, I’m about to launch my first Web Application outside of client work. I wanted to share my experiences and some simple steps to help you get your application out the door.
OK this sounds a little counter intuitive but DON’T think big! Think teeny, tiny if you ever want to complete your web application. When I first started creating web applications I always thought I needed to come up with some incredible new concept that would rival Facebook or Twitter.
The fact is that it’s incredibly unlikely that you will for your first ever application, you need to focus on completing the job rather than wasting loads of time trying to come up with something new. Facebook wasn’t Zuckerbergs first ever project, he created loads of random stuff before he ever did anything with Facebook, you should do the same.
Use 37 Signals “Scratch your own itch” methodology, think of something that YOU would use so that you can be the end user and make sure you build the right functionality. Think about a problem in your own space, personal or business related and think about how a web application might solve it.
A lot of people build to-do lists as their first web applications. Yes, I know what your thinking, everyone has done one of these, but so what!? Think about what you’re trying to achieve, who cares if it doesn’t set the world alight, far better to have something out there launched than to just have pipe dreams about what you might of built.
Once you have a problem statement turn this into some sketches. Everyone says they can’t draw – but don’t worry about that – just put some pen to paper.
Sketch out your thoughts, maybe it’s just some brainstorming, fleshing out the concept. You might follow this with a simple activity process flow showing what a user would do in your web application. Finally you might want to sketch a few examples of the user interface, anything that helps to make it clear in your mind what you are going to build.
You might want to do this right at the start but it depends on what your idea actually is. Either way, take some time to look at your development tools, what you’re going to use and why. Think about a database, usually MySQL is most appropriate as it’s free with most hosting companies these days. Secondly think about the development language you’re going to use. I’ve recently starting using CodeIgniter PHP framework which is a great framework to develop with and has a fantastic level of community support. PHP is also free with pretty much every hosting provider so again it’s a good one to start with.
Once you have some sketches and you’re clear on what you’re going to build, get stuck in and start coding. This isn’t necessarily “best practice” for web application development but for your first application it’s sometimes just better to get started than waste time speccing things.
Focus on core functionality, DON’T get “featuritis”, a common problem for a lot of developers is that they try to pack their application full of whizzy features. Avoid doing this at all costs as it will not make your application great and will probably make it incredibly difficult to complete, less is more. If you start saying things like “oh but it would be an easy bit of functionality to add in” you’re on a slippery slope stop thinking like that!
This is your first web application, don’t sweat too much over testing. Make sure it’s stable and get it out the door! Accept it wont be perfect just yet but don’t worry you can work on this, for now you need to get it launched and start using it.
You will learn a lot about your application once you start using it for real. Note down your findings, keep a list of the things you like and don’t like, these will become part of the next step. The most important thing right now is to get a V1 of your application launched, use it yourself and ideally start letting others use it too.
Based on your findings of using your app create a mini road map of things you will do for V2. If your app is available online for other people to use, even better, post this roadmap online and show people what your going to do. Posting this list online will help keep the pressure on you to make sure you deliver on these road map improvements. You might even want to make a big splash about these future plans but remember these improvements don’t have to be huge new features. They might be simple wording tweaks or specific functionality changes such as better visual feedback when a user completes a task
Finally, keep iterating your application based on your road map and ideally feedback from other users. Aim to make simple improvements every month or even better every week. These could be really simple changes such as wording improvements or button colour changes. Whatever it is just keep refining, the web is a fluid place and there will always be improvements you can make to your web application.
If you want to launch your first web application you need to keep it simple, it’s as simple as that! Focus on core functionality and don’t get distracted by trying to build nice to have features. Don’t try and create the perfect application, there is no such thing, get it launched and start using it. Once you do that you will learn much more about the improvements you need to make and can continue to iterate to improve your application all the time.
What is your experience in building web applications? Have you struggled to launch your own application too, would love to hear what the problem was?3 Comments
Nothing really mysterious about the way the company started. Just one guy and his desire to do something on his own to get away from the daily politics of working within other companies. That one guy is me, Jonathan Clift (picture on the right!)
I’ve dabbled with web technologies ever since I got my first “unlimited” dial up connection with Freeserve back in the 90′s. Although I spent most of my time clocking up huge phone bills playing Grand Theft Auto online, I did actually spend some time learning the basics of HTML; I built a few sites, read some books and cut and pasted some random applets I found dotted over the web.
It’s certainly not for everyone. It can be incredibly lonely, often with no one to turn to when things are getting tough. It’s also a strange feeling knowing that you’re not guaranteed a salary at the end of the month. But if you can see past this, the benefits can certainly outweigh the pitfalls. The big thing for me is working for myself, making sure that every single day I’m doing things in the best interest for all my clients and any employees/contractors that work for me. This is what drives me and inspires me to work harder and harder each day with the dream of building up my business.
So far, things have been great. I’ve worked with some fantastic clients already who have been thrilled with the work I’ve done. At the moment my main focus has been on small web projects whether it be a website re-design for a client, a new online shop for a client looking to market their projects or just a brand new website for a company just starting out.
My next step is to build my first web application. I plan to host a whole suite of mini web apps, focused on helping small businesses like me with their day to day business tasks. I’m working on some stuff right now, so stay tuned and I’ll let you know when it’s ready.
This will hopefully be the first of many more posts to come. I plan to document my progress as the company advances and I hope it will help others who may be thinking of doing something similar. I welcome any comments and hope that you continue to return to our blog. Thanks for reading!