Working with a Website Designer

(From author Robin William’s book “Web Design Workshop”)

Web sites are a relatively new invention in the world, and today there is often a huge discrepancy between what the designer-and-programmer team knows and understands and what the client knows and understands. Below is a list of big and little things we have learned in the past few years about working with clients, and we guarantee if you follow these guidelines, both you and the design team you’ve chosen will have a more positive experience.

1. Don’t judge a designer’s sense of style simply by what you see in their portfolio samples. If you don’t see exactly what you envision for your site, don’t immediately discount them—they may not have worked with a client who needed exactly what you are looking for, but could be more than capable of doing what you need. Instead, look for clues that will reveal their design potential and aptitude:

Have they demonstrated a range of styles from project to project?

Have they paid attention to detail and made good design decisions on their other sites?

Does your designer ask questions and demonstrate a desire to learn about your company’s mission and your own perspective? Do you feel that they “get” your concept?

Does the designer seem willing to work closely with you to achieve a solution that satisfies the requirements of you and your customers? (Or do they insist on having complete design control?)

Have you heard the word “usability” come out of your designer’s mouth? Do they know what it means? (Do you know what it means?)

2. Make sure you take the time to understand your design team’s development process and ask questions when you don’t. Good two-way communication is extremely important. As the client, you deserve to have a written development plan and schedule provided before the work begins. Also, you should receive a written document outlining the payment terms.

3. Remember, you are part of the process. While your designer is largely responsible for doing the heavy lifting and moving the project forward in an effective manner, you need to hold up your end. As the client, you will be responsible for carefully reviewing and responding to work done by your designer. You may also be providing text and photographic content. If you don’t help them meet their deadlines by being there when they need you, you can’t expect them to finish your project on time.

4. Follow-through is important. If you begin the web process with a designer or firm, stick with it on a timely basis through completion. If you get busy or if the site becomes a lower priority for you after web development work has already begun, please don’t keep your designer hanging. They have reserved time in their schedule and probably assigned additional employees to work on your project. If you choose to “drop out of sight” for a while in the middle of your web project, don’t expect your designer to be ready to resume immediately when you decide you’re ready again. Unless your designer has no other projects, he or she will need to work you back into their schedule again.

5. Changes and edits: If you are providing text and photographs for your designer to use in your site, make sure you have carefully selected, edited, and proofread your content beforehand. Don’t expect your designer to produce the pages of your site and then make substantial edits for you free of charge.

6. Be prepared to learn about what can and cannot be accomplished with the web. Don’t blame your designer for the limitations of the web medium. When your designer explains the differences between print and web design, listen to them!

7. Be prepared to learn about the various features the development team may need to implement in orde

r to build your site appropriately. For instance, creating a form is much more complex than simply pasting a “Submit” button on the page—it needs careful planning and often a specialized programmer. Building an online catalog is not as easy as creating a print catalog—it needs database integration, special design, and also a specialized programmer. Developing an automatic response form that puts a visitor on your mailing list and sends them a newsletter takes time and programming. (Programmers are often more expensive than designers!)

8. Be frank about what you like and don’t like about the development plan, site architecture, or design ideas your designer has created for your review. Don’t half-heartedly approve of something you don’t like, thinking you will have your designer change it later. After you sign-off on the plan and the actual development work begins, you will most likely be charged for any changes and additions you want to make. Your designer needs to hear your honest feedback right away so they can make changes that will satisfy your concerns. It’s also possible that the creative ideas your designer recommends have merit and will make sense to you once they’ve explained their rationale.

9. Get it in writing. As we mentioned in #2 above, you should get a development plan and schedule in writing. This is very important! The written document is for your benefit as well as the design team’s benefit. The only way both you and the design team can work together is with clear documentation about what each party expects. The development plan should include exactly how many pages are to be created; any features that will need programming; specialty services such as original illustrations, video, music, or professional photography; any automated features; interactivity; etc. etc. etc. Do not expect to add pages or features later without extra cost!

10. Put it in writing. There are so many variables and possibilities and there are often so many additions and changes along the way that the only chance of maintaining clear communication is in writing. If you have design changes, editing changes, conceptual changes, etc., do not rely on a phone conversation! Both you and the design team must have something in writing so if it ever becomes necessary to mediate an issue, you won’t have to argue about what you said and what she said and what everyone thought everyone else actually meant.

Whew. So we make it sound like it’s a pretty big deal to get a web site developed, don’t we? It is. Many sites, of course, are perfectly suited to small, static, simple pages. But we have found that the Client-Designer Relationship, even on small sites (and even—or especially—if the designer is a relative of yours) are much less fraught with anxiety and hard feelings if everyone is clear about everything from the get-go. Bad communication can destroy any relationship.

So educate yourself, be clear, and have a great time helping to create your great site!

Last Updated November 13, 2013