The Care and Feeding of Web Designers

The Care and Feeding of Web Designers

If you’ve ever worked with a web designer, you probably have a pretty strong opinion about the experience.

Maybe everything that could go wrong did. Perhaps they didn’t seem to pay attention to your brand and designed a website that wasn’t a fit for your audience. Maybe they made a bunch of mistakes that had to be corrected, or they took longer to deliver than you expected. Or maybe the relationship was just difficult and painful from the start.

I wish I could say I’m surprised, but unfortunately, there are a lot of web designers who shouldn’t be in this line of work.

However, most people don’t know how to work properly with a web designer which makes the entire process more challenging than it should be. I will concede that it is the job of the web designer to set expectations. Doing so will go a long way in avoiding problems in the first place, but every business relationship involves at least two presumably professional people, so it is incumbent on both parties to put forth some effort.

Once you know exactly what a web designer’s role is and how the industry works, you can communicate more effectively, shorten project timelines and costs, and make the process a lot easier.

Treat your web designer like a professional

You probably have a degree and have invested considerable time learning about your industry. You may have started and the bottom, doing shit work for little pay and even less recognition. You achieved your position through years of hard work.

So did most web designers that you’ll encounter.

You are coming to them to have a website designed because it’s not 1995, the internet is not a fad, and you know you need a gorgeous and effective website to be successful in today’s business world, right?

Then treat them like a professional. Just like you would your accountant or lawyer.

Web designers are not kids playing on the computer because they don’t have anything better to do. They are people who took the time to learn an incredibly technical skill set, and continue learning because the technology that enables you to browse, shop, and interact online changes literally every day.

Their skill set is what enables you to reach your audience 24/7 at a far lower cost than ever before in history.

Communicate clearly

We’ve had many clients come to us with an incomplete project after leaving another web design firm unsatisfied.

Most of the time, it was due to a breakdown in communication somewhere along the way.

This is a detail that most people, both clients and web designers, seem to neglect. It doesn’t have to be this way.

While many clients are hesitant to tell designers what they want, many designers are equally hesitant to ask.

I look at it like this:

The client doesn’t always know what they need, but they do know what they want. It’s the job of a web designer to bring what they want and what they need together.

Tell your web designer about your goals, but also show them examples of designs you like and why you like them. If they aren’t asking you a ton of questions, it may be a red flag that maybe they aren’t the right designer for you.

Likewise, if you aren’t able to communicate what you want as a client, then you might not be ready to begin a web design project. “I don’t know how I want it to look, but I’ll know when I see it” is not an acceptable answer—it only leads to frustration for both parties.

At a minimum, you need to discuss:

  • Your goals
  • Your audience
  • Design styles/examples you like
  • Budget
  • Timelines

No matter how you communicate, make sure there is a documented record. If you have a phone call or face-to-face meeting, be sure to follow up with an email summarizing what you spoke about. You can use shared Google docs to create checklists, or you can use a more robust project management system. We utilize Basecamp because it provides one centralized source for all communications on each project. Anyone involved can login at any time and see a chronological record of everything from the start of the project to the present. We even take it a step further and upload mp3 files of all phone calls as well.

Ultimately, this helps everyone because it ensures that nothing slips through the cracks and there is no confusion about what was said, which creates a better relationship and happier clients.

Understand they are running a business, just like you

Would you ask a doctor to treat you based on the premise that you’ll pay him if you like the way you feel afterwards? Or ask your landlord to use their office space, and pay later if you loved using the building?

Of course not. If you aren’t laughed out of their office, you’ll be politely asked to leave immediately.

So why would you expect a web designer to design your website based on the idea of paying later if you like it?

Web designers have expenses, just like you. Thousands of dollars (per computer) in hardware and software every year, web hosting, domain names, training and education, stock photos, video, and sound in addition to all of the typical business expenses you face.

With that in mind, do you think it would be a wise business decision for them to invest their time and resources based on the “promise” that sometime down the road, they might get paid?

So if you can logically see that it’s a poor business decision for them to do that, what does that tell you about web designers who would agree to such an arrangement?

In my experience, web designers who are willing to work for the “promise” of payment later do not posses the business acumen to produce the results you need. So while you won’t risk any money, you will waste your time and get no results. Is that a good business decision for you?

If you are dealing with a web designer, expect to pay a deposit (typically 25-50%) and understand that the balance will usually be due before you website is moved to your live server or any files are turned over to you.

Respect their knowledge

Look, I’m happy that you took an introductory art class in college, but please don’t think that trumps the experience of people who design websites for a living.

I once had a client turn a gorgeous design we created into something that looked like Pablo Picasso threw up on AOL’s 1998 homepage. I explained the design fundamentals and usability principles that drove our design, as well as how his design ideas would negatively impact brand image, usability, and conversions, but he insisted on using it anyway. When I asked him why he wanted to follow his approach, his answer was “I fancy myself an amateur designer.”

OK then. That’s all I needed to know. Bang it out and move on. (Side note: his company failed in less than a year because he was too busy playing web designer.)

Web design is an art, but it’s also a science, and unless you live and breath it, you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Do you know your visitors’ screen resolution breakdown? Is most of your traffic coming from a desktop, tablet, or mobile device? Have you studied the psychology behind color choices? Do you know that contrast applies not just to brightness, but also to size, shape, and many other factors? Or why certain fonts are better in certain circumstances than others? Have you studied what makes a visitor convert into a customer and what makes them leave?

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

A good web designer will know not only how to design a beautiful website, but also why it should be designed a certain way and what they need to consider from an SEO (Search Engine Optimization), usability, and responsive (mobile friendly) perspective.

Trust their knowledge, because it will save you a lot of headaches and added costs down the road.

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