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Web Designers and Clients, a Marriage or a Mistake?
With a little thought and effort, the trap of this being a mistake can easily be avoided. As with any relationship, a certain amount of give and take should be expected. As I mentioned in my previous article, this trend is actually more of a new type of clientele than anything else. This type, or mindset of clientele that is emerging in the market today, are those who want to be involved in the web design process, the results, and future design changes and improvements. This change in customer behavior, I believe, is directly related to the challenges of the current economic situation that many small businesses face today. Both business owners and business representatives are looking more towards the future regarding their internet marketing needs. They intelligently seek every possible means to minimize undue expenditure. For this marriage to work, we as web designers and developers need to take our clients’ wishes seriously and offer solutions and options that facilitate a win-win situation for both parties.
For this relationship to emerge as a marriage and not as a mistake, certain steps must be taken from the beginning of the project. This must happen before the design process begins. As designers and developers, it is our responsibility to guide and direct the client in terms of website functionality, page layout, flow, basic design principles and how everything should come together. The other side of that relationship, the customer, needs to be encouraged by the designer/developer to express their needs, wants, desires, and anything else that can be thought of, as close to the beginning of this process as possible. If these two parts of the equation can come together, the results of the final sum can be quite spectacular.
Because this is often unexplored and new to the client, it is the responsibility of the designer or developer to take the client by the hand and lead them through a process that the developer or designer should know very well. Using questionnaires, the customer will unknowingly make decisions simply by answering those questions. It has been this designer’s experience that no matter how short or long the questionnaire is, depending on the current workload of the clientele will largely determine the time the completed questionnaire is returned. More on this in the next article.
This designer’s experience has been that if the mention of the questionnaire is presented at the beginning of the process, even in the tender or pre-tender stages, the result can be twofold. I have found that the client shows some relief that they will not have to come up with the design criteria. The second positive is that it shows the client that serious thought has been put into this process by the designer by asking these questions. It is imperative that the client is aware that this is not just an exercise. The client must understand that the effort and quality that is put into answering these questions are directly related to the result of his site. These questionnaires are very useful during many stages of the design and construction process when we, as designers, need to make certain decisions and the client may not be available.
As in any marriage, change is essential. It is imperative that the designer makes his client understand that his website is alive. For so many clients, new to the website design and development industry, they have the false impression and misconception that, like print media, once your website is built, that’s it, it’s done. This is a very easy hurdle to overcome and should be addressed early in the relationship. Once the client is aware that their website is like a living, breathing entity and that, like a baby, it needs to be changed very often, these misconceptions tend to disappear and the client is finally able to understand the concept of constant change. I find it essential to reassure the client that any decision made regarding content, color, photos, design, theme, or basically anything, can be and in some cases must be changed from time to time or on an ongoing basis. Once the client understands that this change is not only acceptable but essential, there is an element of calm and comfort that the client receives knowing that if a mistake is made, it can be corrected easily and quickly.
As you can see, there are responsibilities that lie on both sides of the equation when it comes to designing or developing an effective and successful website. Whether it is informative, entertaining, interactive or even an e-commerce site, open communication between the two parties is essential. Our clients need to understand that we need their input to create the site they expect, and it’s on our shoulders as designers and developers to get that point across to the client. I must go back to what I said earlier, for many of our customers this is uncharted territory, territory we pass through many times and perhaps take for granted or simply forget. As designers and developers, we need to remember what it was like when we designed and developed some of our first sites. The trepidation, the fear of the plane, the uncertainty of whether or not what we were doing was right. These are the same feelings our customers have. Unfortunately, for many of them, they won’t have the opportunity to improve as time goes on, like we have. Most of our clients have a website built, they go through this process once. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make these not only enjoyable experiences, but also an enlightening and enriching experience.
Finally, if all these things come together, as they should, as in a marriage the offspring should come out. A quality website, functional, attractive both to the eye and to the search engine and above all something that the client is proud to have attached the name of his company or organization. The client is satisfied with the outcome of their site and has also been educated to take care of that site as much as the client wants. The ultimate offspring of this marriage should be a client who is not only willing to share their name and services with other colleagues and acquaintances, but is compelled to share. If this offspring comes out of the back of your works, you can be sure that it was a job well done.
Thanks and come back for my next article, “Choosing a Site Style, XHTML vs. CSS.”
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