10 tips for working with web designers

Working with web designers can be a tricky business especially if you have never done so before. Discover how to get the most from him or her with this handy list.

I have been thinking a lot recently about my working relationship with our clients at Headscape. I have been trying to identify why some projects run smoother than others and ultimately create more successful websites. In a lot of cases it is because of the relationship between us (the web designers) and the client.

Without a doubt there is a real art to getting the best results from your web designer and I thought I would share some tips and tricks that may help. As I haven’t written a list post for a while I figured I would give you a top ten list for ease of scanning (I know you never read the whole of my posts).

1. Try not to rush the process

Increasingly web projects are becoming squeezed by limited budgets or tight deadlines. This is one of the best ways to damage the quality of work you get from your web designer. Producing something truly exceptional takes time. Not just time actively working on the project but elapsed time too. The web designer needs time to consider his options and think about different approaches. The longer you give your web designer to think, the better the work.

Of course actual hands on time is incredibly important too. Without it your design will be less polished and the underlying code fail to stand the test of time.

2. Insist on seeing work in progress

Web designers have this habit of working in secrecy when it comes to the look and feel of your site. They like to be briefed and then to go away to work on the design until they are ready to present the final article. Unfortunately in most cases this approach leads to problems.

If for some reason the web designer misunderstood the initial brief he could spend days, if not weeks, working on a totally inappropriate design. What is more by the time he presents the design to you he is both emotionally and financially committed to it. From his perspective it is the perfect solution and he cannot afford to spend long changing it. Unsurprisingly this often leads to conflict.

A better approach is to work collaboratively with your web designer from the outset. You should be involved in seeing initial sketches, creating moodboards and wireframes. This ensures that the final design is something that you are both happy with, because you were involved in the process of its creation.

An example mood board

3. If in doubt test

Inevitably the time will come where you and your web designer disagree over something. Although web designers are experts in their field they are not always infallible. What is more it is your website and you need to be confident if you are going to refer customers to it.

If you are in doubt as to whether your web designer is giving you good advice or not, I recommend you test the design. It is inadvisable to simply overrule your web designer as your own perspective may be coloured for numerous reasons. Instead test the issue with real users and get an impartial perspective on the problem.

4. Don’t ask for multiple designs

A common mistake among those commissioning web designers is to insist that the designer produces multiple concepts at the beginning of the project. The perception is this gives the client some sense of control over the direction of the sites look and feel. Setting aside that I have already advised a more collaborative approach when working with web designers, the idea of multiple concepts is fundamentally flawed.

The problem with multiple concepts is that it inevitably leads to Frankenstein design. In other words, when presented with multiple designs you will inevitably see elements from each design that you like. In most cases this leads to you picking and choosing elements that you wish to see in the final design. However as any designer will tell you, you cannot easily combine elements from different designs and it almost always comes out looking like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster.

Instead follow my earlier advice of working closely with the designer to shape the design as it is produced.

5. Don’t show a design around without explanation

Settling on the final look and feel for your website can be kind of scary especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Almost certainly you will want to reassure yourself by showing the design to colleagues, friends and even family members.

Although the desire to show a potential design to as many people as possible is understandable, it is extremely unwise. Our perception of good or bad design is highly subjective and you are likely to get radically different opinions from different people. Instead of reassuring you, showing the design around will almost certainly create more doubt.

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Admittedly you will have to show your design to some people. This is fine, but do not just send them the design and ask what they think. In order to be able to respond intelligently they need to understand the background of the project and the decision-making process that was used to produce the proposed design. Without this kind of information all they can do is fall back on personal opinion, which as I have already said is subjective.

6. Make sure you share similar ideas about business objectives

Even if you are working collaboratively with your web designer to produce the look and feel of your site things can still go wrong if you both have different perceptions of the end goal. That is why it is so important that all parties have a clear idea of what the website business objectives are. These business objectives will act as a plumb line against which you can measure decisions being made in the development of your website.

All parties do not just need to share a common perspective of the business objectives, they also need to agree on exactly who the target audiences is.

7. Make sure the target audience is clearly defined

Do everything in your power to clearly communicate as much information about your users as possible to your web designer. This is where getting the web designer to do some usability testing is invaluable. Even better encourage a web designer to carry out this usability testing in the homes of your users. That way he or she will get a clear understanding of exactly what makes your users tick.

If the web designer does not fully understand the target audience they could easily present the entire site in the wrong way.

However, it is important to note that it is not just the web designer who needs a firm grasp of the target audience. You do too. Maybe you already think you do. However unless you are meeting with users on a daily basis it is still worth participating in any usability testing the web designer carries out. You may be surprised just how different your users are from your preconceptions.

8. Don’t overwork the design

A common problem I see occur on many design projects is the website owner overworking a design. This is something most web designers have learnt not to do, largely because they have had it drummed into them while training. However, because most website owners do not come from a design background they often fall into this classic design trap.

Because design is subjective, you can never create the perfect design. However, your desire to achieve perfection leads to tweak after tweak in order to get it ‘just right’. The trouble is you never can get it ‘just right’. You may get it so you personally like it, but does that mean it will do the job and encourage users to complete your calls to action?

Image of a website owner telling a web designer to make a small change in search of perfection

Shutterstock

A related problem is that website owners often have the perception you only get one shot at getting the design right. That is not the case. Infact often the best way to find the mythical ‘perfect design’ is to put something live and watch users interact with it. Then you can tweak and refine based on solid data rather than personal opinion.

That brings me on to one of the biggest issues of the designer/client relationship. Website owners should be working in long term partnership with designers.

9. Work as an ongoing partnership

Most website owners commission a web designer to redesign their website and then walk away. This prevents any kind of ongoing development of the site based on user analysis.

Instead as I explain in my latest book ‘Building Websites for Return on Investment‘ website owners should be working with their web designers on a monthly basis. This allows for a continual programme of refinements that ultimately avoid the massive cost of periodic redesign.

10. Focus on problems not solutions

Finally, I think it is extremely important to clearly define (and stick to) your respective roles. I believe it is the website owners job to identify problems and for the web designers to solve these problems.

However, in many cases it doesn’t work out like this. The website owner sees a problem (e.g. that the colour scheme is not appropriate for his audience) and tells the designer how things should be changed (e.g. change from pink to blue). However, the web designer is none the wiser as to what the underlying problem is. He just knows the client now wants the site blue. This makes it impossible for the web designer to suggest alternative solutions that might be even better. In short the website owner becomes the designer and the web designer becomes a technician implementing the design.

This is both a waste of the talents of the web designer and damages the relationship between the two parties. The web designer becomes disenfranchised and loses interest in the project.

Not a comprehensive list

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but simply by implementing the suggestions here you will significantly increasing the effectiveness of your website by improving the working relationship with your web designer. If you have other suggestions that should have been included, post them in the comments below. I am sure there is loads that could be added.

  • http://bit.ly/i7I8BC Ralston Vaz

    Hey Paul,

    All are strong points by which the designer and the client should conduct themselves.

    I particularly like number 10 which, if adhered to by clients, will prove a tremendous help to the progress of a web design project.

    I wrote a tip about that recently (clicking my name will show it). Essentially I made the point that it’s best to think ‘with’ your designer, not ‘like’ them.

    Thanks for the great list!
    +Ralston

  • http://blog.onewebstudio.com blog.onewebstudio.com

    yes.. thats right… no 1 is great, dont rush the prcess!

  • http://apfotodesign.com Andrew Pfund

    “Most website owners commission a web designer to redesign their website and then walk away.”

    What your saying in #9 is so true. When web designers walk away as soon as its done they’re basically setting their client up for failure.

  • http://www.jellybeancreative.co.uk Andy Wickes

    I think point 6 is an interesting one. Possibly even deserving of an article / podcast in its own right ;-)

    I think it is crucial for businesses to take time out when commissioning an agency / web designer to spend a little time explaining exactly what their business is / does / is aiming to do / is already doing in other channels.

    A designer will want to try and learn as much about a business as possible to ensure their design achieves the goals of the business without compromising any other marketing that might be going on elsewhere.

    Often critiques regarding designs really highlight the lack of time spent introducing your brand / business to a designer and expecting, perhaps, rather a lot of them. The more complex the business, the more time ought to be taken to explain things to your designer.

    We would suggest a half day spent getting to know the various teams involved, the client presenting themselves and their business, the designer doing the same, and then a show and tell of existing marketing collaterel from the business and perhaps the designer showing their portfolio.

    Saves a lot of time in the long run.

    A

  • http://www.webcoursesbangkok.com Carl – Web Courses Bangkok

    Paul I am writing a similar post so I`ll be sure to point our readers to this one too :)

  • http://www.gr8littlesites.com Ann

    As a designer, I can’t thank you enough for this post! I will refer my clients to it – it’s hard to explain coming from me, but makes perfect sense coming from you. I’m a classic “design in my cave until it’s perfect” girl, so I have lessons to learn, too.

  • http://www.theofficesuppliessupermarket.com/category_office_stationery_74772.aspx martin fairall

    I’m not too sure about point four. I understand that showing a potential client multiple designs can lead to problems though. They tend to cherry pick elements from each cretive presented ending up with a whoole that’s less than the sum of it’s parts.

  • http://hijavier.com javier

    great read! i can definitely see how my dealings with many of my clients would be improved if we worked together in this manner.

    any tips on encouraging clients to adhere to these tips?

  • http://www.jobvirtue.com Jodi

    Great post. One of my co-workers is a web designer/developer and, though I’m not invested in my company’s website, this article has given me a better understanding of his work.

  • Charles Southey

    Paul – presumably you write this kind of stuff in order to encourage your clients to read it. Out of interest, do most clients reply positively after reading it?

  • http://12grainstudio.com/clients/downie/test/ matt

    These are some great tips. I’m undecided about #4 though. Our last 3 clients were very unsure as to what they needed and had a very “odd” sense of design from the beginning. Even though we worked very close with them, we went through numerous great ideas, and they still didn’t agree with our designs. How do you work through having to educate clients on good design and what is best for their business, when they aren’t aware?

  • http://tylerherman.com Tyler

    A really fantastic post. Being a web designer I agree with the majority of it.

    “4. Don’t ask for multiple designs” – is one I especially liked. I used to work for a place where you needed to come up with 2-3 comps for a page. It never works because there is always the best/correct one, then there are 2 other comps that are just not up to par, and odds are, the client picks the wrong one almost every time. Or like you said they want elements from all 3 which may work but many times simply cannot.

    2 is a hard one because it is AWFUL having someone look over your shoulder while you work, especially if they are not a designer. One, they don’t know the UI design process. Two, how the software works. Three, best practices for the field. So any input they give is going to slow you down, frustrate the designer more, and probably not contribute to the producing the best design possible. Nothing is more frustrating than “How about you try this” comments from the client when you either have already tried it or know it will look like crap. Waiting tell the comps are finished might not be a good idea, but designers need time to work stuff out on their own, with a clear head, so maybe letting the client see the progress once a week might be more reasonable.

  • http://www.ecommercewebdesigners.com.au Ecommerce Web Designers

    Great post. I can’t thank you enough for this post! The more complex the business, the more time ought to be taken to explain things to your designer.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VWVUXFTQH2A2YL2XT6LP5643XQ Johny Anderson

    What a great information that is! It is really such a important articles for the peoples who want to work with web designer.

    Joomla Developer Kent

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VWVUXFTQH2A2YL2XT6LP5643XQ Johny Anderson

    What a great information that is! It is really such a important articles for the peoples who want to work with web designer.

    Joomla Developer Kent

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VWVUXFTQH2A2YL2XT6LP5643XQ Johny Anderson

    What a great information that is! It is really such a important articles for the peoples who want to work with web designer.

    Joomla Developer Kent

  • Anonymous

    That works great even if you have a web design company and you outsource some or all the work to external web designer. In that occasion you have also to be a mediator from what the client wants and what the web designer does.

    Regards,
    Amy
    Cowboy Millionaire Review

  • http://www.facebook.com/diducs Dianna Ducs

    Thank you for the post and some fundamental rules to follow in working with web developers. At my institution we have talented web designers/developers, but as hard as we try to communicate our needs we get push back and delays in the process which inevitably causes conflict between us. It ends up feeling like we are hostage to the timelines of the web people rather than a healthy communicable working relationship with flexibility on both sides. Any advice on how to not feel cornered by them and get them to recognize the need to adhere to the project deadlines?

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