S03E05: Dealing with design

This is a transcription of episode 5, season 3 of the boagworld podcast: Dealing with design..

Paul Boag
Hello and welcome to boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing, and running websites on a daily basis. We are at Episode Five of Season Three, and Marcus is looking sleepy.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah, I’ve had so much work to do this morning so far.

Paul Boag
You have been in meetings the whole time, haven’t you?

Marcus Lillington
Yeah.

Paul Boag
You have been meetinged up.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah. And then I’ve squeezed the podcast in, just here then before I go to another meeting. Basically Pete’s is going away. This is bad.

Paul Boag
Pete, our project manager, is departing.

Marcus Lillington
Who is basically –

Paul Boag
Where is he going?

Marcus Lillington
South Africa.

Paul Boag
As always to –

Marcus Lillington
Oh, yes.

Paul Boag
See family?

Marcus Lillington
To see family.

Paul Boag
So are you running all of his projects then while he’s away? I feel sorry for those clients.

Marcus Lillington
No, Pete and I are kind of in – we are in the same team. So yes –

Paul Boag
Right.

Marcus Lillington
I’m running lots of things.

Paul Boag
That’s really, really bad.

Marcus Lillington
No, it’s not.

Paul Boag
Really bad.

Marcus Lillington
No it’s not.

Paul Boag
Have you warned the clients about this?

Marcus Lillington
No. Why would I do that?

Paul Boag
Well, they need to be warned.

Marcus Lillington
Actually they do know Pete’s going, so yeah.

Paul Boag
Do they know what you are like?

Marcus Lillington
What am I like, Paul?

Paul Boag
You have said many times on this show that you are shockingly bad at project management.

Marcus Lillington
Efficient and well organized.

Paul Boag
Just before we started recording this show you were going, the only reason I haven’t swapped over to my new computer for recording this podcast is because I can’t be bothered to organize my hard drive. So if you can’t organize a hard drive, how the hell you are going to organize projects? How long is he going for?

Marcus Lillington
Two and a half weeks.

Paul Boag
Wow. Think how much damage you can do in that length of time.

Marcus Lillington
I won’t do any damage at all. People will listen to this, it will be great.

Paul Boag
Oh my.

Marcus Lillington
Actually no, because he will be back by the time it comes out.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington
So yeah.

Paul Boag
So all the damage would be done. They will know the reality by the time this comes out.

Marcus Lillington
No one will ever hear this podcast because the company will have died.

Paul Boag
We have gone out of business, there will be no one to release it.

Marcus Lillington
We are wasting our time, Paul.

Paul Boag
We are.

Marcus Lillington
Let’s go and sit in the sun.

Paul Boag
I know. Why aren’t we doing the podcast outside?

Marcus Lillington
Because we are too noisy.

Paul Boag
We are not too noisy. We are lovely. It would be lovely to sit out in the sun recording this podcast. You know why?

Marcus Lillington
You would be amazed how noisy –

Paul Boag
Do you know why? Because you aren’t organized enough to take everything outside.

Marcus Lillington
That’s not the reason, although it would actually be a bit of a pain. But you would be amazed how much more external noise there is out there.

Paul Boag
But people would love it. Birds cheeping, cows mooing.

Marcus Lillington
Barn, barn noises.

Paul Boag
Barn noises, indeed. So there we go.

Marcus Lillington
Anyway, yes it’s sunny, in March, in England.

Paul Boag
I know, well this is our summer now. We need to make the most of it. As Dan Sheerman, one of our developers, has indeed done, turning up in a vest top. He looks like something out of the Village People.

Marcus Lillington
Well, yeah.

Paul Boag
Right. So, as I promised last time when we last recorded this podcast –

Marcus Lillington
Oh, this is going to be the best –

Paul Boag
The best podcast episode ever.

Marcus Lillington
Right. Okay.

Paul Boag
But you have ruined it now, because the reason I thought it was going to be the best one ever is we would be sitting outside in the sun.

Marcus Lillington
Rubbish. You didn’t know that. You knew –

Paul Boag
I just –

Marcus Lillington
It was freezing cold last week. You and Leigh were saying how cold it was, and it wasn’t that cold.

Paul Boag
Right. We are so British, aren’t we, discussing the weather?

Marcus Lillington
Yes, the weather.

Paul Boag
Oh yeah, it’s superb.

Marcus Lillington
When is this going to run out?

Paul Boag
I think it’s very legitimate mind, if you lived on an island country that had changeable climate all the time, you would talk about the weather, Mr. American. I know what you are like with your stable climate and shit. Apart from hurricanes and –

Marcus Lillington
Well, I suspect that people that live in temperate areas in any part of the world will talk about the weather. But I don’t think if it’s hot all the time or cold all the time, that you won’t.

Paul Boag
But also I think Britain is particularly bad because we get different, we’re really going into detail now. We get the Arctic coming down, and – the Gulf Stream and –

Marcus Lillington
We should be a lot colder than we are.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Because of the Gulf Stream.

Marcus Lillington
I love this subject. I am English.

Paul Boag
Yeah, it’s brilliant. Anyway, shall we talk about web design?

Marcus Lillington
Yeah go on then.

Paul Boag
So yeah.

Marcus Lillington
Do we have to?

Paul Boag
I don’t want to either, but there you go. That’s what we are paid for. Perhaps we ought to become – we ought to start a weather podcast. Not in anyway –

Marcus Lillington
I bet we are not the first.

Paul Boag
Not in any way in any kind of professional medium, no science about it. Just looking out the window and going, oh we don’t like the look of that.

Marcus Lillington
It’s lovely out there at the moment.

Paul Boag
It does, beautiful.

Marcus Lillington
Perfect blue skies.

Paul Boag
Do you think we could fill 50 minutes of talking about how lovely the weather –

Marcus Lillington
Yes, easily, easily.

Paul Boag
I’m really tempted to try now, we’ll put off this podcast for another time. Right, web design, we do web design. So far in this season we’ve kind of worked carefully to build our working relationship with our clients. However, there is one massive area that it could seriously undermine everything, and that is design. It’s like this huge monster that kind of creates fights, and it’s like talking about politics or religion, in my view, design is.

Marcus Lillington
Design?

Paul Boag
Yeah, well maybe. So you are going to argue with me about that.

Marcus Lillington
I was about to start and thought, no I won’t. I will look into that.

Paul Boag
It is a subject that causes a lot of problems for lot of web designers, is getting design sign off and design approval. And we’ve all had – come on, even we have had experiences of clients that have been a nightmare when it comes to design sign off. Admit it.

Marcus Lillington
Oh yeah, definitely, yeah.

Paul Boag
So what’s your problem then, beyond the obvious.

Marcus Lillington
I don’t have a problem. Okay, carry on. Everything you say is right, Paul.

Paul Boag
Of course. We have experienced things like design by committee, just once or twice.

Marcus Lillington
As I said, that’s like nearly every project.

Paul Boag
Endless iterations, less now. Well, that’s why we are teaching this stuff, but a lot of people experience that, and micro management is the other big problem. Those are the three big areas I think that kind of throw a lot at design. But, unfortunately the problems with design approval aren’t isolated instances for a lot of web designers, limited to the occasional difficult client. It’s – from the kind of feedback I get from other people, it seems to be something that people are regularly encountering. And I think that has to – you can’t then dismiss it as just clients. It’s got to be something fundamentally broken with how we approach things if it’s a problem that’s coming up time and time again. It’s my logic. So what I want to talk about in this episode is how we –

Marcus Lillington
Hang on there, Paul. This is the point when I’m supposed to summarize everything beautifully.

Paul Boag
Oh yeah.

Marcus Lillington
And the rest –

Paul Boag
Good, go on.

Marcus Lillington
No, no, no.

Paul Boag
No, you have got to do it. You have done it in the last few episodes, Mr. Smug Bastard.

Marcus Lillington
I wasn’t actually, I was going to give another reason why I think these things happen.

Paul Boag
Right.

Marcus Lillington
I have used this excuse for many things that happen within our industry over the years. And I still think this is the case with a lot of things in design sign off or, yeah, getting clients to agree to a design through a particular process. One of the reasons we have a problem with that is because quite a lot clients – I would even dare say most clients still don’t get how web design agencies work, right.

Paul Boag
Right.

Marcus Lillington
They kind of do, much more than they did say 10 years ago.

Paul Boag
Yeah, but whose fault is that?

Marcus Lillington
I was saying this is something that we need to fix.

Paul Boag
Right, okay.

Marcus Lillington
And but some of it is fairly, you can’t just educate people. You can’t say, this is how we work, so therefore you must accept it, because I think people within marketing departments, who most people work with in a web design agency are – people within marketing departments are used to signing off design for all sorts of different mediums, and if someone is 50 plus years old, they were around before the internet. They have been making comments on print design and how that process works for 30 years. So they will expect some kind of overlap in that process between the two. And we as web designers don’t have to accept it, but we have to accept that it is something that exists.

Paul Boag
It’s a problem that exists and we have to work on it.

Marcus Lillington
I’m just saying, well it’s web design, it’s different, therefore –

Paul Boag
It isn’t enough.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah exactly. And it’s something I think will – well it already is changing. It will become better and easier as marketers probably go the other way actually, and get more used to dealing with web design projects than print projects. But I think to a certain extent we are still on the end of – on a print project there is micro management, there has to be because of the – if we don’t get this right.

Paul Boag
You only get one go at it.

Marcus Lillington
Exactly. Yeah.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington
So that was my point. That was my thought for the day. Now I’m going to nod off.

Paul Boag
That’s fine. That has just broken everything I was saying. So I will cross it over.

Marcus Lillington
That’s okay.

Paul Boag
It’s a different point.

Marcus Lillington
It’s a different point of view, that’s wrong.

Paul Boag
No, it’s not wrong actually, you are making a lot of sense. I think it’s because we all take kind of old metaphors for stuff. You know we take old experiences and try and apply it to the new, and it doesn’t always translate. I have to say I think there is a lot that we can do, and I think that a lot of the problem that exists is down to us as web designers. And I think the reasons why design becomes so contentious is actually a lot of the things that we have already discussed earlier in the season. Things like lack of communication. You know if we don’t communicate regularly and clearly to our client, they are going to become anxious about the direction the design is going and they will start to micro manage it in an attempt to control things. Also, this whole business of relying on personal opinion, both designers and clients feel that their opinion should carry more weight. The client, because they are paying for the site, and the designer because they have the experience and training, and so that can create a conflict.

I think undefined roles, we’ve talked about defining clearly roles before, and I think that’s a big issue, that many clients lack experience, as you were saying really, in web projects and so are unclear about what their role should be. And this can lead to them suggesting design solutions rather than identifying problems that the designer can solve. And this undermines the designer’s role and causes conflict. You know you were saying that thing about – that doesn’t mean that clients can’t suggest good design solutions. I think last week you said that.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah. I might have been. Yes I did.

Paul Boag
It was good comment, I’ve decided. I have been mulling on it since. And I actually wrote a blog post, I don’t know whether you saw that.

Marcus Lillington
No. I haven’t.

Paul Boag
You don’t look at them.

Marcus Lillington
I do, no sometimes I do.

Paul Boag
No it’s okay, you don’t need to apologize at the moment. No, no, you just – no I understand –

Marcus Lillington
I have been too busy doing real work.

Paul Boag
I understand you are busy person and don’t have time for my blog, that’s fine. It’s no problem at all.

Marcus Lillington
I was kind of hoping I would get, you know, you’d tell me about it now. See.

Paul Boag
So you can tell it was your idea, you told me.

Marcus Lillington
Well, thank you, Paul.

Paul Boag
I’m actually complementing you for once and saying, you made a point, you changed my mind over something. I blogged on it to say that. That’s all. I know, don’t pass out. There’s no need to be sarcastic about it all. So failure to educate is another one. If as designers we fail to communicate best practice to our clients in a way that they can understand, then it’s going obviously significantly reduce the chance and them signing off our design. No clearly defined objectives, I think a lot of design goes in the wrong direction because the designer doesn’t really understand the requirements that the client has. And that’s partly the client not being able to articulate them very well. But it’s partly our responsibility to extract those.

Marcus Lillington
As we were saying last week.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington
Not hearing, not listening.

Paul Boag
Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington
I have worked with someone like you before. This is what you need. And they are going, no it isn’t, no.

Paul Boag
We have got this really specific problem, you know. And then finally scope creep, obviously design approval is often delayed if the project is not clearly defined and there is no mechanism for handling client suggestions. Again that’s something we’ve talked about in the past. Not all the problems with design are directly related to the client. I think that some of them are kind of our own psychology and our own way of working, and that’s what I want to kind of explore in more depth in the rest of this show.

Marcus Lillington
Okay.

Paul Boag
And the first one, and I think one of the biggest problems, is our own pride. Not that I’m saying – and this might just be me actually, if I think about it. So as web designers, I think we are rightly proud of what we do. We are experienced in –

Marcus Lillington
Change the world. Feed the poor.

Paul Boag
We do change, we do. We change the world. The world is a better place because there is designers in it. It bloody is.

Marcus Lillington
I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Paul Boag
Exactly. I mean we are –

Marcus Lillington
Web designers.

Paul Boag
Shut up. Yeah. You imagine what the web would be like. You see what happens.

Marcus Lillington
It would be a horrid mess.

Paul Boag
You have seen when happens when developers do design work. It doesn’t end well. So – I mean we are surely –

Marcus Lillington
I’m joking.

Paul Boag
Yes, we are damn experienced in building user interfaces, while our clients generally are not.

Marcus Lillington
You would not have been on the B Ark. There you go.

Paul Boag
The B Ark? What’s the B Ark?

Marcus Lillington
It’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Paul Boag
I completely missed it. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m with you now. Well, I don’t know.

Marcus Lillington
No, you wouldn’t.

Paul Boag
In rebuilding a new world I think we would. Let’s say you don’t – no you don’t need web designers. You need like mechanics and –

Marcus Lillington
It wasn’t rebuilding the world. They sent off the B Ark first with all the middle men in it to go and build the new world or whatever. While the rest of them stayed behind.

Paul Boag
Oh, the people they are getting rid of yes, yes, yes, that was it. No, web designers. I’m not sure I wouldn’t fall into the B Ark, personally, as someone that doesn’t do a lot of you know actually producing shit these days. I think you and me both would be doomed, I have to say.

Marcus Lillington
I don’t know, maybe I could get away with it as a musician, but –

Paul Boag
Oh, I don’t know. It’s a close run thing. Anyway, so yes we are damn good and clients are not. But despite that, clients feel justified in criticizing our designs and overruling our decisions. And this can be hurtful.

Marcus Lillington
It’s hurtful.

Paul Boag
It is hurtful. It is because you put a lot of – don’t mock – you put a lot of effort into a design and it is difficult to deal with criticism when somebody slags it off. If someone slammed off your music it would upset you.

Marcus Lillington
Normally people don’t slack it off. They might make suggestions about how it might not fit their criteria.

Paul Boag
Oh sometime, yeah. But to be honest even the smallest suggestion can make you become defensive and that is my point that there is a problem here that I think we are – we can be as web designers little sensitive flowers that do get uppity. Obviously not me.

Marcus Lillington
Obviously. You don’t do any client work anymore.

Paul Boag
No, I don’t. And that’s why. I do client work, I just do the design.

Marcus Lillington
You do client design work.

Paul Boag
No.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah.

Paul Boag
Right. I think – okay, so how do we deal with this? If we’re getting upset by clients, you know, telling us how to do our job et cetera, how do we deal with it? The instant reaction is that you want to stop them doing it but I think, as Marcus had made clear, it is an inevitable part of the job and you can’t change a client. I think what we need to do is we need to remember that we offer a service, right, and so pleasing the client is part of our job. I think we can get distracted – and this is going to sound really weird and some people are going to criticize me for this I think – but we can get distracted by a desire to produce beautiful designs to grace our portfolio and impress our peers when really that’s not our objective.

Marcus Lillington
That’s a bit harsh.

Paul Boag
I’m not saying – I’m exaggerating a little bit for effect. Now –

Marcus Lillington
I don’t think there are – this is quite hard – no, I think that’s right to say, I don’t think there are that many successful designers out there who are designing for their portfolio.

Paul Boag
No, but –

Marcus Lillington
I do agree that there are designers out there who may feel that what they are delivering is the right solution, full stop. So, therefore they’re sort of “how are you criticizing me?” kind of thing.

Paul Boag
Yes.

Marcus Lillington
And I think the way to deal with this is to accept that there are more than one way to –

Paul Boag
One way to do stuff.

Marcus Lillington
To kill a cat or whatever that expression is. Is that the expression?

Paul Boag
Or is it one way to – more than one way to skin a cat.

Marcus Lillington
Skin a cat. That’s it, lovely.

Paul Boag
Much nicer.

Marcus Lillington
So yes I think that’s the issue. I mean, yes.

Paul Boag
Where does that phrase come from?

Marcus Lillington
I don’t know. Do you really want to know? Shall I look it up?

Paul Boag
I think we need to look that up at some point. Yeah, but…

Marcus Lillington
You carry on.

Paul Boag
I see what you’re saying. So I mean I guess what – I guess what I’m getting at is that our job is to create effective websites and to achieve that the client has to like it, right? I think a lot of us produce things and we go “oh, this is the right solution, this is a really effective website, the client just doesn’t get it and doesn’t understand it’s the right solution.” Well, if the client doesn’t get it and doesn’t think it’s the right solution then it’s not the right solution because if they don’t get it, if they don’t like it, they are not going to invest in it, they are not going to promote it, they are not going to keep it up to date, they are not going to take it on, they are just going to just kind of quietly push it to a corner because they hate it. And if it’s abandoned like that, it’s going to die. So it’s not the right solution.

So the right solution has to be a solution that takes the client with them. So I think we kind of need to realign our thinking and our job satisfaction has become as much from producing design that the client loves and not just design that we think is right and that impresses our peers or whatever. It’s not to say that we can’t disagree with the client, of course we can. However sometimes the right way is to ensure that the client loves the design, that it’s right – sorry, I’m getting myself in a mess. Sure we can disagree with the client, but the right way to ensure that the client loves the design isn’t to kind of bang them around the head or, you know, just scream at them or whatever, it’s to educate them so that they change their minds about the design. In other words you take them on a journey to the point where they like the design instead…

Marcus Lillington
Yeah and they feel that they own it. Well, they have had a part in its birth.

Paul Boag
Yeah, exactly. So when our ego gets bruised by client criticism we can’t afford to become confrontational. You know to do that we need to – if we are going to avoid being confrontational we need to have the right relationship. And that isn’t going to happen if we disagree with the client over every little thing. The trouble is when I – for me I don’t know whether this is everybody but when my ego gets bruised by a client criticism I tend to become confrontational. And once I have kind of got that mindset then I will argue over every little issue that arise, even if I don’t feel like that strongly about it. Do you know what I mean? It is a kind of screw them attitude. I have worked really hard to reduce that but I don’t think I’m the only one. I think that is almost part of the personality type that exists within designers to some degree. And we do really need to be careful about that. We need to pick our battles and only push back over things that are important in order to establish a more healthy relationship with our clients.

That way the client will realize that when we do speak up about something we do put our foot down about it, that it is really important. We are not the boy that cried wolf so to speak over every little issue that arise. And I think they are more likely to listen to us. We cannot allow pride to turn our relationship into confrontations. So yeah unfortunately that problem is compounded by bad experiences that we have had in the past with clients and we kind of need to talk about that a bit. But have you found out the answer to the question?

Marcus Lillington
Wikipedia went off on all sorts of … nobody knows.

Paul Boag
Nobody knows. Oh, how dull.

Marcus Lillington
Does anyone know where the phrase there is more than one way to skin a cat come from? I googled it, but everything went blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I mean yes, there is acres.

Paul Boag
Acres of people making up shit that sounds feasible.

Marcus Lillington
I couldn’t be bothered to read it.

Paul Boag
See lack of commitment to the show, once again.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah, can’t be arsed.

Paul Boag
No. So shall we talk about bad experiences in the past, right?

Marcus Lillington
Yeah because – this goes both ways as well.

Paul Boag
What do you mean? Yeah, oh yeah. Absolutely clients have had many a bad experience with web designers. And I think is part of the problem as well. I mean, it’s that phrase: that we should learn from the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately I think sometimes we can learn the wrong lessons you know and I think it’s not always good to kind of learn too much from the past. I mean, we all have worked on projects where the client has tweaked the design in an endless series of iterations which is massively demoralizing as it destroys the design and also erodes your profit margins as well on a project. So the common reaction kind of learning from that mistake of the past is to exclude the client from the design process. And many web designers do this by kind of limiting the number of iterations for example. However, I actually think this probably makes things worse rather than better. Because I think limiting the number of iterations makes the client anxious about the design.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah. I’ve got to get it right.

Paul Boag
Must get it right, you know, raise the stakes and make the client you know really fret about each iteration that it has to be perfect. And when they get that feeling the design becomes this huge thing in their minds and they are much more likely start micro managing it. So at Headscape we remove that constraint and we actually minimize the need for design approval at all really. We kind of – we do ask clients to approve the design, but we try and keep it as informal and as light and easy as possible when, say oh well if little tweaks and changes need to be made later down the line that’s kind of okay.

Marcus Lillington
People have just fainted at what you’ve just said.

Paul Boag
But it’s true. I have heard him do it in order to move the project on.

Marcus Lillington
I think when it comes to things – we used to be obsessed with – well, that’s too strong – I was going to say we used to be obsessed with sign offs.

Paul Boag
We used to be very strong on it.

Marcus Lillington
I think we still on with a final kind of – before we are going to start building we want an official sign off.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington
But during the process – when we are working on mood boards if – because mood boards can get quite –

Paul Boag
They can become a problem if anything, after a while.

Marcus Lillington
Exactly.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington
And you kind of just have to say well, okay we have done that exercise, we have got this positive out of it and this bit still hanging. But let’s go and start doing –

Paul Boag
But even with the final design signoff I have heard the project managers do this before where we are getting hung up on a little thing like the shade of blue or whatever. And if that is something that’s easily changeable in CSS later down the line then let’s just start building.

Marcus Lillington
And to a certain extent obviously you are designing during build anyway.

Paul Boag
Yeah, of course because you are doing the other templates and all the rest of it. So you are only setting the design direction, but I do think this whole thing of “you only have three reiterations and after that it is chargeable bla bla bla…”

Marcus Lillington
We have done that a long, long, long time ago. But I think we are quite rare in doing that.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington
I think people see – other agencies or other designers see it as a way of limiting their risk if you like.

Paul Boag
But I really don’t think it does.

Marcus Lillington
No. The way to do it – and I’m going over old ground a bit here – is to make sure that it’s not a sudden surprise. People should know – or almost expect that they are going to know what they are going to see before they see it, almost.

Paul Boag
I mean that’s a really good point. I think that’s another reaction that people have to a bad experience with the client is that they shy away from showing the client stuff and they kind of want to work in isolation, which is particularly true for those web designers who work kind of instinctively rather than have a process because they lack confidence and find it hard to justify their work to clients and so they are making design decisions on an instinctive level, based on years of experience but if they can’t kind of explain it then they prefer to kind of do it in secret and then do the big reveal on the presentation.

The problem is that when a client challenges what they have done they find it hard to have a reasoned response as they prefer to limit the client’s opportunities to provide that kind of feedback or questioning or contribution. But this closed approach creates some serious problems. Obviously it fails to get the benefits of that collaborative relationship we have been talking about throughout the entire season and if we don’t collaborate with our clients, we can’t educate them about web design best practice and we miss an opportunity to give the client a sense of ownership over the design which is so vital to encouraging them to sign off. When we design in isolation really the design is ours and not the client’s. Therefore when we present a design they feel no sense of loyalty towards it et cetera.

Marcus Lillington
Well I expect those comments that they make at that point in this particular scenario are then trying to get their bit of ownership in it.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington
Which we can look at cynically but actually probably, if I were some kind of psychologist, it would make perfect sense; it’s normal to do that.

Paul Boag
Yeah. It’s that web designers joke about “ha, I put something purposely wrong in the design so that the client can spot it and we change it.” Well, why? I think that’s a sign that the client wants to be involved and wants to contribute to the process. And I think that if they are involved in it they are much more likely to approve it and defend it to other people within the organization. And that structured collaborative design process has loads of benefits to it and I want to get into those in a moment. But, I wonder – I was beginning to think: is this just us? Is this the way we work and are there other ways of doing it, right. So I gave Andy Clarke a ring because Andy Clarke, whenever you see him on Twitter and talking about clients and something, he is very vocal and he is a very strong individual that’s very dominant, right. So I thought I bet he does something different. I bet he approaches the problem differently. He is going to tell clients what to do and they can stuff it. That’s what I was expecting and I thought it would be really good to kind of hear his perspective about how he worked with clients. So I recorded the interview. Check it out because it’s really interesting.

[Interview]

Paul Boag
Okay. So I have managed to grab hold of Mr. Clarke. Hello, Andy, how are you?

Andy Clarke
I’m very well, thank you. Very well indeed.

Paul Boag
Thank you for agreeing to have a quick chat. I wanted to pick your brains really. So I’m doing this season of the podcast on the subject of client centric design, which is working with clients and how to do that, how to get the most out of it and we have got an e-book coming out associated with it and all the rest of it. But I wanted to have a chat with you in particular about design and I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with you because you approach the world in a slightly different way I think than I do when it comes to working with clients. So – perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t. I’m interested to find out. First of all what I want to know right, is how do you go about presenting your designs to the client? Do you have a particular way of doing it or do you make up as you go along? How does it work?

Andy Clarke
Well it depends on the job. But I will tell you how I don’t do it.

Paul Boag
Right.

Andy Clarke
Which – we will start off there, which I know a lot of people do, is you get a brief and it is your job to sit there, sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes a lot longer, to kind of interpret somebody’s brief. You sit there, you look through documentation, which is often, let’s face it, not presented in the best way, and sometimes you do have to be either a psychic or whatever to understand what people mean. What I’m getting at is you put a lot of effort into actually understanding the set of client’s requirements, that’s the first thing.

Second thing is, generally speaking designers go away and they interpret that brief and they produce a set of visuals, and they work on them for however long, days, weeks, whatever, and then it comes to the big reveal, where you sit down with the client and if you are not face to face, this is the worst thing. If you are not face to face, you post a load of things up by e-mail, or God forbid you put them on Basecamp, and you send a message to say take a look at this, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
Is the usual byline. And that’s where a lot of people go wrong I think because they are not – what happens then is that the client has to react in a certain way, and one of the things that I have learned over the years is that clients really like to be involved in the process. They like to put their stamp or personality or something on the project. And if you do like how I just described in terms of this great big presentation, you don’t leave them very many opportunities to participate. So what they do – and I don’t mean this in a kind of disrespectful way, what they do is they feel they have to comment on things or make suggestions on things that potentially aren’t always right.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
And even if it might be well, I want this thing nudged five pixels to the left, they are making suggestions and comments about things that – just to feel as if they’ve participated.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
And I don’t know whether that’s the same with you, but it’s certainly been the same with me. And so I came up with a plan about sort of, I don’t know, a year or so ago, I figured this out and I realized that that whole way of designing where you go away into a little creative cave, come up with something and then say oh, what do you think, isn’t necessarily the right way of doing it. So what I did was I started to not spend hours trying to interpret what the client’s brief was. I will sit down with the client for as long as it takes for them to explain it to me.

Paul Boag
Right.

Andy Clarke
And they feel part of that process. And I can question them about their objectives, and I can say if that’s a great idea or that’s a terrible idea, and we can do a lot of designing at that stage, if you like, even if it’s just sketching things out on pieces of paper. So I make them participate as much as possible. Sometimes I will go away if I need inspiration or whatever. I will disappear. But what I never do is I never then come back to them like a week later or two weeks later or however long it takes and go oh, look what I have been doing.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
Because that then invites this kind of – I don’t know, the wrong kind of participation if you like. So when I present things to clients, I present them in code. I present people HTML, CSS in a browser, I sit them down and we play around with the website, we open it in a browser and they will literally sit next to me, quite often working, where we will actually solve a lot of problems, and that’s the way that I work. I work really collaboratively. I’m not the easiest person to get along with but I do try to work as collaboratively as possible with clients. And I find it works. I find that I don’t get many of the oh I just don’t like it kind of issues.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Hey, you must still get the issue of where the client comes back and says well I hate the red, or that kind of thing. How do you deal with feedback like that, because that is so personal and so subjective that it’s difficult to deal with that kind of feedback, isn’t it?

Andy Clarke
Yeah it is. So there’s a really good little stock phrase that I have which I use with clients all the time, where it comes down to one opinion against another. My opinion versus theirs often, or sometimes it’s between people on the client team is, I will say to them have you got evidence to back that up or is it just personal opinion?

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
And often 9 times out of 10 it is just personal opinion. And if they push the point, I will say okay, I don’t think you are right about that but I’m going to give you two versions, your version and my version. We are going to launch with mine and then we will test yours separately and see whether it’s better.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, that whole thing of falling back on testing is so worthwhile. And that also, by defaulting to your version, the chances are that the other one will never make the light of day really, because often clients get past that point of worrying about it don’t they, when it actually comes to it, when they see the site is working and successful they are kind of happier. What do you do in terms of handling a client that wants to show the design around to a lot of people before approving it? That client that lacks the confidence to make a decision and wants to show it to everyone in the company, are you happy with that? If so, how do you handle it, because obviously instead of dealing with one other person’s feedback, you are now dealing with 20. So what’s your approach there?

Andy Clarke
I never let them do it without adult supervision.

Paul Boag
Okay. So how did you do it?

Andy Clarke
Okay, so here is the deal, right. You know, it’s always a minefield when you’ve got conflicting opinions within a client team. Now sometimes, I mean we all know how organizations are structured. And sometimes you get little kind of battles going on between departments, and they want their bit of content on the homepage above somebody else’s, blah, blah, blah.

Paul Boag
Right.

Andy Clarke
And the politics get in the way of the design. So what I have found is a really a good way of getting around this, is to organize a little client workshop. And what I will do is I will say – what we will do once a week, is we will take over a conference room or whatever for a day or half a day or however long it takes, and anybody that wants to come in and check how we’re doing, can come in. They can all participate in the design process. They can all kind of come in and have their opinion. In fact, we want them to come in and have an opinion, because I have a rule, which is, if you don’t show up and come in and express your opinion and have it argued with or whatever, your opinion doesn’t count.

Paul Boag
Right.

Andy Clarke
And that goes for everybody, it goes for the girl in marketing, it goes for the guy who is in charge, you know, the CEO or whatever. And I do it with every client, unless you come in and participate, you don’t have an opinion, which means that you can’t come in at the end of the day and go I don’t like the red or no, no, no, we need to have that in the navigation.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
If you haven’t been there, then I’m afraid it doesn’t matter how high up you are, you know, you aren’t going to get your way.

Paul Boag
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, could you actually get away with that when you’re talking about the big boss, you know?

Andy Clarke
Hell yeah, I mean recently, we had Rob Steele, who is the big Chairman of ISO, International Standards Organization.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
And he only came in once, we were doing a four week – Dave and I were doing a four-week design project for ISO. And it was the same rules, yeah, and Rob came down and expressed his opinion and, yeah you can. I mean at the end of the day, they want the project to work correctly. Very few times do you find people that really want to derail it. So, you know, give them a forum, constructive, structured forum to express their opinion and then it works. Then you don’t get the e-mail at 9 o’clock at night to go oh no, well I’ve just shown it to Bob and he really hates the red.

Paul Boag
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, it sounds like, you work very much on-site with your clients then, so you’re going in and actually sitting with them quite a lot, do you feel that that’s important?

Andy Clarke
Yeah, I think it’s really important actually. I mean, sometimes it can be awkward, and sometimes it’s, you know, it’s really nice just to stay home and work in your slippers.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
But I think it’s really important, and to be honest, it gets around so many issues and cuts the time often that a project takes right down, because it just gets all the inefficiencies out the way and all the misunderstanding out of the way, you know, you are there with somebody, they can go, listen that looks terrible and you can fix it.

Paul Boag
Yeah. No, I totally agree, I can see where you’re coming from. I mean in some ways that’s quite – I’m imagining it creates limitations on the clients you can take on and how you can work with them. Does it mean that you avoid clients further afield or is it just – do you just have to adapt essentially to the particular scenario?

Andy Clarke
Well, I mean, you know, I’m different to you in that I don’t run a business that’s got staff and whatever and it is just me. But I was quite happy and am quite happy to go and spend three days a week in Glasgow.

Paul Boag
Right, okay.

Andy Clarke
Working for Scottish television. Even – I mean last year, I was ping-ponging. So I was doing a week in Glasgow and a week in Geneva.

Paul Boag
Right, okay.

Andy Clarke
You know, and to be honest, I think clients appreciate – often appreciate that you are there on-site with them and, to be honest, you can charge for it.

Paul Boag
Yeah, yeah. I mean I’ve got to say it makes a lot of sense. You know, I think it probably depends on your character and you as an individual. I don’t think I’d want to be away that much. But I can see how it helps projects no end, when you are in the room with the client, and of course that way you’re building more than just a work relationship with them. You’re building a rapport with them and getting to know these people a bit, which makes a huge difference as well, rather than just having a kind of kickoff meeting and a bit of fact-finding at the beginning, you’re with them through the whole process, which is got to be hugely invaluable.

Andy Clarke
I think so and also I really hate that whole kind of client-vendor thing, that dichotomy that gets set up. I did have somebody recently actually put in an e-mail, he was disagreeing with something or other. And he did actually put in the e-mail, I know, some things that I paraphrase the guy, but you know, at the end of the day, that’s what I’m paying you for.

Now, I did feel like turning around and say, well actually you know, if it comes down to just the fact that you want to give me money, I don’t want it.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
You know, that’s not the kind of relationships that I’m into. You know, we are not – we are designing to solve – we’re solving problems. We’re not just there to do what people tell us to do.

Paul Boag
Yeah, absolutely. It needs to be that – it needs to be a peer to peer relationship, not a client-supplier relationship, isn’t it?

Andy Clarke
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely the way that it should be.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
And sometimes it takes a little while to get there, because we all know people that have had experiences with web designers in the past that may not have gone down so well. So sometimes it can take a little while to get that trust built up.

Paul Boag
Cool. Okay, well I have just got one more question before we wrap up. And it is a generic question that I’m asking everybody because part of reason that that I’m doing this – this series is that, and I hear so much negativity about client work and working with clients and clients are a pain in the arse and we all want to go and build web apps. And I’ve kind of – I’m interested in why don’t you do that, what is it about client work that keeps you coming back and getting up in the morning?

Andy Clarke
Well, I mean half of me does regret, you know when I look at people that do cool projects, and they take an idea and they make it really successful. And sometimes you look at the idea and go, well bloody hell, that wasn’t much of an idea, but it’s worked out for people. And all credit to them, let’s face it, I haven’t done that. But sometimes I look at it and think, I wish that I had been more proactive, or I could be more organized and proactive about building things.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
But that that’s a secondary thing to me. The client work, I really like doing client services because it gives me flexibility.

Paul Boag
Right.

Andy Clarke
And I can’t exactly choose who I want to work with, but when – you know how this works. You present yourself in a certain way and you attract the clients that you deserve, if you like.

Paul Boag
Yeah, yeah

Andy Clarke
So I don’t get the same kind of clients that you do…

Paul Boag
No because you –

Andy Clarke
Because I don’t appear quite so user friendly to the corporates or whatever.

Paul Boag
Yeah, yeah.

Andy Clarke
But, I’m not quite as you know –

Paul Boag
That could be a good thing, Andy, that you don’t do as much corporate work as we do. I don’t know – I don’t know whether that benefits us or not really.

Andy Clarke
Man, I have been doing quite a bit more government work recently, but the thing with it is, I think is that client work is incredibly flexible.

Paul Boag
Yes.

Andy Clarke
And, you know, you can do a lot – have a lot of fun when you do client stuff, and it is challenging and if you manage it correctly it can be really rewarding. And the problems that people have with clients are often of their own making.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
Now, you know, I’m not – I’m not perfect and I have had lots of – the last 14 years I have been freelance, if you like. I have had lots of occasions where things haven’t worked out as well as they could have done.

Paul Boag
Yeah.

Andy Clarke
But, you know, you can look back on those and you can see where you went wrong. And I really like doing client work, I mean I would – I’ve always done it and I can’t see me stopping.

Paul Boag
Well that’s fair enough, it’s good to hear. You know and I think it needs more of us to step up and say you know hang on, you know, client work is a good thing to do, it’s a rewarding career, you get a variety of work, you can pick and choose your clients and you’re doing something new every day. And I think that’s – that’s a good thing and then I think we need to trumpet that really.

Andy Clarke
All right. I mean. Okay.

Paul Boag
That – that was absolutely brilliant. You were really, really helpful and I think it helps everybody to hear about those different approaches of solving design problems and working with clients. It isn’t always easy and I think this – the thing of actually getting in and sitting down with clients and working alongside clients is really valuable. So thanks very much for that Andy.

So amazing, he does exactly the same. He works collaboratively. He goes a step further with this whole going and actually working at the client’s place, working side-by-side with them through the project. You know just exactly the kind of thing we’ve been talking about. So that really shocked me, you know, that that he was taking a very similar approach, but I can see why. I think as you’ve been doing this for a while and as you begin to gain experience in working with clients, you discover that working collaboratively is far more effective and you discover that having a methodology is a key part of working collaboratively with clients.

Marcus Lillington
Yes.

Paul Boag
So a methodology just to be clear what we mean is a kind of system of methods that can be used in a particular area of study or activity, that’s the definition of it. In other words, design needs to be more than just intuitive. It needs to be a series of methods and approaches which come together into a system with a proven track record of producing results. So, for example, the design methodology at Headscape includes tools such as our business research, such as we discussed earlier on in the theories, discussions around personality and brand, reviewing design examples that express the organization’s brand and personality, we do mood boards, collaborative wire-framing, card-sorting sometimes, design concept, interactive prototypes, design testing, usability testing, the list could go on and on. So we have all these different tools that are available to us. We don’t use every tool in every project, but each one has a proven track record of helping to generate successful designs.

So how do you create your design methodology? I think the key to creating a successful methodology is breaking the process into stages that the client can understand and contribute to, all right. The problem is that when we present a design to a client, a final design, even if you explain it – that is a shit load of information for a client to take in all at one go, isn’t it? You know, if you think for a moment about what’s involved in putting a design together, it’s an overwhelming list: its color, layout, white space, typography, imagery, styling, visual hierarchy, content. But if you manage to break it down and discuss different bits of that individually, then it is much more manageable for the client to wrap their heads around and to be able to contribute to.

And you know and you often see this, you often see a situation where a client will reject a design because it’s got the wrong content in it, even if they actually like the aesthetics of it. So equally a solid visual hierarchy on a page of good layout and information architecture could be cast aside because the client has a problem with the blue. All right?

Marcus Lillington
Yes, absolutely.

Paul Boag
So address – so one of the things that we do is we split aesthetics and kind of content and visual hierarchy into two separate areas and we focus on them individually. So for aesthetics we produce and discuss kind of inspirational sides, mood boards and personality and we get a client discussing color and typography and styling, we ask them what kind of personality their site should have. For example, the question that always goes down the best and again it went down – I did a workshop yesterday and then we did it again and again it had that great reaction, which is we ask well, okay if your site was a famous person, who would it be. And it just always creates such a great reaction, doesn’t it?

Marcus Lillington
Yeah, quite hard to nail people down to it, but yeah.

Paul Boag
Really funny; yesterday, straight away, all of them agreed.

Marcus Lillington
Okay.

Paul Boag
In one go: Fern Britton, it was for them; really funny. Well, no – it was – somebody said Fern Britton and said – the other person said, oh that’s really funny I was thinking somebody from daytime TV and that was it. End of conversation; never seen it so quick as that.

Marcus Lillington
Who is the American Fern Britton? That’s quite hard really isn’t it?

Paul Boag
I don’t know – I don’t know Daytime TV from America.

Marcus Lillington
No, I don’t know. I don’t know from the UK either.

Paul Boag
Yeah. Yeah it it’s a kind of lightweight, cheery presenter.

Marcus Lillington
Yeah, everyone loves Fern.

Paul Boag
Everybody loves them, but then they will talk about some kind of quite weird issues on the show like health matters.

Marcus Lillington
She is also a bit naughty as well.

Paul Boag
Yes.

Marcus Lillington
I wonder if that came up in your discussion.

Paul Boag
No, it didn’t actually but there you go. So anyway yes, so you then go on to produce lots of mood boards demonstrating different fields and different directions that the aesthetics of the side could take. But when it comes to things like the other side of things – information hierarchy and content – it’s all – we arrange, say, a collaborative wire-framing workshop where, together with the client sitting in the room, we sketch out different approaches to key pages, including the client in the process and again giving them a sense of ownership over the design. It is about educating them in best practice and taking them through the process.

Then in the book that accompanies this series, which is at boagworld.com/season/3, I go into a lot more detail about that methodology and the different tools that are available; how do you run a collaborative wire-framing workshop, what’s involved in it, how do you do mood boards, what – how to you the get most out of them?

So that’s really about it. I think we very much looked at design approval, which in my view is the one subject that strains the client relationship more than any other. I think we’ve demonstrated the answer doesn’t lie in kind of removing the client from the design process, but rather in collaborating with them. And you – to make this happen, I’ve got three steps for you, as I do at the end of every show, three things you can do, before next time.

First of all you can look at introducing a design methodology, it is not enough for your design to be instinctive. Now is the time to sit down and start really thinking about what goes in to producing a design. What do you need to know? What’s the process you go through for producing that design? You can use that to engage with and educate the client. So you need to put together your methodology.

Marcus Lillington
You can also use that to sell your services to new clients.

Paul Boag
Yeah it goes down very well actually talking through a methodology. Second thing I want you to do is work with the client on brand, discuss personality with your clients and use tools like mood boards, inspiration libraries and even posters to work out with the client what the statics on their side should look like. Break away from doing that in secret and do it with the client instead. And finally, give your client a sense of ownership of the design by engaging them in the wire-framing process that really does go a huge, huge way to making designs sign off easier. As I’ve said, in the book associated with this series I talk about all of that kind of thing in a lot more depth.

Marcus Lillington
Sure.

Paul Boag
So you may well want to get hold of that. I also demonstrate that taking these steps will ensure that the client is a lot more likely to respond favorably to the funds, I mean, because it’s not going to come as an unwelcome surprise as Marcus was saying. Instead, it is just going to be in line with their expectations and they are going to have that feeling of ownership over it. Unfortunately, I have to say, despite this, things can still go wrong. So after all that, I’m now going to undermine it by saying it still can all go wrong.

Marcus Lillington
Sometimes they do.

Paul Boag
I think some of that reasons it can go wrong is because we don’t ask for feedback in the right way, and we don’t manage the feedback process correctly. And so that is what we’re going to tackle next time in the final – the final, final – episode of this season. So there you go, thank you very much for listening.

Marcus Lillington
It’s a season finale.

Paul Boag
A season finale; is it going to be a cliffhanger?

Marcus Lillington
We could try and make it like that, couldn’t we?

Paul Boag
Yes, I will see if I can make a bridge between season three and four.

Marcus Lillington
What’s on season four? Do you even know?

Paul Boag
Mobile

Marcus Lillington
Of course it is.

Paul Boag
Mobile web design, yes so Mr. Rob Borley is going to be stepping up. We will still be on the show but we’re hoping to involve him a lot because that’s his area of stuff.

Marcus Lillington
Cool.

Paul Boag
So, yes, have you got a joke?

Marcus Lillington
I have – this is from Mark Watson.

Paul Boag
Oh, from a real person?

Marcus Lillington
A real person.

Paul Boag
You’ve actually made –

Marcus Lillington
It’s a real comedian again.

Paul Boag
A real comedian?

Marcus Lillington
Yes.

Paul Boag
Oh so it’s not somebody you know; it’s not somebody who’s emailed you?

Marcus Lillington
No, no, no, I was googling around.

Paul Boag
I do think you need professional help over this.

Marcus Lillington
Well of course I do. Well I had – last week’s one was professional joke. It’s just the way I tell ‘em.

Paul Boag
I really think if there are any professional or indeed amateur comedians listening to this we’d like to arrange a phone call where you can tutor Marcus on how to tell a good joke. Sorry, here we go. Go on.

Marcus Lillington
Someone asked me recently what would I rather give up, food or sex? Neither, I’m not falling for that one again, wife.

Paul Boag
Yeah, yeah, okay

Marcus Lillington
I thought that was actually quite a good joke

Paul Boag
No, I don’t really – why is it – I don’t really get it.

Marcus Lillington
Okay. Paul doesn’t get simple jokes peeps.

Paul Boag
Yeah, I understand the principle of it.

Marcus Lillington
Do we really need to go into the dissecting the joke.

Paul Boag
Well, no I suppose not. It was good attempt. I’m not knocking you.

Marcus Lillington
Can we stop now?

Paul Boag
Yeah, all right. Thank you very much for listening guys and we’ll talk to you again next time when we talk about comments and feedback.

Headscape

Boagworld