10 ways to make the design process smoother

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we look at why the design process is often so painful and how to make things better.

Paul Boag:
This week on the Boagworld show we look at why the design process is so painful and how we can go without making it better.

Add your own suggestions or view the links mentioned in this weeks show.

Hello and welcome to boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. I’m Paul, joining me as always is Marcus. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Hello, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Here we go again.

Marcus Lillington:
This is the last one of the series though, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
I know. That’s excellent news. I’m ready for a break if I’m honest.

Marcus Lillington:
Episode 17, I think this is probably the longest series we’ve done.

Paul Boag:
Indeed. Yeah, so …

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know that for sure. I just made it up.

Paul Boag:
But it sounds good to me. We are going to have a break until after Christmas. It’s a long break, because you’re going on holiday.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m going on holiday tomorrow. No, not tomorrow, the day after.

Paul Boag:
And so it’s not really worth coming back, is it, after that?

Marcus Lillington:
No, we did talk about doing a Christmas show, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

Paul Boag:
Oh, we will do a Christmas show – always.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Always do a Christmas show.

Marcus Lillington:
There you go. So it’s not like a whole break till after Christmas.

Paul Boag:
No, no, no. It’s fine. Yes, so we’re going to do a Christmas show. I’m doing a podcast on Monday without you.

Marcus Lillington:
Again?

Paul Boag:
I’m going on Andy Clarke’s podcast again.

Marcus Lillington:
Again?

Paul Boag:
Again. It’s really sad; we’re doing a Doctor Who wrap up special.

Marcus Lillington:
What?

Paul Boag:
With me and Jon Hicks and Andy.

Marcus Lillington:
All right, okay. Fair enough. My wife loves Doctor Who, so I can’t really…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, there you go.

Marcus Lillington:
…sneer too much, although I’m sneering slightly.

Paul Boag:
And it’s got Malcolm Tucker in.

Marcus Lillington:
Who?

Paul Boag:
Malcolm Tucker. Did you ever watch ‘In The Thick of It’?

Marcus Lillington:
Nope.

Paul Boag:
Ah, Marcus, that would really appeal to you. It’s like ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, but considerably more sweary.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yes, yes. Sorry, I have seen that. I’ve seen it once or twice, yes. Yes, he is the new doctor, isn’t he?

Paul Boag:
He is – which I’m – he is a really good new doctor and I like him as the new doctor, but I’m having real problems coming to terms with the fact that he is not swearing continually.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I’ve seen ‘In The Thick of It’, yeah.

Paul Boag:
I think Doctor Who would be considerably better with some appalling swearing in it. I think – can you imagine the – a family show with swearing.

Marcus Lillington:
I honestly can’t comment; I haven’t seen Doctor Who since Tom Baker was in it.

Paul Boag:
Wow! That amazes me, because you like sci-fi.

Marcus Lillington:
I do but I kind of like imagined that it would be a bit rubbish when it came back.

Paul Boag:
No, no it’s …

Marcus Lillington:
And that it would be a bit sort of cheap looking.

Paul Boag:
No, it’s not. It’s still – it’s family entertainment. So it has some episodes that are just silly and kiddy. But then it has – at other times it will have some of the most imaginative and well done science-fiction that you will get on TV.

Marcus Lillington:
Which is – yeah, I’m missing out obviously, because it – I think I know where it came from – when Caroline and I were flicking around the TV channels, as you do, the other night and came across Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Captain Picard and all that kind of thing. And I can remember loving that when it came out – which it would have been mid-90s, something like that. It was when our kids were little and we are basically at home all the time and like watching anything on the telly and you watch it now and it’s awful.

Paul Boag:
Yes, no Doctor Who is certainly loads loads better than that.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, basically it was a soap opera. It was kind of like they would have one episode in 20 that would be kind of like cool spaceships kind of episode and going into the nebular and all this kind of…The rest of the time it would be whether Commander Data felt human or not.

Paul Boag:
Yes. No, it’s not at all like that.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Well, I’m missing out then.

Paul Boag:
I think you maybe actually. I mean it does range hugely. There are some weeks you go, well that was just shit. And then other times you go – there are certain episodes that are honestly scary. They did an episode – there are these things called the ‘Weeping Angels’, have you ever heard of those?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
So basically it’s an alien life form that only moves when you’re not looking at it; the rest of the time it’s a statue. And the idea is that it’s quantum locked. So it’s a self defense mechanism. So if you’re looking at it, it turns into stone and you can’t damage it. But yes, and it’s honestly a terrifying – the first time they have those in it’s honestly a terrifying episode and the Doctor’s hardly in it all. It’s really weird.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
So there are some really good ones.

Marcus Lillington:
There are – there is kind of some scary-telly around though. I remember watching the X-Files: a few of their episodes were like blimey this is quite scary for 9 o’clock or whatever it was, when it was on, so…

Paul Boag:
Yes, I mean they do have a very good job at kind of walking that fine line in Doctor Who where you want a six year old to be able to watch it, but it’s also got to appeal to parents. And they don’t do it in the kind of lazy way of – oh, well actually they do. They do that. I was going to say lazy way of throwing in an attractive young girl. But they do that too.

Marcus Lillington:
To appeal to the dads.

Paul Boag:
Yes. But it kind of – yes, it’s good. I really enjoy it. And I’m really enjoying the new Doctor, because he is dark and grumpy and miserable. The last one…

Marcus Lillington:
Why’s that then, Paul.

Paul Boag:
And he is old as well. So why would that appeal to me? I can’t possibly imagine.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know. You watch it for the young girl, don’t you?

Paul Boag:
No, Clara, the latest one doesn’t really do it for me.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, dear.

Paul Boag:
The one before-Amy-she was all right. Liked her.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
All legs and hair.

Marcus Lillington:
Fine. Probably best not carry on that then.

Paul Boag:
No, this is probably – we’ve probably now kind of wandered into things that we shouldn’t be discussing.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly. What else can we talk about? It’s going really cold, Paul.

Paul Boag:
I don’t care about the weather. I care about your holiday.

Marcus Lillington:
Was going to say well that was a segue for me to talk about how hot it is where I’m going.

Paul Boag:
Oh, I see, because it’s nice and warm there.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s – it seems that there is a bit of heat wave; quite a thundery though. So it’s all …

Paul Boag:
You couldn’t have picked a worst time to go away from a business point of view, if I may say so.

Marcus Lillington:
Lots to do.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Well we did book it a year-ago.

Paul Boag:
Well, that’s no excuse. You should cancel it. Stay around, pull your way.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
I very stupidly, I have made my life 10 times worse by – I just agreed to write another book before Christmas.

Marcus Lillington:
Before Christmas?

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Well, do the rough draft. How dumb of me is that?

Marcus Lillington:
Well, you can do that in a weekend. Last time you said it took me half an hour and a couple of …

Paul Boag:
Two weeks.

Marcus Lillington:
… Rich Tea biscuits to write the last one. So …

Paul Boag:
Two weeks of solid writing over a month.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. So, yes, just a rough draft. That’s just a paragraph, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Oh, dear, never mind. Hey, we got a good show. It’s the last show in the season.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
There wasn’t much of a segue there. And did you notice how I managed to avoid getting into your holiday in too much detail?

Marcus Lillington:
No, well, I’ve kind of bored everyone with it anyway. I’m getting bored of boring people about it.

Paul Boag:
That’s a bad state of affairs.

Marcus Lillington:
I just want to go now.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Anyway, yes, should we talk about this week’s show? So I thought we’d do something – we’d give the listener a little treat, because where I feel like we’re shortchanging them, we’re going to have a big long gap between now and the New Year, that I felt I needed to give them something special, right. So I picked something that we don’t normally talk about, right. We talk a lot about how to run your website; we talk a lot about all the kind of different advice for website owners. But we very rarely talk about stuff from the kind of agency, designer, developer kind of perspective, if that makes sense? We don’t talk about it from our side of the fence. We normally talk about it from the client’s side of the fence. Does that make sense?

Marcus Lillington:
It does, yes.

Paul Boag:
So this week I thought we would do something different. We are going to look at 10 ways to make the design process smoother. So this very much applies to other Web designers out there, other Web design companies out there, it applies to freelancers, also applies to in-house teams as well …

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, definitely.

Paul Boag:
… that have internal clients to work with and its all about really how to – how we over the years have refined our process for getting design sign off and engaging with clients and the things that we’ve learned along the way. So I’m hoping that that will be really interesting to people and will make up for the heinous crime of giving up.

Marcus Lillington:
Having a little break.

Paul Boag:
Just can’t be arsed. No, I’m going to make the Christmas show amazing.

Marcus Lillington:
Really?

Paul Boag:
I’ve no idea how, but it’s going to be the best damn Christmas show.

Marcus Lillington:
But it is going to be the best show ever.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
The best podcast ever.

Paul Boag:
Yes, in the whole of the universe.

Marcus Lillington:
Not just by us but by anyone.

Paul Boag:
Best form of entertainment ever.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
It will make Doctor Who look like a 1970s Doctor Who.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s saying something.

Paul Boag:
That is pretty bad, anyway.

Marcus Lillington:
I still found it scary when I was a little boy.

Paul Boag:
I did as well. Did I tell you I showed my son that-I think I must have said this before on the podcast-I showed him one of the episodes that gave me nightmares as a kid.

Marcus Lillington:
And he laughed.

Paul Boag:
And he laughed.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
I desperately need to traumatize my child now just in revenge.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m sure you could, if you really wanted to. But that wouldn’t be very kind, would it?

Paul Boag:
Actually the best way of traumatizing him at the moment is just to kiss my wife. That seems to go into melt down every time.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, god yes. How old is he? 11?

Paul Boag:
11.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh yes, that’s…

Paul Boag:
That’s disgusting stuff.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Kissing. Anyway, so a huge tangent: let’s crack on with the show.

Attract the right type of client

So top 10 ways to make your design process smoother and we kick off with attracting the right type of client.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s quite contentious.

Paul Boag:
Well, no I don’t think it is, right? If you want your projects to run smoother then you need to attract the kind of client that works the way you do and thinks the way you do to some degree, right. So I think, for example, that Headscape attracts a certain type of client because of the podcast and the writing and the blogging and the speaking at conferences and the books and stuff, that they have been exposed to our way of thinking, our way of working, our kind of approach to stuff. And so by the time they reach us and ask us if they – if we want to work with them, we’re already in a fairly favorable position.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, that’s a fair point. I suppose the problem with that, sometimes, and I think we do get quite a lot of requests for proposals for people who knows somebody else who work – who has worked with us and then they’ve just had a recommendation; oh these guys are good, you should invite them to tender. And then in that situation sometimes you end up with them not understanding how we work and sometimes that – therefore we might be barking up the wrong tree. But yes, I mean, you’re absolutely right. I suppose another way of looking at this is if you’re asking yourself do I want to work with this client, you probably don’t.

Paul Boag:
Yes. That’s a really – I like that. I like that way of wording it. And I think you’ve also – you’ve got to be brave. Going back to what you just said, is some clients that just kind of come out of nowhere and don’t know the way we work that if you have a conversation with them and you get that feeling; you need to go okay, I need to walk away from this. That’s really hard to do, isn’t it? But if you don’t do that, then projects do become a lot more difficult, they become a lot more painful, you don’t make as much money out of them, everybody ends up demoralized, so yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, if you’re in a position where you are – if you’re able to make a choice about something then, yes, I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes when there is a lot of work on that decision is easy. But even if it isn’t – even if you really need, need a new project to kick off, if you’re getting a lot of alarm bells then chances are you’ll probably regret it.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Yes, absolutely. So what I think that drives home for me is the fact that you do have to invest in your reputation for want of a better word, and your public image and your online persona and all that kind of stuff. In other words, you need to spend time putting out your knowledge, sharing your expertise, being very open about what you do, because it will attract a better client in the long-term. Well better for you and it’s really worth it. I mean, if you look at Headscape that’s probably—I don’t know—16% of my job is doing that kind of stuff. That’s how much we invest in it.

Marcus Lillington:
If not more.

Paul Boag:
If not more. Yes, well it varies—doesn’t it?—from time to time. But yes, I mean, we consider that vitally important not only for building knowledge and reach so that people know that you’re there, but also I think it makes it easier to win work as well, if they already kind of know or are aware of you. I think it makes the projects go smoother. There is really no downside to it. So yes, spend time. Actually don’t spend time, because I want you to be invisible so we win all the work. I feel conflicted in this podcast, which I guess this is quite hard to do. This one doesn’t apply if you’re in-house, because you don’t get any choice about your clients.

Marcus Lillington:
No – yes, very good point. A lot of it – most of these – the points we are going to go through do, but yes this particular one, yes. I guess, you can try…

Paul Boag:
You’re stuffed basically.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe if you’ve got internal clients that you prefer one over the other, then you try and work with the one you prefer more often.

Paul Boag:
I think – but also I think what does stand is the need to still promote yourself internally, to blog and all the rest of it, because what that does is it establishes you as an expert in the eyes of people internally and so that – you will find that project goes smoother because of that. I mean, it often amuses me, much to the frustration of some of the other people in Headscape, that they can be banging on about something with their client and the client is arguing with them. And then they roll me out and because I say exactly the same thing and they know me and perceive me as an expert for whatever reason, well they don’t know the designer or whatever, they will agree with me and I will be able to get my way where somebody else in Headscape won’t. And that’s just human nature, I’m afraid, that you listen more to the people you respect and you know their stuff. So there is a definitely a reason if you’re an internal person to still kind of write about your work, still promote what you’re doing, et cetera, et cetera.

Okay, let’s move onto number two.

Outline your process up front

Number two is to outline your process upfront. So I think you’ve got to remember that a lot of clients haven’t done this before. They haven’t necessarily run web projects before and they certainly haven’t done them with you. So I think there is a real need to spend time kind of just laying the ground work and explaining we are going to do this and then we’re going to do that and then it will lead on to this and so on and so on. So the client knows what’s coming and there are several benefits of that. One is that if the client knows what’s coming next then they’re much more likely to relax in the process, right, because they feel more in control, they know what’s going on. They also get a sense that you are in control, that you know what you’re doing, that you’ve done this before and so that they can trust you more. And also I think just having a process in place, put – keeps you in control of it and stops the client going off in strange directions. So I think there is a lot of good reasons for kind of outlining how you’re going to do things in the process by which you’re going to do things. Is that a fair comment, Marcus? Would you agree with me?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, absolutely. And I can’t really add anything to it. I suppose other than the fact that maybe if a client is worrying about some aspect of a design or a build or whatever, and if we can then point to them and say we are going to deal with that at point X or whatever. Then …

Paul Boag:
Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
… that helps them understand when they need to kind of deal with that rather than just sort of fretting about everything.

Paul Boag:
Yes. It’s almost – I’ve kind of – this one has really been driven home. This is a terrible analogy and it really doesn’t reflect well on clients. But this has been really driven home for me with having an artistic kid that James likes to know structure. He feels much more comfortable if he knows what’s coming up, when it is going to happen, how is it going to happen, and I actually think we almost need to treat clients like that, not implying that in any bad way, but just simply because whenever something is unfamiliar to us, if we’re kind of told what’s coming then it doesn’t come as a surprise and it’s all much more straightforward. So I think, yes definitely take time to outline your process up front.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s good project management really, is what that is.

Paul Boag:
It is. Yes, absolutely, but you could dismiss all this as common sense, couldn’t you? But unfortunately in the heat of projects, common sense doesn’t always kind of – it’s not so common.

Right, let’s do number three.

Give the client a role

Number three is to give the client a role. Again, this goes back to …

Marcus Lillington:
You’re the client. There you go.

Paul Boag:
Well, that’s not a particularly useful role, Marcus, just saying you’re the client. The thing is, again, if they haven’t worked with you before or if they haven’t worked on a Web project, they don’t know what your expectations are.

Marcus Lillington:
True.

Paul Boag:
So I think it’s really worthwhile to kind of spell those out up front. But not only to do it because they kind of need to know it, but also to provide the client with a focus of where they should be looking, because if you define their role, they’re less likely to interfere in yours or what you perceive as being your role. Does that make sense?

Marcus Lillington:
It does. I think you need to recognize the client’s – a client’s skills. Their skills might be aligned with yours whereas another client’s might be miles off. So it changes …

Paul Boag:
Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
… I guess is what I’m trying to say.

Paul Boag:
Yes, yes and that role – you do need to kind of access what that role is and how best to fit them into the project to get the most value out of them. But there is kind of two areas that I often focus clients down. One is that they know the business better than you do. You know it doesn’t matter how much research you do, it doesn’t matter how much upfront stuff you do, ultimately they’re going to understand the business and its nuances, and its objectives and all that kind of stuff way better than you. So I always if possible try and focus the client on their business. Does this design meet your business objectives kind of thing? Get them thinking in terms of the business objectives all the time. The other thing that I always do is I like to talk to the client about them being the user’s ambassador. And what do I mean by that? Well, I mean, as kind of – as the designer or developer or whatever, you are ultimately responsible for creating a good user experience and so you’re going to be the users’ ambassador in a lot of it, but it’s quite good to say to the client something along the lines of that they know the user better than we do, and that they should be championing the kind of needs of the user and all of this. And again the reason is to make them focus on user needs.

Marcus Lillington:
Rather than their own opinions.

Paul Boag:
You know if you tell them it’s their job, then they are going to think about it more, which is really worthwhile, because I think you were about to say, Marcus, I might – if they are not focusing on the user needs, then they are focusing on their own opinions.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely, that is what I said.

Paul Boag:
I couldn’t quite hear you.

Marcus Lillington:
Was I mumbling, because I had the phone under my chin.

Paul Boag:
You just – yes, you’re just not committed to this podcast. This is the downside of doing them over the phone.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I’m just wandering around the room, looking out the window.

Paul Boag:
No, you can’t be wandering around the room because you’ve got to be speaking into a mic.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m metaphorically wandering around the room.

Paul Boag:
Mentally?

Marcus Lillington:
Mentally.

Paul Boag:
You’re mentally checked out.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Go on then. I’m going to make you do number four then. Do you know – have you heard me talk about this before?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yes.

Paul Boag:
All right. Then you can do number four, Marcus.

Focus the client on problems, not solutions

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Number four, you left at a very short gap. I have some – I have got to criticize you on the gap you left after the first one of these, because I won’t find it. Anyway…

Paul Boag:
I don’t care. That’s an editing problem. Why are we talking about that?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, you don’t care. Focus the client on problems, not solutions. Yes, we have talked about this in the past. It’s the idea – and this comes back to kind of getting them out of the mindset of trying to – of judging things on their opinions, I guess. And it’s getting them to basically point out a problem with what they’re seeing or what they are reading or whatever – whatever you’ve designed or built. If there is – if they got an issue with it, outline what the issue is, not what they think the solution is to it.

Paul Boag:
Because you get the classic scenario of them turning around and saying I want my logo bigger and you go no, you can’t have a bigger and then you have this big argument.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but if they …

Paul Boag:
Without really understanding why they want their logo bigger.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s this – you need to expand yourself, Mr. Client, is what we’re saying here. And then if you’re explaining an issue that we can deal with that might mean making the logo bigger, to use that analogy, then if making the logo bigger fixes that problem then we’ll make the logo bigger. If the problem has nothing to do with the logo, then we can explain why we shouldn’t make it bigger basically.

Paul Boag:
And also, no problem has only got one solution to it. For example, make my logo bigger: it normally says I want the branding to be more prominent. But making the logo bigger isn’t the only way of achieving that. If you for example, put a lot of white space around the logo, your eyes are drawn to it and it achieves the same effect. So there is always more than one solution to any problem. And as long as the client is only talking about the solutions they’re not actually getting value from the designer, because the designer may well and should do come up with better solutions, because that’s what they’re trained for and that’s what you’re paying them for. No, it’s not saying you can’t suggest solutions as well. Sure, that’s fine of course. You should be involved in the design process as much as anybody, but if you don’t explain the underlying problem to the designer, the designer doesn’t know the – can’t talk about possible alternatives. And that’s what it comes down to and as designers we’ve got to learn to ask the question why. Why do you want me to make the logo bigger? What – keep digging until you get that underlying issue. But having that conversation upfront and telling the client to focus on the problems and not the solutions and talk about problems and not solutions is really useful later on in the project because inevitably a client will fall into that habit. I think it’s human nature to just kind of jump ahead and start thinking of solutions to issues. But if you’ve had that conversation upfront, you can just generally remind them of it. It’s really helpful if you tell me what the problem is here and they’ll go oh, yes, sorry about that and then they tell you. So again, it’s all about preparing upfront a lot of the time and having the conversations you need to right at the beginning.

Marcus Lillington:
We’ve got a new client – well, an existing client but we’re doing some new work with them – the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. I bring this up because they’ve got the best logo in the world.

Paul Boag:
They do have the best logo in the world.

Marcus Lillington:
And I want to make it bigger.

Paul Boag:
It’s not often you want to make a logo bigger but theirs is so nice you just want it massive in the middle of the page.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I think it’s particularly – it’s something that’s nice to British people or the reason why we think it’s so good is because it’s that the World War II, in particular, RAF roundel. But putting the heart in the middle of it for the Ben Fund is fantastic.

Paul Boag:
I’ll put a link in the show notes to the existing RAFBF site so you can see it because it’s a lovely – their existing site is lovely.

Marcus Lillington:
It is.

Paul Boag:
And we did that one too. We’re just amazing. Like I had any say whatsoever in that site. Oh, I did some initial mood boarding on it. No, no I didn’t – wire framing. So I did have some vague impact on that site.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, that was back when you used to do work.

Paul Boag:
Shut up, Marcus. You’re not making friends, you know. Just piss off on holiday.

Marcus Lillington:
All right, then.

Paul Boag:
But not until we’ve done number five.

Establish clear success criteria

This is a really important one, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
So can I get after this one then? You said not till after you’ve done number five.

Paul Boag:
No, no. You’ve got to all of them. You’ve got to do. I lied. You are responsible till the end.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
Establish clear success criteria. How are you going to judge the success of a website? I think knowing that and discussing that and agreeing that makes everything go so much smoother, because you’ve got this kind of consistent frame of reference to make decisions on and some things particular you’re discussing around rather than I like this and you don’t. So I think that’s really useful. It also provides you with something that you can actually test and learn and see whether it’s performing against. So really, really important to have clear success criteria and it’s amazing how often that doesn’t happen.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s quite hard, though, I find sometimes to get something solid, other than we need to make more donations. Something like that and we were talking about the charity site like RAFBF. That’s a fairly clear one, but sometimes it’s a bit – it can be a bit kind of wooly and it’s hard, that’s all I’m saying. It’s tough and I think people give up and go well something like that, that will do. Whereas I think it’s worth putting the effort in.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely. I totally agree. Right, let’s move onto number six.

Design collaboratively

Number six is to design and work collaboratively. This is my bug bear at the moment.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
I’ve got this real problem with people that take a brief and then bog off and build it and design it in isolation. I think the more you can work alongside the client, the smoother the project goes. And I say that for a number of reasons. One is that, if you are working alongside the client, you’re going to identify issues much, much, quicker before too much time has been wasted, point one. Point two is if you work collaboratively with the client, the client feels more engaged with the process. They feel more of a sense of ownership over what is being produced and so are more likely to sign it off quicker, because they feel invested in it. So I really think – we do things like collaborative mood boarding, we have sessions when we wireframe with the clients, I even think we ought to be showing bits and bobs of design as we’re doing it, anything to kind of engage the client with the processes early on, and as often as possible, I think is worthwhile.

Marcus Lillington:
What do you think about actually working in the client’s offices?

Paul Boag:
I think that’s a bloody brilliant idea, except for the fact that it actually could be really disruptive to peoples’ lives. I think if at all possible – well, you know I’m up for it. I’m talking about going and working with a client for a month in January and sitting and working in their offices, but that is a very above and beyond thing to ask your staff to do for a long length of time.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s tricky isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
I mean, I know a lot of people do it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I mean, many – well, Rob’s company Dootrix, they only do agile working and I’m sure quite a lot of that is done on-site. I don’t know, but…

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely. I know the guys at Clear Left, they do it as well. I know Andy Clarke works on-site quite a lot with people. So they are all – it is some – and it’s something we do; we’ve had people go and work there. But I think if you’re a freelancer, then that’s fine; you’re in control of your own destiny. I think if you’re talking about a company like Headscape and us as Directors of that company, we have to balance the clients’ needs with the employee needs as well. Because I mean the truth is that we say we want to build a lifestyle business and that means that the business should facilitate the lifestyle of our staff, which means that if they’ve got young kids, they’re not going to want to spend two weeks in Edinburgh. Do you see what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, well I agree. That’s the thing. I mean I like going away – I mean, if we’ve got an American client, I love it when we go away for three or four days and have a kind of major hands-on kick off session, but I wouldn’t want to do it for weeks and weeks and weeks. Yes, I don’t know what is the right way to go about it which I why I asked the question I guess.

Paul Boag:
I had a long conversation about that with another agency owner and it basically – it’s hard I think. We all struggle to balance that of working collaboratively and working closely, because I think it’s increasingly key, it’s a key part of the process. But that doesn’t mean that people can never work in isolation. I think it’s hitting the key points—isn’t it?—with establishing the brand, doing the wireframing, some of the initial work, but then after that it does turn into a bit of kind of turning the handle. So the need to be collaborative in those later stages is less. So, I mean, I think it’s something you can compromise over, but it’s a tricky balance to get, isn’t it?

Should we do number seven?

Support your design with a video

Number seven is to support your design with a video. Every time I mention this it’s by far the thing people love the most, right. And this is to solve a very specific problem, okay? So you produce this lovely wonderful design and you present it to the client and you tell them all about why you’ve done what you’ve done, you refer back to your business objectives and your user needs and the mood boards you produced and the wireframes and you did this with it and that with it and the other, you present it to them and the client is all great and happy and wonderful. And then of course the client feels the need to share it with other people. And the reason they feel that need is because either they have to, they are required to, or alternatively they’re somewhat nervous about signing of this design and committing to it and they just want a second opinion. So what they then start doing is hand it around the organization and say to people what do you think? Without providing any of that background or any of that careful presentation, and of course all people can do in a situation like that is fall back on their personal opinion, which is not in anyway informed, they’ve not been engaged with the project; they know nothing.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, and it’s often – it’s not just them bandying it around, it’s oh well we ought to send this up to the board level, is what normally happens, and then they just get sent often a printout.

Paul Boag:
Yes, which is just appalling. So the way that we’ve got round this problem, I mean it works really well, is that the designer records a little screen cast, not too long, 20 minutes kind of length where he does that presentation. He talks about business objectives, he talks about user needs, he talks about his mood boards and wireframes and all this stuff, and then he presents the design and talks about how the design is drawn from all of this previous work that we have done. So instead of giving them a static comp, what we do instead is give them this video and the video they can pass around the organization. Clients love it, because they feel it looks really professional and it gives the whole story and it makes the arguments for them rather than the client having to do that. We love it because it means everybody gets the whole story the whole time and a design isn’t kind of taken out of context. So it’s really a win-win that one, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
I have done loads of them—not for design—but for wireframing and IA and that sort of thing. And yes, they’re excellent. The problem – my problem is always that I finished rabbiting on about whatever it is I am rabbiting on about and then I’ve noticed I’m at 42 minutes. So then I have to do it again.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Keeping it short and to the point is really, really tricky.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
And yes, and then you also can get into this really weird thing of like I had this recently, a presentation that I was giving, not a screen cast – well, it was a screen cast, but not what we are talking about here. And I did the presentation through and it came out at 23 minutes, which for a presentation is short and it was like oh, ah, okay. Do I need to make it longer? And so it can happen either way. You kind of just got to say what you say, you need to say it as concisely and well as you can and that’s the length it should come out with, but I mean, ideally you want to keep it as short as possible as well.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s never happened to me, I have to say.

Paul Boag:
You always run over, do you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, bladdy bladdy bla because I go off on a tangent, then I go on a tangent on my other tangent ….

Paul Boag:
Oh, dear.

Marcus Lillington:
Right, what’s next?

Paul Boag:
Perhaps we need to send you on a course to teach you how to do a good presentation.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe.

Paul Boag:
Oh, God, can you imagine anything worse? Anyway, let’s move onto number eight.

Ask for specific feedback, not “what do you think?”

This one is so important. Ask for specific feedback. Never ask what do you think, right. The number of times I see – I hear stories about designers that complain about oh, the client is going on about they don’t like this and they don’t like that. And I always ask show me the way that you presented the design. Did you send them an e-mail or whatever else? And always somewhere they say what you think? Is this okay? And so all the client can do, you said what do you think? So when they express their personal opinion, you can’t complain at that. They are just doing exactly what you asked them to do, which is give their personal opinion. So if you want something other than that, you need to ask more structured and specific questions. You want specific feedback. You need to say, what will the user think of this? Is this inline with your brand guidelines? Does this meet your business objectives? Is the visual hierarchy representing your prioritized content areas, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? Be specific, don’t just ask the client what they think, because if you do, they will give you their personal opinion and you have nobody to blame, but yourself.

Marcus Lillington:
Says Master Paul.

Paul Boag:
Yes. I have nothing else to say on that. I think I’ve told people off enough.

Talk about next steps

Okay, I’ve calmed down now. I feel better. It just annoys me.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I’m not sure I agree with you on the next one, though.

Paul Boag:
You agree on this one, do you?

Marcus Lillington:
I’m not sure that I do.

Paul Boag:
Oh, okay. Now this is an interesting one. So the next one I’ve said talk about next steps rather than sign off points. Now this, I will …

Marcus Lillington:
Go on.

Paul Boag:
It’s like dealing with an amateur. I will qualify this and say it very much depends on the client. But sometimes you can get into – I’m picking my words carefully now, because I know you disagree with me. Sometimes you can get into this situation where if you make the client sign off everything as you go, you can back yourself and the client into a corner, right. So let me give you an example. Let’s say you get the client to sign off on a mood board, two things happen there. Firstly, you are now backed into a corner that your design has to represent that mood board whether it works or not, if that makes sense. So when you use the mood board to produce a final design, sometimes you discover, oh it really – that really hasn’t worked very well. So you’re committed, you’re backed into a corner. But also you’re building up that point of mood boards in the mind of the client. Oh, I’ve got to sign this off therefore it has to be right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I agree with that. I don’t think mood boards should be signed off.

Paul Boag:
But mood boards are just an example. You’re thinking about the final design, right. And we still do get sign off over final design and it’s not that I’m anti- it, I just think maybe with some clients a better approach might be to say okay, the next step is we’re going to do some testing to see how this – how users respond to it, rather than putting them in a position where they have to commit 100% themselves. Do you see what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, but then would you then still want to sign off after you’ve done the testing?

Paul Boag:
No, because I kind of feel that by the time you get to that kind of stage, the design has been tested, it’s been refined. The client has been working with you collaboratively through the whole process, yes they might need to be some more tweaks further down the line, but they are only going to be little stuff. So why build it up out of proportion and get people to sign off. I mean, the danger is, I guess, that you have a manager that swoops and poops on it from on high and somebody looks at it and …

Marcus Lillington:
Somebody leaves, somebody new comes in and…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
…bladdy, bladdy, blah. It’s sensible. I think – and I only think there should be one point of sign off which is a kind of general design look and feel. Doesn’t have to be every last little style of form field or whatever, but just general style elements, if you like, that you can do in two or three mockups. I’m not talking about everything. Basically – because I think it – what it does do is it means that everyone can go right, we’ve agreed on that, now we can get on and build this stuff, which I think is useful to have. And yes – but it’s just…

Paul Boag:
I think my problem is that sometimes you can get stuck faffing around in Photoshop where actually let’s just get into the browser and then when we can see this working, we will have a better idea of whether it’s right or not. It’s probably going to be easier to change one’s it’s in the browser anyway. Do you see what I mean?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. And if that needs to happen, then it needs to happen. But I still think there should be a point where you say, okay? And they you go, yes.

Paul Boag:
Maybe.

Marcus Lillington:
Rather than just leaving it open ended, because you just – you can end up regretting that.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I’ve very mixed feelings over that one. It’s a difficult one. I’m very much a fan of don’t let a project stall over – because I’ve watched it so many times; endlessly iterating over a mood board, endlessly iterating over a final design, when actually – if you just moved on and they could see the design grow and coming to itself as a proper website, then this quibbling over this minor detail would go away. And I think there is also another tendency sometimes with clients that they get hung up on little things, where if you moved on and said oh, we’ll come back to that later, they’ll forget about it. It’s not that big a deal. And I think sometimes having that sign off just gets built up and built up and built up.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, which brings me on to number 10.

Use testing as sign-off

And again this is something we don’t do, but I think we should try and do, which is that we start using testing as the sign off thing, rather than the client making a call over it. So, partly to encourage more testing in the process and partly to avoid everything becoming so subjective. So, for example, let’s say we have got certain success criteria that we want to achieve and we can test against those with a design mockup or a basic prototype. I’m presuming a certain percentage of people can do that, then surely that’s good enough.

Marcus Lillington:
Potentially, but the problem with testing is that you will – it’s not black and white if like we are going to go with the majority on nearly everything, which is fine and that’s how it should be. But it does mean that your new director can come in and say well, you’ve got 100 people coming back here and 60 of them went for this particular option, I disagree with that. I think I’m – that it’s – it is not cut and dried enough for whatever. So, I still think it’s not – it’s still good to get somebody to say we are happy with this at this point.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I’m not – that’s kind of going back to the previous point. I think what I’m trying to get at here is that, testing should be an intrinsic part of the sign off process. Whether someone else ultimately makes the decision or not, that’s the kind of last point, if that makes sense, that we would discuss it.

Marcus Lillington:
We nearly always do design testing now, at least – just even if it’s just a little tiny piece before any sign off is done.

Paul Boag:
Yes, and I think that is really sensible. I think it should be a key part of it. And it’s so easy now; there is really no excuse. And this goes back to the very first podcast in the season, which was all about – there is really no excuse not to do user testing. Now there are some great services out there. I’ll link in the show notes to the original show in this season. And it should be included at every point and it should be a key component in deciding whether a design is ready to go live or is ready to move onto the next stage. It shouldn’t be just because some manager somewhere has said yes; this has my seal of approval.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I agree with that entirely. I think it should be an intrinsic part of the process, no doubt.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So there are my 10 things to make the design process smoother. Hopefully there are some suggestions in there that will help. I’m sure the video will help. I’m sure some of that focusing the client’s role and thinking about problems and not solutions and all that kind of stuff makes an enormous difference. And I hope you found the whole thing useful. Marcus now has an incredibly good joke to finish off the entire season, don’t you Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
Nobody sent me any. So I’m going to have to go back.

Paul Boag:
It’s called Google.

Marcus Lillington:
No, don’t ever go there.

Paul Boag:
Why?

Marcus Lillington:
Don’t go with…Jokes on Google.

Paul Boag:
Are they bad?

Marcus Lillington:
Well, there is just 20 million of them, most of which are a bit rude and can’t use on a podcast anyway. But no I found – Andrew Rothman sent me a list of jokes that I kind of went – oh, I think I have done all of those before like what do you call a blind deer and things like that.

Paul Boag:
Yes, you’ve done that. Andrew Rothman is the one that did Hands to Heaven, didn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, indeed.

Paul Boag:
I’ll put a link in the show notes to that, if I can find it.

Marcus Lillington:
But I’m not sure I’ve done the first one. Two goldfish who are in a tank?

Paul Boag:
Don’t recognize that one.

Marcus Lillington:
One turns to the other and says do you know how to drive this thing? It was quite good.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Do you know, it honestly took me a while to work that one out.

Marcus Lillington:
There you go.

Paul Boag:
Is that it? Well that leaves this season on a big bang then.

Marcus Lillington:
Like every podcast.

Paul Boag:
Honestly. Well, I’m going to miss talking to you, Marcus, because obviously I only ever talk to you on a podcast.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, that’s not completely true, but yes.

Paul Boag:
It’s not far off, is it?

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not far off because you’re away writing books and things.

Paul Boag:
I know and you’re away in Vietnam and Cambodia and the sunny places.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Hate you. All right, so we’ll be back for our Christmas special, which is going to be the most amazing show ever. And then in the New Year we will do a new season, which is going to be on master classes. So we’re going to delve deeper into lots of different areas and we’re going to really stretch mine and Marcus’s knowledge which obviously is going to be much harder for me than it is Marcus, because I already know everything. And we’re going to talk to lots of very clever people. So, that’s going to be a really good season. I’m looking forward to that. Don’t forget as well that I’m doing a Doctor Who special with Andy Clarke and John Hicks. That won’t be – that will be on Andy’s podcast which is Unfinished Business, so link in the show notes to that as well. Thank you very much for listening and have a lovely November and we will speak to you again in December.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

Links mentioned in the show

Boagworks

Boagworld