Web Design Problems: Who’s Website Is It?
The Birth Of Web Design Problems
Earlier this evening I was flicking through web design images on imgur.com. It never hurts to keep an eye on what other designers are up to. It is also good to open yourself up to new sources of ideas and inspiration. As I was looking at web design images I came across the following series of pictures that brought a smile to my face. I think every web designer can relate to the web design problems illustrated.
The series illustrates the web design process, as seen through the eyes of the web designer and their relationship with the client. It is an image that has been around for a little while now and many web designers will have seen it before. However, judging from personal experience, it may not be a bad idea for web design clients to take a look before embarking on their website. The problems are real if you let them take hold.
I would like to emphasise that I am not the web designer providing commentary to this series of images and the real conversations mentioned were not by clients of mine! I found the image at imgur.com/gallery/FhHpk. The images were originally posted on The Oatmeal.
How A Web Design Goes Straight To Hell
Resolving The Problem
The images above are a lighthearted and slightly irreverent way of expressing a real dilemma that affects many web designers and web design clients. The dilemma boils down to two very basic questions: Who’s website is it? How much responsibility does the web designer have to highlight problems with the client’s ideas?
Who’s Website Is It?
The bottom line is that the website belongs to the client as soon as the website is paid for in full. It is the client who will have to live with the website over the long term. The client pays for the website, and within limits, gets to call the shots. This means that in practice most designers will bend over backwards to give the client what they want. In many ways that is a basic premise of business – giving the client what they want.
On the other side of the coin, it is the web designer’s name that will be attached to the website. Regardless of whether the designer chooses to add a credit on the site, the web designer’s name will be mentioned when the client is asked who designed the site (or perhaps who the hell designed that site!). Professional pride is at stake. A website that becomes too far removed from the original concept can reflect badly on the designer and even hurt their reputation and future prospects.
There have been occasions when I have chosen not to add a ‘Web Design by’ credit to a client’s website. These occasions are rare and have happened after the client and I disagreed over the final design and layout of the site. I have only once asked a client to find a different designer to finish the project. The reason for shaking hands and walking away from each other was that the client insisted on a design and structure that I believe would have made the website fail for his customers. I was not prepared to provide a product that I did not believe was fit for purpose.
However, the vast majority of times the client and I have a good relationship and we find positive ways to resolve suggestions that the other party would not have chosen.
Responsibility To The Client
My clients are not web designers. If they were they would have no need to hire me. My clients are people with businesses that they are proud of and want to succeed. A website is a major part of a company’s interaction with the public. It is often the first impression that a potential customer will have of their company. It is therefore natural that the client will have ideas about what they want the website to look like and what they want the website to do. This is a positive. I much prefer clients to be full of ideas than to have none.
However, not every idea that a client will have will be a good idea. Even the good ideas may not be the best ideas. Sometimes the client can accept the designer’s advice straight away. At other times, particularly if it is something the client had their heart set on, the client may be less likely to change their mind. It is at these times that the potential for web design problems can take hold.
I am always aware of my promise to my clients to strive for them to be 100% happy with their website. The promise is a big deal to me. I see it as a major part of running a successful web design business. It is also a promise that creates a dilemma when what the customer wants is not the same as what the customer needs.
Unless I have a very good relationship with a client then I am very unlikely to tell them that their idea is a terrible one. Sometimes the best policy is not to tell them that their idea is a terrible one. It is better to show them. Give the customer exactly what they have asked for. Usually if it really is a terrible idea they will see it before you say anything. Some people may see this as a waste of time and resources. I see it differently. If you have expressed doubts to your client about their design idea, but then gone ahead and created the design for them anyway, their realisation that your advice was good advice will build trust. Some of my best customers are the ones I have had the biggest differences of opinion over design with. This step in the design process also prevents the customer wondering what his or her idea would have looked like if you hadn’t talked them out of it. In the long term it is always better to give your customer peace of mind rather than a piece of your mind!
In the long term it is always better to give your customer peace of mind rather than a piece of your mind!
There are also times that I believe that, as professionals, we need to give firm and clear professional advice. We cannot expect our clients to have an in depth knowledge of web design. Nor can we expect them to know what has been shown to work and what has been shown to not work. They have no way of knowing that the latest gimmick they have seen may not work well in some browsers, or that it might reduce conversion rates by annoying visitors. I believe it is our responsibility to patiently explain all of these points to the client. At times it is our responsibility to risk losing the client by explaining firmly enough to be clear why a particular idea may be a bad one.
If a client walks away from a project because they did not like the advice they were given then perhaps it shows that the business relationship was not a strong one. Walking away at this point, on either side, may prevent bigger problems further down the line.
Sometimes Web Design Problems Are Not The Clients Fault!
I have kept this paragraph until the end in the hope that any of my clients reading this will have been too bored to get this far and given up reading already. Don’t shout it too loud, but sometimes the client is right and the designer is wrong. Designers can be very precious about their creations. It is human nature. Occasionally we may see alternative suggestions as criticism of our design skills. Or we may just have really liked a particular design. The point is that sometimes an alternative is just that and nothing more – an alternative. An alternative does not have to be inferior. Sometimes it is just different.
Learning when a different suggestion is not a problem and only different can be difficult. However, it is an important lesson to learn. Our clients need to trust us to know that the design battles we pick are picked because they are important.
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