5 Ways to Have a Great Web Design Experience
Embarking on a web design project fills many small businesses with dread. They’ve heard so many horror stories about working with design firms—from escalating costs to designs that make no sense for the business—that they just don’t want to do it.
The reality is that there are many good website designers that are ready to help small business succeed online. You just need to know what to look for and how to communicate in order to make sure you’re getting what you want and need.
There are five things you, as the client, can do to ensure the relationship goes well.
Spend Time Developing a Strong Creative Brief
As you prepare to design your website, you probably have some ideas about what you want. These ideas are the basis of the creative brief (also called a project scope)—the document that gives your project direction and guides your web designer.
When you meet with prospective agencies, notice if they ask a lot of questions—an inexperienced designer or agency won’t question anything in your brief or clarify any points with you at all. Experienced designers, on the other hand, will have a thorough conversation with you about the brief, asking you thought-provoking questions about your goals and how you differentiate yourself. By eliminating any assumptions the web designer may have, this conversation will lead to a better outcome for you.
You also want to make sure the designer is listening to—and that means they’ll have questions. Although you may have simple requirements, by not understanding the brief your designer may produce something that doesn’t fit your business at all.
Inexperienced designers tend to focus exclusively how the website looks rather than how it performs for your business. It’s well known that great design offers both form and function. But to understand function, your web designer has to understand your business objectives and customers. A good designer will pay as much attention to planning your websites purpose and user experience as its aesthetic.
Insist on Good Communication
Good, honest communication is the cornerstone of creating lasting relationships. Poor communication, on the other hand, ultimately leads to a breakdown in the designer client relationship.
Believe it or not, you don’t want a designer who agrees with everything you say. This actually causes problems because it means they aren’t hearing you or don’t really care. At some point, you will want something that does not serve your project, and you want a designer who is committed enough to your project to tell you so. While a web designer should always try to accommodate your requirements, their years of experience in building websites means they’ll know when your idea sounds good in theory but won’t work in practice. Most importantly they’ll manage your expectations without limiting your possibilities; often they’ll be proactive about these discussions rather than reactive.
On the flip side, poor communicators are often justifying missed deadlines, scope creep, and—most commonly—going over budget. They tend to be ambiguous or uncertain explaining what the impact is, leaving you angry and confused. The warning signs for poor communication happen early on when you discuss the creative brief. Trust your intuition. It’s worth having a hard conversation at the beginning than an even harder one later down the line.
Hire an Experienced Professional
Hire the right designer for your job, even if they cost more than you wanted. It’s important that the designer have the right experience for your job. You may decide to work with a talented young freelancer, they can often be great for keeping costs down and brining fresh ideas to the table. However, someone who is new to the industry may not have the experience to troubleshoot problems or steer the project in order to avoid complications. If you are aware of that, it doesn’t have to be a problem and you can get a beautiful website for a lower budget.
However, a lack of experience often results in a clunky solution, something called a ‘Franken-website’. This is a site that that has been assembled in a complex way without proper planning from the start. These cumbersome sites are a nightmare to maintain and aren’t Google friendly. Experienced designers know what they’re doing so the backend is as elegant as the front end.
When hiring a web designer, look for a wide and varied portfolio with years of experience. Although they may cost slightly more, you’ll have a solution that was built to suit your business – rather than the other way around.
Make sure what you see is what you get
Something will go wrong—or at least off kilter—during your project. That is just a fact of life in web design. How you and your designer handle it is what determines whether it ruins the whole project. A good designer will be willing and able to explain why things got wonky, and what the best solution to fix it is for your business. Building a website is actually a very logical process. Good web designers will not use your ignorance of web development to keep from being accountable for your projects schedule, budget and website performance. On the contrary, they will make sure you understand everything.
Good designers are patient and knowledgeable enough to be able to explain the answers to any questions you may have. Not only this, but if they’re professionals they should value your relationship enough to ensure you to feel comfortable with every decision you make.
Pay Attention to The Website’s Backend
The website design or ‘front-end’ is done, finally. Now the real work begins. Your website will likely be built on a CMS, commonly referred to as your website’s ‘back-end’. This is the engine that drives your website’s content and functionality. You want to make sure that the back-end of your website is built on is robust and scalable. This means that you’ll likely have a website that is flexible and will be cost effective in the long term. Your web designer or project manager will suggest what platform best suits your business.
However, it is up to you to make sure you understand the rationale behind their suggestions because it is your site. Unfortunately this is often a case of comparing apples to oranges for clients who lack technical knowledge. Good designers will often suggest an open source CMS written in a well-known programming language—typically WordPress or Drupal for small businesses. This ensures that down the line, any good developer can modify the site.
Then there is the issue of access. At the beginning of your project, a good agency will discuss transferring access to everything you own, be it your domain name, your hosting account and your website’s source code when and if you decide to move on. If they aren’t open to doing that, don’t work with them. In your contract, clarify what you own versus what they own.
Building your website—whether from scratch or a redesign—is an exciting time. It’s creative and fun, and a great time to really assess where your business is and where you want it to go. Your web designer can be a valuable partner in that. Following these steps and ensuring you keep the lines of communication open will help you have a successful project with great results.
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