Becoming Clueful: What You Should Know Before You Redo Your Web Site
Five tips on what businesses should expect from their web designers and developers
Treat the Web Team as Professionals
Many web developers and designers are appalled at assumptions that their skills are commonplace and valueless. Niles says, "Professional design takes a lot of work, skill, education, and ability. We don't just input a set of criteria into the computer machine and pull out the results instantly. Do you think that a professional chef is a person who puts a bunch of ingredients that don't match into a big pan and sticks it in the oven?"
Keep in mind that the reason you brought in an expert was to rely on their advice. "Listen to me. You think data, I think usability. Things do not always work the way you think. The user does not think like you or me. Work with me for a compromise, not against me," adds Lamson.
Sullivan says, "My worst experiences have been when the client didn't trust me to handle all aspects of the job. Nightmares ensue. I'm a professional. I know my business. And if I don't personally do that part of the project, I know another professional to subcontract it to. Please don't go out looking for other people to 'help' and try to patch us all together, with you in charge. It does not work. Ever."
Pragmatically, you should expect to assign one person from your company to interact with the designers and developers. Shelly Cole of brassblogs.com advises that, if you have a committee deciding upon website issues, choose one person to interact with the designer. "Only one person. There is nothing that will cause more confusion, anger and disappointment than the fact that one designer has 3 or 4 people calling and e-mailing them every 5 minutes -- each person changing what the last person said."
Etscorn-Dillon wholeheartedly agrees, to the point of including the one-contact stipulation in her contracts. "My client is to appoint one person for me to work with, not a group. When you have a group involved, everyone is sending you their ideas and thoughts, nothing gets done, and it's very frustrating."
Another way to mess things up is to bring in an outsider who isn't a professional designer. That is, don't rely on your brother-in-law the self-proclaimed expert to give you conflicting advice about site development. Polzin says, "Many clients may know a friend, family member, associate or someone who 'knows the business.' This is quite frustrating from two aspects. One, they have a misconception that this is just a simple idea and that you just need to cut and paste a few graphics and text to make a web site. And two, they have been told that you can buy off the shelf solutions to implement their site, such as e-commerce, affiliate programs, and refer a friend programs."
Lamson suggests, "High school students with a cracked copy of Dreamweaver and PhotoShop cannot build web sites as good as real web designers, even if [the high school students] will do it for $250."
Another variation is business owners and IT staff who mutter, "I could probably just do this myself. Yes, says Etscorn-Dillon, "And I can probably fly a jet, fix my sink, and change my brakes. But why would I want to? I like to hire seasoned professionals to do what they excel in. I'm sure my clients could take over their site, but I can't imagine the learning curve they'd go through and the mistakes they'd make (just like I did) along the way. Is that the most productive solution for a business? If you want a professional look, hire a professional."
Your existing IT staff isn't the right "designer," either. Cancilla's primary pet peeve is clients -- particularly corporate clients -- "who don't understand that their company Webmaster or IT-support person probably isn't a Web designer or electronic communications specialist. I still see far too many Web sites designed by people who are great at server configuration but have no idea how to optimize HTML/CSS, or who can code beautifully but whose design or site-organization skills are lacking. And to make things worse, many of these people think they know more than enough to design or set content policies for a site."
Read the contract. There's a process, and you'll delay your own project if you keep making changes. Says Cole, "The client should read before they sign. I don't know how many clients I've had myself (not to mention other horror stories I've heard from colleagues) where the client just signed without really reading or asking questions. More often than not, it comes back to bite the client in the behind -- yet the client will threaten and get angry at the designer for something that, in all honesty, should have been asked about before the contract was signed, or the project began."
This is a surprisingly common problem. The contract is there to record what you and the site developer agreed upon, but too few people pay attention to the details -- and that costs money, time, and emotional wear-and-tear. Once a layout or mockup is approved, points out Etscorn-Dillon, her company starts to develop it into a real site. "I've had clients that approve the site and a few weeks later, want to make huge changes to the design. I have stipulated in my contracts that all design changes made after the design was improved will incur additional charges and hold up development time."
But you're already ahead of the game: after reading this article, you have a better understanding of what's expected. As Etscorn-Dillon says, "Educating your clients not only helps them to understand their online venture, but makes them more aware of the industry and therefore becoming involved. ... The more my clients are involved and educated, the better they do it seems. As the designer, it's satisfying when one of your clients gets it."