Web design is a tough gig. Yes, you’re intelligent, and of course you know you’re craft inside out, but sometimes it’s not enough. All those skills and all that drive doesn’t count for anything if you can’t decipher what your client is telling you, and while occasionally, this means reading between the lines, it can also be beneficial to employ a few basic strategies that will ensure you get the juice on what it is they’re after.
1. Don’t assume they know what’s important
You’ve been there, done that. You know what works and what doesn’t. But do they? Quite often the answer is no, so don’t assume they know why it’s important to have a call to action on a landing page, and don’t think they’ll know that the phone number should be a feature if their business relies on enquiries. Whether it’s your choice of colour, white-space or simply a choice not to include a slideshow, it can be an extremely powerful message if you explain the fundamental principles of your design before they see it, as it will get them thinking about their business rather than their ego and will result in a better appreciation of your skills and your choices along the way.
2. We all love lists, so should you
Every project needs a set of goals, call it a business plan for your website. If you have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve, it becomes far easier to choose design features, layouts and content as your striving towards a specific goal. Break it down into the individual components if you need (e.g. Shopping cart, blog, other) some degree of separation, but ensure your client agrees with the goal and they will be better able to understand why you made some of the choices you did.
3. Use examples
There are sooooo many website’s out there, someone else has bound to have done it before, so don’t be afraid of using other sites to illustrate your point. It won’t detract from your abilities as a designer, but it will allow you to explain technical terms in a visual sense. Although it’s useful for you and encouraging for the client to use your own portfolio to showcase your ideas, don’t get too caught up on your own previous works. There are plenty of examples out there and you don’t want your client to think it’s all about you unless you have no other choice.
4. Keep the communication flowing
I often talk to clients who have been unhappy with a previous developer or designer, and the common thread seems to be a lack of communication. Often I will hear stories like, “2 months passed by and I heard nothing”. If you find yourself struggling with the concepts, or just with the time available in a project, it really is better to disclose this early. Your clients may not be happy, but it’s guaranteed they will be unhappier if they find out a long way down the track.
5. Let them know what you can and can’t do
Don’t do website marketing? Not a web hosting provider? While it might mean you lose a few clients as they’re looking for one-stop-shop, it’s highly unlikely this will translate into a very high percentage of your leads and it’s going to make you far more efficient on the one’s you do take on. Be up-front about what you do and don’t do, your clients will feel better about you and you won’t get uncomfortable when the topic comes up mid-project.