Improved Guidelines for Clients

I’ve changed gears to focus on freelance design and development this past year and I’m happy to say that in terms of client relations, there have been fewer misunderstandings and moments of quagmire than what I’ve experienced working for larger design firms in the past.

Part of that is being my own project manager. I don’t need to push back on, or translate, what someone else is communicating. My standard contract specifies a single point-of-contact for every organization, which leaves little room for communication breakdowns.

In the most recent contracts, I’ve included more specific guidelines on the design process which aim to be a little more firm about what I’d like to see in the client-designer relationship. The goal should be to ensure the client is invested in the process at every level.

Most of these issues will sound familiar because they are age-old. Most of them have improved over the years, but they rear their head often enough that I’ve decided to formalize them in my contract. If “design consulting” is part of how you market your skills, conveying your experiences with the client are a vital part of that.

From my new standard contract, “Appendix B: Tips for a Smooth Process”:

A great website is the result of solid communication and collaboration between designer and client. Throughout this project, you’ll be asked to give feedback on elements of your website design. To ensure the project stays on schedule and budget, we’ll need your help and expertise!

  • Designate a Contact. Please designate a single point-of-contact within your organization to handle all communications regarding this project. It may be necessary to cc: other team members in emails, but Darren Hoyt LLC reserves the right to incorporate only feedback from the designated point-of-contact.
  • Avoid Committee Decisions. Whenever possible, discourage your organization from using a committee to submit website feedback. Committee-based design decisions historically lead to confusion, contradiction, broken deadlines, higher costs and an overall compromised product that aspires to please everyone while never seeming to please anyone. Please don’t let this happen to your project!

    If group feedback is unavoidable:

    • Empower your designated point-of-contact to make final decisions on all design notes collected from the group
    • Loop everyone into feedback at the beginning of the project. Avoid waiting until the design is nearly completed to begin reviewing with a CEO, board member, committee, etc.
  • Organize Content. As noted in Section 4 (“Client will provide Darren Hoyt with all necessary content within (1) week of beginning the project.”) , it’s very important that web content is defined and organized before the design phase can begin. This means submitting electronic versions of all assets: logo, branding elements, colors, typography and finalized copy writing. If any of those elements does not exist, Darren Hoyt LLC can recommend a branding/identity designer, copy writer or additional content strategist as needed.

  • Let Content Drive Design. Many web designs have faltered in the past because designers were tasked with creating something whose core meaning was still undefined. As the author of web design standards says: “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

    In the early phase of your project, prepare to put visuals and aesthetics aside. Starting with the homepage, work with the designer to prioritize your messaging. Consider hierarchy. Hone your taglines and marketing text so they speak clearly to your audience. Define your most important calls-to-action. Your designer may recommend a wireframing phase. Determine the products or services that represent your organization best. Boil them down and work with the designer to integrate them into your homepage.

    Copywriting greatly influences design choices, so avoid placeholder lorem ipsum text whenever possible.

  • Consider Industry Standards & Competing Websites. Every website should be a success story for both designer and client. That process begins with familiarizing yourself with the highest models of web design within your industry. During the discovery phase, it may help to collaborate with your designer to share URLs and screenshots to get more familiar with great website design looks and feels like in a way that’s relevant to your project.

  • Put Audience Expectations Before Personal Taste. Your new website should meet the goals of your organization, but more pressingly, the needs of your audience. Begin to think in terms of personas. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who will be finding your site via Google search. Can the content be scanned and immediately understood? Are there certain interactions vital to holding your users’ attention? Are value propositions and conversion rates being considered?

    Collaborate with your designer to ensure core design elements like color and typography are based on overall user experience, not subjective personal preference.

  • Brand Wisely. The question of how and where to incorporate branding on a website is one of the oldest tug-of-war decisions between client and designer. Traditional stopgap solutions—ex: ”make the logo bigger”—won’t do anything to improve user experience. It won’t help users find your website: they are already there. Once there, good content is what will drive their experience.

    Collaborate with your designer to integrate branding elements like color and typography in a way that complements that content. Users are more likely to complain about not being able to find what they want than complain about a small or less-prominent logo.

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