Designers are from Mars, Clients are from Venus

Designers and clients come from two different worlds. Two very different worlds; they speak different languages, have different cultures, and can easily get into a fight with each other. Usually, the only thing they’ll have in common is that they both own businesses. With completely different languages,  experiences and areas of expertise, it’s hard to make sure you can both walk away from a project completely happy. So let’s talk about four questions you can ask each other to make sure that you get the job done well.

1 – Designer to Client: Why are you (re)designing your website?

For the client, a website should be a marketing strategy. Design doesn’t get you customers, content does. If you’ve got a new business, you need a presence on the web because everyone else has a web presence.  You don’t care if it looks fancy, you just want prospects  finding it and  turning into customers. Your goal is singular: Customers. You just want people to buy your product or service.

If it’s an existing business, you probably found out that customers aren’t getting what they want out of your site. Maybe they  want to pay you online, perhaps they want to get more information from you, maybe they won’t forward you to other clients because the design makes you look unprofessional.

Regardless, the designer needs to know what your definition of success will be.

2 – Client to Designer: What’s wrong with my website?

Toughen your skin and get ready. The answer is bound to hurt your own/mother/brother/sister/extended family member/neighborhood kid’s feelings.   Designers see the web very differently from the clients. We see browser compatibility, code, design, and user experience.  Unless you stop and  correct us, our number one goal will be to fix whatever we see is wrong.  A ‘good’ website is defined very differently when you go from a designer to a client. I spoke with a designer two days ago who said his goal for a website  redesign was valid XHTML 1.0 on every page. When I  asked his boss’ boss, the answer was “it looks better”.  Thank God I asked.

This is just another way of defining success. The designer and client should come to a mutual agreement on their answers.

3. Designer to Client: What do you know about websites and graphics?

The freelancer needs to know what he’s up against. Is this someone who will appreciate some CSS3 animations, or do they want their splash page to work on their Windows 98 machine? Asking this question sets the stage for how the freelancer needs to talk to the client.  Remember, the web designer speaks a different language – this helps him find out if you’re bilingual, fluent, or a tourist in his native tongue.  If it’s rude to knowingly speak to someone in a foreign language, it’s rude to use technical jargon on someone who doesn’t know it. It’s unintentional, but designers come off as jerks when they use geek-speak in front of grandma.

The other thing this question establishes is expertise. The client may say that she’s used PhotoShop a few times, or coded a Myspace page. This gives the designer an opportunity to talk about how the web isn’t just a snippet of HTML, and that PhotoShop takes years to master; it’s a subtle way for the designer to say, “You’ve visited my world, but I live here.”

This question also opens up a learning opportunity for the client. The designer has a chance to teach the client why splash pages are bad, or why Internet Explorer is evil.

4 – Client to Designer: What do you know about my business/ industry?

Basically, re-read what I wrote above and trade designer for client. There isn’t just one expert in this relationship. Make it clear that you know what’s best for your business.  You know your customers better than the designer, so make sure he designs for them, not for himself.

What else?

These are four great starter questions. I’ll throw in a few extras. Again, as a note to both parties – ask these questions before you get started, not halfway through.

Questions for the Client

  • Who is going to write the copy (text)? Don’t assume your designer is a writer. If he isn’t, you need to get someone to do it. By the way, the designer is assuming you’ll write it.
  • Where are the pictures coming from? No, you cannot go on Google and just search for an image. That’s illegal. You must have permission to use any and all images.
  • Once this is over, who is going to update your site? If you’re going to update the site, the designer needs to build it in such a way that you can update it. You have options, depending on your skills.

Questions for the Designer

  • Are you a full-timer or a part-timer? How many other clients do you have? It’s not a bad thing if you’re part time. If you have a full-time job already, don’t deceive your client into thinking you can do this in a week. Similarly with having other clients. Every client thinks your only focus is on them; they need to know that it isn’t.
  • What are your working hours? Full-time freelancers are work-from-home guys. Part-timers have an 8-hour gig. They all work goofy hours – often different from the client. The client needs to know the right and wrong times to call you.
  • What if I’m not happy with the design? The designer should design with a mutual agreement of his and the client’s definition of success.  What that in mind,  it’s possible that you start work and realize that you still can’t agree on that definition.  I recommend that your contract require payment at three times: up-front; after mockups; and then after the finished design. A designer worked to develop those mockups, regardless of whether the client is happy, he deserves payment for that work. However, if the design is unsatisfactory, the client shouldn’t get stuck with the whole website. I say you pay in installments: before starting, after mockups, after the launch.