Avoiding failures between Design and Development
The client brief has been understood, the designs have been approved and the development is underway. Yet the project seems to drag on well past the delivery date. At times, clients find themselves in this position but for the life of them can not figure out what is wrong. The problem could be a mismatch between the designer and the developer.
The creative and the practical have always been at loggerheads. Conflicts between designers and developers arise due to contradictory views where the designer is focused on the look and feel and the developer on the functionality. If the conflict is not resolved quickly, it could very well take so long to finish the project that it becomes unprofitable for everyone involved. Let us now take a look at some of the issues that arise between designers and developers and how they can be resolved or avoided altogether.
Some 'failures' caused by designers
Excessive use of flash
Designers adore working in flash as it gives them a wide creative platform on which to create their designs. Through flash they can design the site to look exactly like they want with animations and effects. For some designers, using core web technologies severely limit their design possibilities. The issue that developers have with using too much flash is that it greatly increases the load time of a website and this, according to various studies, causes people to move away from the site.
Creating designs that cannot be used in web
At times, designers create great looking designs that cannot possibly implemented in web. This is usually due to their lack of knowledge of fundamental aspects of web technologies. Due to this lack of knowledge they sometimes create designs that are impossible or extremely difficult to implement on the web.
Creating PSDs that contain multiple unnamed layers
For a developer, receiving the PSD of a design with multiple unnamed layers can be a nightmare. As long as something looks good in the view port of Photoshop it is usually good enough for the designer but developers have to have their documents flowing in an organized, logical manner or their effectiveness decreases. As they code in logical sequences, working with disorganized and cluttered PSDs infuriates them and greatly increases their workload making it difficult for them to meet deadlines.
The designer failed to take into account the actual size of the finalized content
When designing a web page, designers very rarely use the actual content that will go on the page. Usually designs contain a paragraph of dummy content for each section and the rest of the page is designed with balanced module heights and columns. This causes them to make erroneous assumptions about the final output as when the time comes to put in the actual content, developers find that enough space has not been given and then the actual page ends up looking different from the designed comps.
The designer failed to mention the styles used
Developers sometimes receive comps with no explanation regarding styles used, margins, colors used, etc. This means that the developer has to use his best guess and code according to that. This not only takes up a lot of time and effort but can also cause the final output to look different from the design.
How designers can avoid these 'failures'
Explain the design rationale
Most issues can be avoided if the designer takes the time to sit down and explain the design and its rationale to the developer. This will allow the developer to understand the thought behind the design and will give them an opportunity to clarify any aspects of the design before they get started, thus making development smoother.
Practice PSD etiquette
Designers should ensure that they only provide PSDs that are clean and well organized. Further, they should use smart objects wherever possible as this will save the developer a lot of time and effort.
Design thoroughly
Designers should think thoroughly and design all aspects of the site including error messages, 404 pages, etc. This will save the developer a lot of time and ensures that there are no hold-ups once the development is underway.
Enlist a developer during ideation or when in doubt
Enlisting the help of a developer in the ideation stage or when the designer is in doubt about the technical implications of a project will save a lot of time and effort all around. Involving the developer at critical stages allows for the building of trust between the two and allows for more effective collaboration. It also allows the designer to only create those designs that can be effectively implemented. This is possibly the most important way to avoid failures between design and development and can lead to huge savings in terms of rework, time and money.
Learn at least a little about development
It is very critical for designers to learn at least the basics of web development as it enables them to know exactly what can or cannot be properly implemented on the web. Further, by knowing the fundamentals, the designer becomes more emphatic to the problems faced by developers and learns to take into account their point of view while creating their designs.
Some 'failures' caused by the developers
The finished site looks different from the designed comps
Designers, at times, are infuriated because they had given the perfect design to the developer but when the end product came back, it looked very different from their design. The important thing to remember here is that designed comps are not web pages. There are a lot of thing that can be done in Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. that can be impossible or very impractical to be replicated on the web. In these circumstances, the design will have to be scaled down to suit the web.
The colors used are different from the design
Sometimes designers find that the colors that they had used in the designs are not the same as the colors that the developer has implemented. This problem usually arises when the developer has used his best guess for the colors. This can be effectively avoided if the designer clearly spells out the values of the colors used on the page.
Loss of 'white space' due to cramming
Some developers do not understand the use of whitespace in improving readability and guiding the eye of the viewer. They tend to cram it all in an effort to save space and reduce the scrolling required. This causes the site to look cramped and cluttered and greatly diminishes the user experience on the site.
Overestimation of the time required for development
Developers tend to pad the effort required, in terms of time, to complete the site. This is usually done because there will always be some unexpected issues that arise. The website has to be compatible and look the same in different browsers which is a problem as different browsers follow different rules, hence the overestimation. Unfortunately this also means that the time required to complete the project also increases.
How developers can avoid these 'failures'
Be available to designers
Developers should take the time to clarify any technical queries a designer might have and also involve themselves in the ideation process. What this will achieve is design concepts that can be easily and seamlessly incorporated into the web. This will also build a better rapport with the designer and enable effective collaboration.
Provide Simplified explanations
It is important for developers to remember that designers are not technically proficient in web development and hence any explanations, be it clarifying a query or explaining why something cannot be done must be explained as simple as possible.
Develop all the little details
The design that a designer creates is the vision that they had for the site and hence every little detail is very important to them. It is essential that the developer incorporates all the little details while developing the site as something that may not be very important to them may be extremely important to the designer.
Explain properly and honestly if something cannot be implemented and why
There are things that designers create that cannot possibly be implemented on the web but unless a developer properly explains what these things are, the designers will continue to incorporate them in their designs. Further, if the developer does not explain why it cannot be done, the designer might think that the developer is just being lazy. Therefore it is essential that developers properly and honestly explain what aspects cannot be done on the web and this must be done right at the ideation stage as it will save both the designer and the developer valuable time and effort.
Learn at least a little about design
As a developer, learning the basics of design will allow them to better understand the vision and rationale of the designer and in turn will allow them to better implement the design. It will also build empathy towards the designers and will allow them to work closer together.
In the End
In the end it is important to both designers and developers to remember that they are part of the same team. They share the common goal of providing client satisfaction. They should collaborate during the ideation stage, while keeping an open mind, as this will save them a lot of time and effort. Checking in with each other often allows them to keep their eye on the big picture and ensures the project is on track. Remember to be nice and learn from each other as inspiration comes from the most unexpected places.
Design Impact for Websites
When people think of website design, the first thing that comes to mind is pleasing fonts, smart and creative use of colors and other such aesthetic components. In essence, it is generally viewed as an art form whose canvas is online. The reality is that designing effective websites is so much more than merely getting the site to look pretty.
Effective web design also comprises of proper site structure, usability, readability and functionality. That is not to say aesthetics are not important. In the beginning, aesthetic appeal is the most important aspect of any product as studies show that it is directly linked to people’s perceptions of a product and its usability. That is why we perceive that a good looking phone will work better than a not so good looking one even before trying either of them. Known as the ‘halo effect’, it causes the aesthetic aspect of the design to directly influence a person’s perceptions of other aspects.
However, this halo wears off once the person interacts with the product. Once interaction begins, usability becomes as important as aesthetics. Irrespective of how good a product looks, a person will stop using the product if it does not perform its purpose properly. A website is no different. If a person cannot navigate a site easily or if the readability of the site is bad, then the user will leave the site never to return no matter how good looking the site may be.
Everybody knows about the value of aesthetics in websites but let us take a look at the other aspects that make up effective web design.
An effective website is one where users can easily navigate the pages, quickly find what that are looking for and interact wherever necessary. If users keeping getting lost or find it difficult to reach the information they need, they will end up getting frustrated and will navigate away from the site. A crucial aspect of web design is ensuring that users can navigate the site easily and creating site maps will help users quickly find their areas of interest. The site maps will also allow search engine spiders to easily crawl the site, a critical element for SEO.
Another important aspect of web design is ease at which users can read the information on the site. While the use of colorful backgrounds make the site look lively, using light text on a dark background will make it difficult for users to read the content. The text with the best readability is black text on a white background. It is important to always use a dark text on a light background so users can easily read the information being presented.
All users expect the website to function flawlessly. While not too much of an issue on content only websites, it is critical that sites like blogs, online shopping, etc. function perfectly in order to retain users. Having broken links, a poor search function, difficult to access downloadable content, difficult to use comments section, etc. will cause users to get frustrated and over time will reduce the traffic to the site.
Site structure
Site structure is an important aspect of effective web design. Having a poor site structure will make it difficult for users to navigate the site and will cause them to leave. Further, bulky code that contains errors and additional codes that aren’t required will cause the load time of the site to increase. This is bad from a SEO perspective as search engines tend to prefer sites with low load times.
Getting it effective
Effective websites are those that have the above mentioned components properly designed into them. This allows the website to remain interesting to users and allows for the proper communication of the companies message. Having an easy to navigate website with proper, focused content will cause users to go through the different pages of the site and gain the relevant information without getting frustrated or losing interest.
Web design is also crucial for building credibility of the business on the web. Unprofessional looking sites with badly structured content, broken links, confusing navigation, etc. will adversely affect a business’s credibility and may cause the company to lose potential clients.
To sum up
Web design is more than just making a website look aesthetically appealing. It is about ensuring proper structure, ease of use, making sure the content is easily readable and having flawless functionality. Effective web design ensures that the company's message is properly delivered and increases the credibility of the company in the eyes of the users. This in turn ensures higher traffic to the site and a better chance of converting them into customers of the business.
How to engage with clients to produce world class work
Over the years, design firms come across a myriad of clients from the 'every decision has to be taken by a committee' to the 'I want it done yesterday' variety. Designers will have to deal with clients who try and tell them exactly what to do, clients who suddenly increase the scope of the project while wanting the cost to be unchanged, etc.
However, irrespective of the type of client, it is the designer's job to effectively collaborate with them to produce world class work which both the client and the designer can be proud off. It is up to the designers to understand what the client wants and what is best for the product and if they are not aligned, to try and bridge the gap between the two.
Here are some ways in which designers and design firms can better engage their clients to produce exceptional products.
Start off on the right foot
Before even thinking about the design, it is essential that the aim of the project is clear. Time should be taken to understand what it is the client is trying to achieve, who the target audience is, what the scope of the project encompasses, etc. Only once these things are clear can the web designer begin to truly ideate on the various different approaches to solving the client’s problems.
Further, the designer needs to work toward building a relationship with the client that is based on trust and mutual understanding. While there are a many ways in which relationships can be built, respecting and listing to their views, properly answering any of their queries and involving them during major decision phases will bring about a state of mutual understanding.
This also will allow them to understand your vision and may cause them to fight for it during the review stage, thus possibly becoming the difference between seeing your vision go through or seeing your vision become a patchwork quilt of others opinions.
Immerse yourself and absorb
Web design companies need to immerse themselves in the client’s business and absorb all the details regarding the client’s requirements, their organization’s practices, the business goals, the target audience’s preferences, etc. While interacting with the client at this stage, it is crucial to ask open-ended questions and get them to talk freely as they may reveal certain goals and preferences that may not have been revealed when asking structured questions. Once this is done the designer can move on to the design brief and structured questions.
Involve and engage your clients in the ideation stage
Involving the client during the ideation stage allows the designer to fully understand where the client is coming from and what they really want in their product. It removes all the guess work as the designer can quickly get their evaluation on a particular functionality and immediately decide whether to incorporate it in the design or not.
Further the client can provide valuable insights that may have been missed in the design brief as they are the ones with the knowledge of the business and the target audience. It will also make them feel involved in the project make it easier to explain the design rationale later on.
Be an expert but listen
Experts in their field have a tendency to slip into using industry jargons that may or may not be understood by others. That is why web design companies must remember to speak in simple terms that the client is comfortable with so that no misunderstandings occur. Also remember that even though the web designer is an expert in design, the client is the expert in their business. This means that it is crucial for the designer to really listen to the client as they may provide valuable insights into the end-users of the product.
Encourage proactive communication
Lack of effective communication is the main reason projects face delays and setbacks. It is therefore essential for web designer to encourage clients to proactively communicate and ask questions as it gives the designer the opportunity to explain the rationale behind the various elements in the design. This will also allow them to explain to the client how the design elements are created to improve the end-user experience instead of them just being aesthetically appealing.
Explain the rationale behind the design
Some design firms and designers tend to send their design concepts to their clients without any explanation about the design at all. This could lead to the client not fully understanding the designs and thus rejecting them. Ideally, design comps of the major stages should be presented in a face-to-face meeting with the client as this gives the designer the opportunity to properly explain the design and answer any queries the client may have. When this is not possible, the designs should be accompanied by the design rationale explained in terms that the client easily understands.
Keep an open mind and make compromises
It is difficult for anybody to receive criticism, especially when it comes from people who are not experts in your field. It is essential for the designer to keep an open mind while their designs are being reviewed and handle criticism in a professional manner. This will allow the designer to really understand what the client is saying and allow them to bring the design more in line with what the client wants. Further, designers must be willing to compromise on their designs as not doing so will put a lot of stress on the relationship and in some extreme cases may cause the entire project to be cancelled.
Educate them when necessary
At times, the client may not be aware of the latest trends and technologies and may want to use an outdated functionality in their product. It is up to the designer to educate the client on how the functionality would be better served using different technologies. It is the designer’s job to help bring about the best possible solution to the clients problems and help create an exceptional product.
In the end
Building a good relationship with the client is the key to having a smooth and successful project. Encouraging them to proactively communicate and ask questions will help the designer create exceptional work that adds value. Though client satisfaction is the end goal, always remember that it is the designer’s job to suggest the best possible solutions even if the client has something different in mind. Always look to create value and the client appreciation will follow.
How to get the best out of your designer
Designers are not coders or other such technical workers and as such the way they work is very different. Bringing out the best in them requires a totally different approach than most bosses are used to in a command and control world.
The prevalent thought is that as long as you hire a good design firm or a well known designer they will create something great for you. While this may be true, there are certain things clients can and must do which would allow their designers to take the work from great to exceptional.
Here are a few tips on how to get your designer to produce some exceptional work for you.
Give them enough time to work
It is understandable that budget and time constrains combined with the desire to see the vision come to life as soon as possible can cause many clients to try to get the project completed as fast as possible. However, designers need time to think and ideate. They need time to consider all the various approaches and weigh all their options before they can choose the best possible solution to the problem.
It is also important to remember that design is not merely about aesthetics, it is also about user interaction and satisfying the end-users’ requirements. This means the designers have to also think about how the end-user will interact with product and how best to design it to provide maximum value to the user. Actual hand on time is also equally critical as designers need time to polish their designs.
Clearly define the aims and the requirements
It is essential that the client clearly states what the aim of the project is and who the target audience is as this will allow the designer to create designs that best suit the projects needs. Explaining all the requirements will ensure that none of them are missed out on in the designs. It is also essential to clearly define the exact scope of the project right at the beginning as asking for the inclusion of some functionality once the project is well underway will lead to delays.
This is because even though it may seem like a small addition, the time and effort needed to implement the change may be significant. Further, additional aspects added at a later date will have to be shoehorned into the finished design and this may decrease the overall integrity and quality of the design.
Try to closely collaborate during the ideation stage
Collaborating with the designer during the ideation process allows the client to know what elements and functionalities would go into the design before the design even gets started. This also allows the designer to quickly clarify any queries that they might have thus removing any guesswork and ensuring that unwanted elements does not enter the design. This collaboration will go a long way in speeding up the completion of the project and helps build a good relationship with the designer.
Allow the designer to provide value
It is essential, during any design project, that the client does not take on the role of the designer by telling the designer exactly what to do. In certain cases, clients tell the designer exactly what colors, layouts, margins, fonts, etc. are to be used. This means that the client is in fact not hiring a designer but rather a technician who will point and click as per the instructions.
Ideally, clients should point out the problems and allow the designer to find the solutions. Designers, in most cases, have a lot more experience and expertise in design than the client and are capable of suggesting alternative solutions that may not have occurred to the client. Limiting the designer’s creativity will curb their ability to add value to the product and may be the difference between a great product and a truly exceptional one.
Understand the thought behind the design
A lot of designs get rejected because they are not exactly what the client had preconceived it would be. While reviewing designs it is crucial that clients set aside their preconceived notions and actually listen to the designer and try and understand their rationale behind the design. Generally having more experience, the designer may have found a solution that better addresses the problem than the solution that the client had in mind.
Provide clear and concise feedback
Designers, at times, receive feedback that is along the lines of ‘There is something about it I do not like’. The designer now has no clue on how to proceed. Receiving feedback like the one above does not let the designer know what aspects of the design were well received and what aspects need to be changed.
Providing proper feedback will allow the designer to focus on those aspects that need to be changed and allow them to create a better design. Also explaining the rationale behind any changes required will allow the designer to suggest any better possibilities, if they exist. Further, timely feedback is essential to ensure that there are no delays and that the project adheres to the estimated timelines.
Try not to decide by committee
A lot of projects get held up because every decision, no matter how small they may be, has to be made by a number of key people. Especially true in bigger companies, a lot of time is wasted waiting for the feedback from all they key people involved.
A smarter way to handle this is would be to have one key person make all the decisions and if required, involve the others only when there are major decisions to be made. This will allow the project to move along faster come to a speedy finish
Explain the design when showing it to others
The important thing to understand, while showing a design around, is that design is subjective and being as such different people will have different opinions about it. It is therefore essential to first explain to the people being shown the design the rationale behind the design and who the target audience is. This will allow them to first understand the design and then judge it rather than judging the design on the aesthetic value alone.
Build a relationship with the designer
Al l products, be it websites, portals or software, require periodic tweaks and changes to maintain or increase their effectiveness and value. Therefore building a good, strong relationship with the designer will not only help a project flow smoother but will be invaluable for the future.
Have a relationship that is based on trust and mutual respect and understanding will increase the willingness of the designer to work with you in the future. As they were involved from the beginning, their knowledge about the product will lead to huge savings in terms of time, money and effort when the time comes to make any changes or tweaks.
In the end
It is important to remember that producing anything exceptional takes time. Giving designers the time and the space to properly utilize their skills will allow them to create designs that add value and bring out the best in your product. Clearly state what you hope to achieve and the target audience but set aside any preconceived notions when reviewing the designs as their vision might be the one that is best for the end-user. Collaborate closely and work as a team to create exceptional, successful products.
Importance of effective communication in creative work
The prevalent practice today is for the designer to receive the design brief from the client and then go away and design in isolation and only communicate with the client once the designs are finished. Problems begin to arise upon realization, during the review stage, that the client and the designer are not on the same page due to a lack of proper communication. The leading cause for rejected designs, project delays, increases in project costs, etc. is lack of effective communication.
Communication is of critical importance during the early stages of the project as the designer has to really understand the client’s business, what the client hopes to achieve with the product, who the target audiences are, etc. before they can begin designing. During this stage, the designer needs to really listen and absorb everything the client is saying as the client knows their businesses better than the designers do. This will allow the designer to create designs that are more aligned to what the client wants and needs.
However, that is not to say that communication is necessary only during the initial stages of the project. Frequent, effective communication throughout the lifecycle of the project ensures that the project stays on track and that the end result is an exceptional product. Frequent communication also removes any assumptions that are sometimes made by the designer and enables them to create great designs that truly add value.
Here are a few tips that will enable for better communication between designers and clients.
Set up an effective system
Keeping track of what was said by clients about different aspects of the project can be challenging. However, this can easily be overcome by using an effective project management tool like Basecamp, Lighthouse, Springloops, etc. Setting up a standardized system will make it easy for both the client and the designer to keep track of all the communication and ensures that nothing slips through the cracks. This also helps the designer go back and check any points the client had mentioned which the designer may have forgotten, thus enabling them to not unnecessarily bother the client.
Communicate frequently
Communication should not take place only during the beginning and end of the project. Frequently asking clients for their feedback and clarifying queries will allow the designer to save time and effort by creating designs that work for the client and the product instead of wasting it on designs the client does not need. It will further help build a good relationship with the client, an invaluable asset in any project.
Use extensive visual aids
At times, clients may have an idea of what they want but may not be able to properly explain it. Showing them reference sites and asking them of their opinions on them will allow the designer to know what elements the client likes and provide a better picture of what the client wants. Further, this will allow the designer to pick up certain nuances of the clients requirements that do not usually appear when only asking questions. Sharing color pallets, wireframes, image libraries, sample sites, etc. will give the designer a greater understanding of the client’s mindset as it will be easier for the client to show the designer which aspects they like rather than for them to explain which aspects they want in their product.
When in doubt, ask questions
Clients, at times, may not see the need for the designer to fully understand their business and hence may not provide all the necessary information. That is why it is essential for the designer to be proactive and ask questions to receive the information that they need and get on the same page as the client. Further, asking questions will remove any misunderstandings and misconceptions that may exist, thus allowing the designer to create designs that are more in tune with what the client needs and save time and effort that otherwise would have been spent on designs that do not work.
Be patient and avoid jargon
It is important for both clients and designers to be patient and to explain things properly. Always remember that the other person is not an expert in ones field therefore avoid using jargon. It can be very frustrating for the other person when one speaks in industry jargons so if it cannot be avoided the least one could do is explain what it means. Explanations should be made in a language that the other person easily understands thereby avoiding any misunderstandings.
Try not to waste the other person's time
Remember that clients are busy and may not have a lot of time to spend on their design projects. This is why it is important to respect their time and to make the communications count. Asking all the questions in one mail as opposed to asking them one question every day will allow them to save the amount of time they spend in communication with the designer. Further, it is essential to be as clear as possible while communicating to avoid too much of back and forth just to understand a single issue.
Put everything in writing
As far as possible, it is important to have all communication in writing as this provides a record of everything said by both parties. Not only is it essential from a legal aspect, having a record allows the designer to go back and see what the client had said about different aspects of the project. It is good practice to take down notes during face-to-face meetings or important design calls and then to email those notes so that the client has an idea of the issues that were discussed and can check if any topic has been missed out.
In the end
It is important for designers to remember that design is a client service industry and as with any service that caters to clients, communication between the service provider and the client is essential. Effectively communicating with the client will enable the designer to get on the same page as the client and allows them to work together to create exceptional results.
Soul searching before starting a new website
You strongly feel that your company needs a new website. You start looking for web designers but are you really ready, as a company, to get the most out of your new website? Many companies come to the decision to create a new website or revamp an existing one and immediately begin looking for designers and go right ahead with the design and development. However, they often find that the end result does not live up to the initial hope the company had.
Building an effective website essentially consists of three stages:
  • •  Positioning and Messaging
  • •  Visual Design
  • •  Technical Implementation
Who you engage to do your website work will define, at the
end, what you really get. If you engage a technically competent company with little business communication skills you will get a website that works but does not communicate.
As we can see, web designers and web developers do not assist you in the critical stage of positioning your company and creating the key messages for your market. On the other hand Integrated Communication Design Firms are more expensive but provide high impact results.
Even if you engage an integrated communication design firm, it is always advisable to do some soul searching and homework about your business around positioning and messaging as even these firms may not know your domain and surely won’t know your business. Here's how you can approach this soul searching exercise.
Integrated Communication Design Firm Web Designer Web Developer
Positioning & Messaging
Visual Design
Technical Implementation
Brand Positioning
Brand positioning is a broad exercise that is done to evolve a company's brand positioning strategy. The purpose of this is not limited to just creating a website, however it is an important step before a high impact website can be created.
During this process, the top management of the company gathers to reflect and decide the company’s personality and positioning with respect to the current business scenario. It involves discussion and debates over the company’s vision, values, strengths, aspirations, focus, target customers and competition. The main idea is to decide where the company is currently positioned and where it wants to be, what
differentiates it from the competition and how it wants its brand to be perceived by its target audience.
The results of this positioning will act as "guiding principles" in all the company's marketing activities and also drives their actions in how they manage their business in areas like innovation, cost control, people management and more. The clear and concise verbalization of positioning enables the company to manage the different elements of their business in a consistent way ("all tactical actions and messages aligned in the same direction").
The aim of this is to create a concrete understanding of the company's position so as to develop strategies to go from where it is to where it wants to be. The diagram below shows in detail the various areas covered in the positioning exercise.
Messaging is conveying the company's positioning and value propositions in a manner that builds the best connect with customers and employees. Messaging is crucial as it will form the central theme that all other marketing activities connect to.
Once the positioning has been done, the next step is creating the core message that the company wishes to communicate to its customers, employees, investors, share holders and the public in general. While ‘Tag-lines’ may be the most visible element, messaging goes beyond that and covers all the key messages. The most effective messaging are those that are benefit-focused based on the target audience’s wants and needs. Ideally the message should reflect what sets the company apart from the competition or what uniquely represents it as an entity.
The message should be easy to read, understand and remember and should evoke emotions that draw the right customers towards the company for the right reasons. When creating the messaging, key questions that have to be taken into account are:
  • •  What is the core message that you are trying to deliver?
  • •  Who are the target audiences and what kind of messaging works best with them?
  • •  What tone should the message be delivered in?
  • •  What are the promises you want to make and what value do propose to deliver?
In the current business environment of fierce competition, messaging has become even more crucial as more and more people are looking to do business with those companies that they feel a connect with. This is especially true of companies as they are no longer looking for merely someone to do their work or give them a product but rather for someone that they can build deep, long lasting relationships with based on trust and a mutual alignment of goals and values. In such a scenario, proper messaging can be the difference between gaining a customer and losing them to the competition.
To summarize
Before designing a new website, it is first important to decide what you want to achieve from the website, decide the company’s brand character and define the company’s current positioning and messaging. These aspects play a huge role in not only how the content is structured and delivered but it also influences the look and feel of the site.
While employing a web designer or developer will get your site done, an integrated communication design firm can help with the positioning and messaging and enable you to get maximum value out of your website. In the current business environment, where companies are looking for partners to build relationships with, well thought out positioning and properly articulated messaging are vital aspects for success.
Top ten bad habits of design firms and their clients
In the design industry, there are some projects that run smoothly and finished on time and within budget, effectively building a strong and trusting relationship between the client and the design firm. On the other hand, there are certain projects that are fraught with problems from missed deadlines to going over budget and are so filled with conflicts and frustration that in some extreme cases has caused the entire project to be cancelled midway.
While everybody hopes that their projects will go smoothly like the former, there are a number of things that both clients as well as design firms do that almost guarantee the latter. These issues could build up and snowball to a point where the relationship gets effectively destroyed and both parties lose out in terms of time, effort and money.
Here are the top ten bad habits of design firms and their clients in no particular order.
Lack of effective communication
This is perhaps the single biggest problem both design firms and clients have and it is the root cause of most of the other conflicts that arise between clients and design firms. A lack of effective communication leads to clients rejecting designs, designers not understanding the client’s requirements, missed deadlines, last minute increases in project scope and much more. A failure to effectively communicate can drag a project well past its estimated completion time and cause it to become unprofitable to both the client as well as the design firm.
Effective communication should take place throughout the life of the project and effectively listening and understanding what is being said is a crucial aspect of it. Right at the start the client should clearly state the aim of the project, who is the target audience, what it is they are looking for in the project, etc. The design firm, in turn, needs to clearly understand the client’s requirements and communicate with them to discuss any queries they have instead of just guessing what the client would want. Once the project is underway, concise and timely feedback from the clients is required to let the designers know that they are on track, which in turn allows the project to follow the established timelines.
Rushing the project
More and more, companies are limiting the time and money that they are willing to spend on their websites. This has led them to expect the website to be designed and developed on almost unrealistic timelines. What they seem to forget is that producing something exceptional takes time. The designer needs time to consider all the options and map out the various ways in which it could all come together. Perfect coding and flawless functionality takes serious time and effort from the developers and rushing them could mean sub-par code in the final product.
On the other hand it is equally important to ensure that the design firm is focused on the client’s work and that the project does not drag on forever. It is therefore important for both the client and the design firm to sit down and map out realistic timelines and ensure that those timelines are strictly adhered to.
Losing track of the big picture
Once the project is well into the design phase, both the clients and designers tend to get caught up with the little details and may, at times, forget what the main aim of the project. Now details are important but spending weeks changing and rechanging tiny little details can cause the project to drag on and in the end the design firm may decide to merely give the client what they ask for and not what is best the project.
It is important to always remember that the aim is not to give the client what they want but rather to give the end-users what they need. Be it a website, portal or software, every item in terms of design and functionality should be catered to the end-user experience as they are the ones who will finally decide the value of the product.
Not spending enough time on ideation
The ideation phase is a crucial stage for any project but is, for some reason or the other, not properly done in many cases. The prevalent practice is to begin designing immediately after receiving the client brief without giving too much thought to what the client actually wants and the best way to provide it. Designing like this can lead to losses in terms of time, effort and money as the client will most likely not approve the designs.
Before any designing begins, the designer, developer and business analyst must sit together and ideate the various options and ways of adding value to the product. Close collaboration with the client during this stage also helps understand the client’s mindset and allows the designer to clarify as to what can and cannot be put into the product. Proper ideation saves everybody involved time, effort and money and goes a long way in bringing the project to a swift and successful finish.
Lack of proper and timely feedback
At times, the client feedback comes after a huge delay or worse, the feedback is short and vague like ‘I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about it’. Both these situations are difficult for designs firms as the first delays the project making it impossible to follow the estimated timelines and the second impossible to tell which aspects of the design the client liked and which aspects need to be changed.
For a project to be successfully completed on time it is essential that reviews and feedback is posted in a timely manner. The feedback also needs be as detailed as possible citing the aspects that were liked and those that need to be changed. Further, citing the reasons for why some aspects need to be changed will allow the designer to better create a design that suits the client’s requirements.
Conflicts arising due to one trying to do the others job
Certain clients have a tendency to tell the designers exactly what to do in terms of what colors to use, what structure to follow, etc. While this gives them a feeling of control over the project it is in fact is detrimental to the overall success of the project as the client is not hiring a designer but rather a technician to implement their design. This prohibits the designer from using their skills and experience in creating the best possible product.
Clients should ideally point out the problems and let the designer come up with the solutions. If the solution does not work then the client can make suggestions but they should avoid telling the designer exactly what to do. Further, stifling the designer does not allow them to add value to the product.
Too many cooks spoil the broth
It is understandable that when a client commissions a design project they would like to take the opinions of those around them. Though this is a completely normal thing, problems arise due to the fact that design is subjective. Being subjective, each person will have different opinions especially if they do not understand the background of the project. It is therefore essential that the client first explain to the people viewing the design the rationale behind the design and who the target market is before they ask for their options.
Further, if there are multiple key people involved in the project then decision making becomes a nightmare. If the opinion of multiple key people has to be taken before any decision can be taken, no matter how small the decision may be, then the project will drag on as it will take significant time to gather all the opinions. A smarter alternative would be to have one key person head the project and have the other key people involved in only the major decisions, thus speeding up the decision making process.
On the flip side, if too many senior designers are involved in the design then this could also cause the project to drag on as each designer has their very own style that they like to follow. Ideally, there should be more senior designers during the ideation stage of the project and once that is complete, one senior designer and some junior designers creating the designs.
Overworking the design in an effort to get it just right
Client's sometimes fall into the design trap of overworking the design in an effort to achieve that perfect design. They make multiple minor changes that hold up the entire project and cause it to drag on well past the estimated deadlines. While the goal to attain the perfect design is completely understandable it is important to realize that design is subjective and there is no such thing as a perfect design.
This overworking usually happens because clients feel that they have only one shot of getting it right. It is however better to first finish the product and then make changes based on data collected from watching users interact with the product as well as user feedback instead of just the opinions of a few people.
Responsibilities are not clearly defined
At times, design firms face the issue of clients increasing the scope of the project without wanting to pay for that increased scope. This usually happens because the client is not from a technical background and does not know the time and effort needed to add the functionality that they had asked for. This could lead to major conflicts and arguments between the client and the design firm and cause the relationship to sour.
In order to protect the interests of both the client and the design firm and avoid these conflicts, it is essential that a contract that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities be drawn up right at the start of the project. Doing so will ensure that there is a legal written document that ensures that both parties fulfill their responsibilities and hold up their end of the contract.
Effective websites require an ongoing partnership
The prevalent practice is for the client to commission the design or redesign of a website and then just walk away once it is ready with no further thought given to whether or not the site is providing the best value that it can to them. It is crucial to understand that effective website require periodic monitoring and tweaking. No matter how good the design firm is or how well the client knows the target audience there will always be certain parts of the website that will be better received than others. Effective websites are those that are periodically tweaked to improve the underperforming parts and further build on the effective parts.
Ideally clients should engage a design firm on a monthly basis and build an ongoing partnership with them. This allows them to easily tweak their websites to greater effectiveness based on data collected from user feedback and user analysis.
In the end
This is by no way a comprehensive list of the conflicts that arise due to the things done or not done by both clients and design firms but merely the top ten issues that we have observed over the years. While adhering to this list does not guarantee that the project will not have problems, it will go a long way in ensuring the smooth sailing of the project and allows for the development of a deep relationship built on trust and mutual respect.