My Response to "Hiring a Designer: A Client's Perspective"

Graphic designer David Airey's blog features a post by Aditya Mahesh in which the author describes a client's primary concerns when seeking out someone to design and build their website. I think it's a good list, and the issues are consistent with my perceptions from more than a decade in the business. It's recommended reading for anyone providing freelance services, and not just web designers, because the issues are universal.

I'd like to extend the discussion by adding my perceptions and opinions to the points raised by the author. The original articles points are shown in bold type.

  1. I don't know what I want. In my experience, that's not usually the case, but it's very likely that the client doesn't know if what he wants is (a) what he needs, or (b) realistic. Web designers with basic business and marketing skills and experience can provide helpful advice regarding the former, and their technical expertise will allow them to guide the client in the latter area. Listening carefully to the client and being willing to discuss rather than dictate are keys to getting this right.

  2. I need control. Again, my experience is that some clients are strangely willing to cede almost complete control to me, even going so far as to request my input on developing their fundamental business strategies and marketing tactics. I'm flattered when that happens, but that doesn't mean I'm always comfortable with it. The best situation is where the client wants to brainstorm those issues with me, or use me as a sounding board, because the better I understand her business goals and strategies, the more likely I can create a website that facilitates their execution.

  3. I'm unsure about pricing. This is probably the most uncomfortable area of discussion for client and consultant alike. It took me a while to understand that my fees are what they are; I don't have to justify them, and if the client's budget or preconceived notions get in the way, then we're both better off with other partners. That said, the client should understand that if I quote $xx per hour for website maintenance, his focus should probably be on what I can get done in an hour, not just the cost of that hour. As a professional, I will be significantly more efficient than his non-design staff in getting web-related tasks accomplished. Many small business owners say they want to take over website maintenance once the site is up and running, but very few will actually have the time and skills needed to do the job right. [One more thing about pricing: it helps if the designer can spell out her pricing on her website so that the client has no excuse for being "surprised" by the rate.]

  4. I appreciate honesty and quality. Website design as a profession is in danger of becoming this century's snake oil salesmen (no offense to any snake oil salesmen in the audience). A significant part of my business comes from fixing problems caused by other "designers" who failed to deliver. Sure, it's a hard thing to tell a client that you can't do what they're asking you to do, either because you don't have the time or [especially] because you don't have the skill, but there's almost nothing that the client will appreciate more than hearing that exact thing. For example, I don't do Flash-based websites, period, for a variety of reasons. I often hear from prospective clients who say they want a Flash website, and just as often, after I tell them that I don't do that kind of work and explain why, they decide that they don't really need Flash after all, and I end up doing the same project using different technology. [Now, there will be times where the client's requirements will legitimately require you to expand your technical skills, perhaps even moving outside your comfort zone and taking some risks to get the project completed. This is not a bad thing. As a designer, if you're not learning, you're losing.]

  5. I want you to stick around. Again, here's where the "snake oil salesman" comparison comes into play. Unreliable or disappearing designers are the bane of the profession, and they make us all look bad. I know why it happens, and, frankly, clients bear part of the blame. They think that if their nephew in junior high can design a site for them for $50, that's a better deal than paying a true professional. Then they panic when the junior high student discovers the opposite sex and decides there are more important things in life than working on uncle's goofy website. Just because someone has a copy of Front Page and Photoshop doesn't mean they can do the job, and the low barriers to entry into the profession also make for non-existent barriers to exit. There's just no substitute for availability and reliability on the part of the website designer. It will pay off in repeat business and referrals. In fact, my experience has been that reliability will even trump design skills, especially when dealing with small businesses and organizations.

2 Comments

Great points! I especially like #5. I am also a web designer and have run into the EXACT same issues time and time again. We have to have standards as designers and stick to them. Otherwise we end up becoming the McDonald's of art. Why yes I'd like a number 2 and can you supersize that?

This should be standard reading for anyone who wants to do web design for others! I've experienced the same results in my dealing with clients.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on August 11, 2009 8:26 AM.

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