Successful Client Education in Web Development
This post is dedicated to my fellow web designers and developers to share our experience of knowledge exchange between the developer and the client. Our field combines business development, graphic design, technology, and user experience design – a basketful of very different areas of expertise. When dealing with clients one does face a challenge of clearly and effectively communicating the goals and results of work performed in the mentioned areas.
We believe that our core purpose is to solve business challenges for our clients. No, I haven’t forgotten you Mac-loving-single-mouse-button-fanatic designers; a business solution includes an application platform, solid data design, and web design which makes the UI and the site approachable and easy to use (convert, transact, click on a monkeys butt, etc.). Your everyday challenge, then, becomes to successfully deliver the project on time while satisfying the clients requirements for visual, business, and aesthetic requirements.
You're Not as Smart as You Think
But Google Is
The challenge here is that I like to think I’m always right (boy, would my wife have a thing to say about this) and that becomes tricky when communicating with clients. As a professional in the field, I am able to detect patterns, usability issues, trends in the industry and other important issues that the client might not be aware of. On the other hand, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to semiconductor temperature tolerances, furniture preferred at pre-school institutions, or the importance of steel spikes in this year’s fashion of lederhosen. My client, on the other hand, is an Encyclopedia Britannica for every single one of those topics. What I am trying to say is that you need to remember that you're an expert of your field only and that you should prick up your ears when the client is telling you something.
We Can Both Win
Negotiating for a win-win result
So as you’re treading through your pitiful pixel pushing existence you need to be aware of things that might put your sorry developer/designer self in a position that is advantageous in getting those project sticking points negotiated through. Have you ever had a client who wanted a larger logo on their website? Maybe a logo which is made in flash and a little earth spins and then sparks!? All valid requirements, I’m sure, and so as you were slowly stabbing your quads with a pencil under the table in the meeting you should have realized that owners of businesses love their brands and have emotional attachment to them. Your response, then, should be based on a composite of research based facts (best presented as a link to a reputable source on the web), an explanation that is specific to their business.
Client: "I really want a bigger logo; I feel like it's getting lost in the site"
You:I understand why your brand is important to you. I have an example of research based on the top 500 retailers on the internet and the resulting logo sizes. The research indicates that the logo should take up less or similar space to the size of their call to action element or a 1/4th of the width of the site at max. In our case, we have that “view products” link that should be the key point of focus on the website.
Sometimes Bending Over is Part of Your Job
A successful negotiator (you are a negotiator; maybe not a gun totting hostage holding Samuel L. Jackson, but a negotiator none the less) delivers a solution that allows both parties to win. Your client is happy that their demands have been met by the responsive and well informed web developer, and you are happy because you didn't have to waste time in meetings. Hopefully, after you demonstrate the facts and reasoning for keeping the logo the same size, the client will change their mind and leave you drooling in ecstasy over being right and not having to go back for a fix. In the case that they don’t, you still don’t have to increase the size but perhaps reevaluate the white space and other visual trickery associated with that devilishly sexy design work.
Your voice has to be heard
As I’ve mentioned before, you do wield some authority in this line of work but so does your client in their business. I recommend that on every project you establish attainable and clearly defined goals, goals that will be measured by performance of the website and are supported by strict deadlines. If you or your client don't meet certain goals and deliverables by the designated deadline - you can still try to launch the site if all critical items are completed and then clear up the remaining items once the site is live. This strategy is used by major tech companies such as Google and achieves several important things:
- Forces you to deliver on time
- Forces you to focus on date based deliverables which makes the client easier to educate on “sticky” issues
- Forces the client to deliver content, stock photos, and their ideas to you on time because the resulting missing features will have to be paid on a consulting hourly basis.
As you’re working towards these goals understand that at a certain time your opinion and your decisions on the project is critical to its success – there’s no backing down or shoving your tail between your legs. At certain times you cannot negotiate and a client must understand that they are paying for this expertise you are providing for a reason - you know your stuff!
Keep in mind that your client also has authority and knowledge that might not be accessible to you at the point of negotiations. For example:
You: *Setting a reminder to send some hatemail to IE6 dev team at Microsoft* IE6 is actually an outdated browser that has security flaws, a very poor rendering engine, and has very few users out there. I recommend we don’t accommodate it (Mailchimp doesn’t!) and tell those old bastards to rot in hell.
Client: Did I mention that we service a large restaurant industry and a lot of those terminals are still running Windows XP with IE6?
You: *Update reminder to hunt down IE6 creators*
At the end of the day you are at the mercy of the client and need to deliver all requirements, but you need to perceive your value and be able to demonstrate it through examples, research, and logical arguments. Be responsive; ask a lot of questions to understand the client’s motivation. I endorse client education, but not to the point of losing the client and project. Remember that your client is a resource you should utilize and good communication will allow both of you to get the project finished in time to watch the mens figure skating competition.