It takes more than compelling content and intelligent coding to produce a great website. A successful relationship between a designer and a client is, perhaps, just as imperative.
Take a look through your portfolio. Are there any projects in there that you weren’t quite happy with? If so, think back to your relationship with that client. Were both parties on the same page, so to speak?
Over the years, I have found that some of my best work has been done in collaboration with clients, not in spite of them. Working with my client as if they are a teammate, rather than someone ordering a sandwich from me at a fast food counter, often means good things are in store for their website.
On the other hand, there have been clients who have been more difficult to work with. Or, perhaps it was me who was more difficult to work with at that time. Either way, the quality of the finished product tends to suffer in these situations.
Here are some tips for teaming up with your clients:
Find a Balance of Power
As designers, some of us (myself included) tend to think the world revolves around our opinions. After all, we’re the experts who have been hired to do the job right.
Sometimes the very mention of a certain idea from a client sends a chill down our spine. The more arrogant among us may even make an ill-regarded comment about it.
The trouble is, at that moment, we’ve tried to shift all the power to our side. While it’s certainly nice to have a lot of say in the design process, the relationship between designer and client can be harmed.
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Be humble. The key is to listen to what your client has to say. Then, try to figure out what they are trying to accomplish with it. As the expert, try and take what they have suggested and build upon it in a way that makes sense for the project. If you’re not sure what their intent was, don’t be afraid to ask them to provide more clarity.
The bottom line is, the client must have some say in the process. How much say really depends on the individual(s) involved. Some people are more hands-on than others. The idea is to form a relationship where both sides can speak honestly about their ideas.
Be Accessible (Not Just in Your Code)
There are a lot of people out there who are a bit intimidated by technology. When they hire you to create an amazing new site for their business, they may not know how to communicate with you. As a designer, you may also have problems communicating with someone who doesn’t know WordPress from GoDaddy.
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A lack of communication with your clients can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and revisions of your hard work. It’s important to try and explain things as plainly as you can. Speak slowly and let them know it’s ok to ask you questions. Show them examples of the ideas you’re presenting.
This can take a lot of patience, but it can really help your client to feel empowered. If they feel more confident about what’s going on, they’ll be able to make better decisions.
Be a Tour Guide, Not a Professor
There are times when you may have to train your clients to use a CMS or some other piece of software. Probably the worst thing you can do is to sit down at their desk and just start clicking away at features.
Instead, try letting the client "drive" the demo. Explain different features of the software and politely ask that they click on specific areas of interest. Think of yourself as a helpful passenger who is pointing out landmarks in a city.
Again, this is about making your client feel more at ease with what is happening. It helps build their confidence and their trust in you as a "tour guide".
I’ve found that, when I’m exceptionally busy, it can be hard to take the time to work on that team atmosphere with my clients. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like just getting the project done is the goal.
Still, even for the stressed out among us, taking those extra few moments to engage our clients can have huge benefits in terms of how well you work together. I often find that doing so brings more of the human element to a project. And that, in turn, can reduce stress.
Chances are that you and your client will still work together long after their new website is launched. Remember to make that extra effort to become a part of a team. You’ll both feel better, and their website will be better off for it.