Tips for a great web designer-client relationship

Article Overview

As the director of a web design studio, I have realised the vital significance of clear communication channels between the allocated web design team and the client. Being a Web Designer, I have noticed quite clearly that each website design and graphic design assignment has its own particular brief/instructions but that on the whole the main proposition that exists between designer/client communication is still the same. Although the various web projects and briefs might vary in size, scope and complexity, there is one thing that does remain vital to the overall success of any web project and that is the relationship between the designer and the client. It is actually quite amazing to see this friendship ( if you can call it that) blossom over the life of the project. Between all the phone calls and emails, getting some large websites across the line through to finishing stage can be quite an arduous task and this leads to a strong bond between the two. In fact, its not uncommon for gifts or flowers to be given once the site has been uploaded. Following are a few of my insights and tips on how to establish and keep up a great client/designer relationship


One very important factor that you must note is the ability to be able to communicate truthfully with a client or designer. If you are open and honest from the very beginning of the web project then the final outcome will always be a lot better, with very few road bumps along the way. Over promising and under delivering from the web designers perspective is a very common mistake. More often than not, in the rush to get the job on board and to keep a client happy a designer will commit to more design time than was quoted and this can lead to unrealistic expectations from the client. Being honest from the beginning about design, navigation and site size will save everyone time, money and ensure that the project remains on target. At Hopping Mad, to avoid any such situations we do mitigate any web derailment by fully scoping out the project by providing a comprehensive set of wire frames before any design work is carried out. This is based on the initial brief given by the client. Of course in some cases, the client will try to push for a bit more but we are able to ensure that expectations are maintained by setting everything out in writing from the outset. This does include site architecture and graphic/web design ideas.

Being truthful through out the whole design process means that all parties will be happy upon project completion. There is absolutely nothing worse than hearing that the client is unhappy with the end result even thought there have been rounds and rounds of design amends. Being clear with your thoughts and honest in your opinions all the time during this process will mean that the final web solution is what was expected.

This collaborative process also works in the other direction as well too. For example, at Hopping Mad Designs we are simple not order takers or ‘ yes people’. We are not afraid to speak out and tell it is, like the way it should be and what our thoughts and opinions are. This is what we are paid for and as web designers our clients do expect our honest and forthright opinion on all web matters. If we are truthful and open about our design ideas, site navigation and content then the final result will be better all round. The client has to remember that we are the experts and sometimes its vital that we express our opinions.
Saying this, honesty and communication is a two way process and at HMD we always conduct ourselves in a very professional manner. Honesty can sometimes be brutal, but we look upon this as communicating it in a friendly and very constructive manner. This way we can ensure that the web project will be finished on time, on budget and with every one smiling at the end of the project.

Professional Attitude

This pearl of wisdom might appear to be plain as day but still does need to be looked at. At all stages of the web project or any graphic design project the communication between client/designer needs to be handled in a highly professional and very courteous manner. Leave the egos and attitude at the door as all parties are here to work together. If the designer is very opinionated and stubborn this may lead to complications, conversely if the client is over bearing and dominant this may affect the communication process. The best way forward with any web design project is to start off on the right footing so that each party is on the same page. Friendliness and service with a smile is what its all about and this is something that we do value highly at Hopping Mad Designs. All our web team are easy going, professional experts that are able to contribute their design advice and input without the attitude. This means that the project will be off to a good start from the get go. If we are relaxed, then you will also be. Tempers are never raised here and the whole office vibe is one of web collaboration and forward momentum.
Some clients need to understand that most designers are university trained experts when it comes to building and developing web sites. They will have had years of design experience based on previous assignments and therefore any arguments that they put forward should be listened to carefully and their advice should be taken with a certain amount of respect, which they deserve.

Transparent Fee Structure

Being upfront about your fees and on going costs associated with a web site build and development in my opinion is critical to the success of the relationship. There are far too many web companies who will quote low to get the business and then slug you, the client, with additional fees. What can happen, and this is a huge issue in the web industry, is that designers will quote a low, basic, one off fee for a website. What they never tell you is:
 – The cost to make any design amends. The surest way to get someone off side is to keep hitting them up with a cost each time they need to make a design change. At Hopping mad Designs we detail the amount of design iterations allowed in our quote and will let you know when your limit has been reached. Obviously, we do not have the meter running like a taxi and are flexible in the amount of design amends allowed. Our design approach ensures that the relationship that starts out smoothly and friendly, ends in the same way.
 – The yearly cost for hosting. This is an ongoing fee as all websites need to to be hosted somewhere. But, what they don’t tell you is that it has to be hosted with them and that the CMS platform that the site is built around needs a certain type of hosting which only they can provide. It is these snippets of information that need to be clearly stated at the commencement of the project to avoid any fallouts.
 – Note that some companies will offer varied payment structures. Its good to know what these are in advance prior to any work being done. A good idea to keep the relationship on an even keel is to get an initial deposit and then get paid in stages. Say one further payment after initial designs are presented and then one final payment prior to site deployment. Having a fee structure like this ensures that all design and development milestones are met and that payment has been made based on these achievements. If the designer is not delivering then you should not have to pay, and conversely if the website has been completed to your satisfaction then it is your duty and obligation to pay for this service.

Ideas, Ideas and even More Ideas

Communication is the most important component in any relationship. Whether it be personal or profession the key to the success of a working partnership is the ability to relate ideas to each other. This also applies to the design world where ideas presented at the beginning of the project are vital to the success of the site. Working within a design environment we see graphic and visual ideas each and every day. No matter how simple, complex or silly they may seem its is a great idea to get all these out in the open. As a client, you may like to show us sites that you like/don’t like or bring a collage or mood board to the table at our first meeting to give us an idea of the design direction you would like to move in. As designers, it is our job to take all this on board in a very open minded approach. This open working relationship, and the discussion of ideas means that the project will have gotten off on the best possible footing. Holding things back, being afraid to articulate thoughts is what can lead to relationship breakdowns. At Hoping Mad, our professional, friendly approach to customer service means that we are able to get all the information from you needed to start the design process. No matter how insignificant or small you think an idea may be, we just might be able to take it and use it at a later stage. The more ideas you can come up with the better it is for our web team.

Set Realistic Expectations.

Be honest and realistic about the web process and what the website can achieve. This can often lead to big issues and client/designer relationship breakdowns if mishandled. Never say one thing in order to please the client as you may feel pressured to do so and then do another. The best way to keep things happy is to document all amends or changes and email them to the client for confirmation. There are so many areas involved in web design and internet marketing that you have to be realistic c about what the website will be able to do for their business. Saying comments like this will bring in heaps more business is simple not true and can lead to problems later on when this does not happen. One important and vital point is to never discuss or promise SEO rankings unless you have the backing of a expert. Over promising web rankings once site is completed is a sure way to mess a fine relationship up.

Speak in a Common Language.

OK, so you are a web experts. You know all the lingo, slang and cool new buzz words that are sure to impress. But, the layman business owner has never heard of these before and speaking to him as though he understands what you are saying will only aggravate things. For these business people the web process can often be intimidating and uncomfortable. its the job of the web designer to ‘dumb it down’ and speak in a language that is easy to understand and makes the whole process a lot simpler. Its always a good buzz, dazzling the client with your knowledge and jargon, but what may seem like fun at the outset will just annoy them when an issue needs to be resolved. This is why at HMD all designers are in-house and have a knack of getting on the same wave length as our clients. Just imaging if your work was all out sourced and you had to work with a designer who did not understand the Australian work ethic/culture and was also speaking to you in ‘geek speak’. This would only lead to a relationship breakdown and fast. This is why its best to have local people working on your site who can understand what you want and can clearly explain things if needed.

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