I recently had a chat with a prospective client, he has an upcoming business venture and is in the market to get a website designed and developed. He had the usual questions about cost and turn around and then asked about my process. He told me that all of the designers he had talked to thus far offer a project price and supply the client with 3 designs, he is then able to select which one he likes the best and they will do up to 3 rounds of revisions on that design before moving onto development. Sounds like this could be a pretty typical approach to the design process, however, this is not my process.
So then, what is my process?
Step One: Listening to your client
I start all of my projects with a consultation. I meet with my client, usually for about 2 hours. The purpose of this meeting is to get the client talking about their goals for the design, the business and it’s needs, the audience or customer who will be using the site, the clients aesthetic tastes and preferences, the brand and how these aesthetic tastes relate to the established look of the brand, etc. I don’t give out many ideas in this meeting, its more about asking questions and encouraging my client to open up. Being a Designer is a lot like being a therapist, I spend a good amount of time just listening to my clients to hone in on what they are really looking to achieve.
Step Two: Research
After meeting with my client and getting an overall view of what they are looking to accomplish, I spend some time digging deeper into the information they have supplied me about their business, audience and goals. I check out their competitors sites and also look at other industries websites and the strategies they use to solve similar problems. I study the aesthetic elements that they client highlighted in our talk about their tastes and figure out how those can relate to the brand or if they don’t fit – I find alternatives that may also appeal to the clients sensibility while staying in vein with the brands look and feel. All of this gives me the clear calls to action, the information that needs to be included and it’s hierarchy.
From here I start sketching, whether it be on the computer or on some graph paper, I do some very rough wireframing of the main page layouts. I block how the elements will layout on the pages and how they relate to one another.
With these rough sketches and my refined analysis of our consultation, I go back to my client with my assessment of our talk. We go over the key points I pulled out and then we review my wireframes and I go over how I plan to set about addressing the issues at hand. Sometimes, at this stage there is something that a client then recalls that they feel is important that we hadn’t yet discussed – this is our time to make any directional changes on the sites overall message and adjust accordingly.
If the adjustments and/or additions are fairly minimal and we feel as if we are on the “same page” with each other, things move into the next phase….
Step Three: Design
Design to me is a very methodical process, the part where I am listening to my client or where I am researching their user base is just as important to me as when I choose that background HEX color. Once the preliminary steps are taken and I am clear on the direction to move, the design work begins. This is, my favorite part!
Step Four: Refine & Polish – Rinse & Repeat
Once I’ve completed a design mock-up I upload it to my web server, so that I am able to present the design to the client in a way that is very close to how it will appear in its final form. I simply save out a flattened image from my PSD and put in onto an HTML page. If there are multiple layouts within the site I will use image map linking to simulate functional navigation for the client, and they can click from page to page to see the various layouts. After the clients review we go over the design again and tie up any loose ends before I move on to development.
It is important to make sure that all of your design decisions are settled in this stage before you start slicing and coding. Include in your PSD all of the text elements that may be a part of the site including numbered lists, h1 – h5 tags, blockquotes, WordPress image captions, etc. Talk with your client about how the navigation and other interactive elements will function – if you’re planning to use any jquery functions, send them an example of your plan or mock something up for them.
Taking the time to settle all these details now will make development a faster process, plus you’re client will feel more at ease talking to you about text color in the stage. Many clients feel a sense of panic when they get a functioning site back and it isn’t exactly what they expected, (even if you have explained revisions can be done.) It’s best to set clear expectations early on, so there won’t be any surprises!
I work a little different than some, putting my emphasis early on into communication with my client, research and experimentation to find the proper solution for their needs. I’m also a little different in that I don’t offer a specific number of revision rounds. I want my client to walk away thrilled, not just happy, ecstatic!
Why this Works
I’m sure many of your are reading this and thinking that offering unlimited revisions would set you up to be walked all over and worked to the bone, but this isn’t the case. Sure you could end up regretting this approach if not executed properly… it’s all about the approach.
For starters, you have to present yourself to the client as an expert in what you do. Show your enthusiasm and knowledge, make them feel secure with giving you the reigns. This part is tricky, because it can’t be faked. Appose to what some freelancers would spout on their blogs, clients are not stupid. Demanding, Unreasonable at times, but not stupid. If you don’t really believe you know how to take charge of this project and give their business the best solution, they will sense this – and that’s going to make then nervous.
It’s important to set boundaries early on and let your client know what they can expect. I really do believe that the great majority of nightmare client situations happen when the client gets nervous about your capability to deliver what they need. It’s in situations like that where they may feel the need to micro-manage. Before you kick off the project talk to them about your process, and what will be expected from them. Outline in your contract the specifics of what you are including in your project price (number of layout designs, functionality, features, browser support etc.)
Care. This is a big one in my eyes. Once you start looking at your client as just another paycheck, it is obvious. Remember why you are in this industry! You love design, right? Designs not fine art, it’s not about free range on personal expression. Its about lending your unique experience and skills to a client and helping them to grow their business through smart solutions. It’s creative, but it is also strategic! Part of a successful design process and creating an ongoing relationship with your client is to really care about their business and how your design solution is going to contribute to the future of that business.
What is Your Process?
Do you do multiple designs or focus on one? How do you handle revisions? Leave a comment and let me know about your process or your thoughts on all that I’ve wrote here about mine. Thanks for reading! :)