Becoming Clueful: What You Should Know Before You Redo Your Web Site
Five tips on what businesses should expect from their web designers and developers
By Esther Schindler
Before you embark on a new web development project, then, it behooves you to learn a bit about the process. I asked several web designers and developers about the most common misperceptions that their clients share. If they could have a single wish come true: that their clients would understand one thing, just one thing, before the client picked up the phone to call, what would it be? Their answers serve as a useful overview of "the least you need to know" about a Web development project.
Understand What You Want
The more clear you are about what you want your Web site to do, the better your chance of getting what you envisioned. That sounds obvious, but web designers report that an inability to articulate the desired result is among their biggest problems. For many web professionals, the most frustating part of the job can be educating the client on how much is involved in transforming the statement, "I need a web site" into an attractive and functional site that conveys the client's message to the client's target audience in a way that speaks to those site visitors.
Naomi Niles, owner of Intuitive Designs, stresses web designers are not mind readers. "Many clients don't know how to explain what they want, so they use the common phrase, 'I'll know it when I see it.' Would you ask the waiter in a restaurant to keep bringing out different dishes for tasting until you find what you like?"
However, you can't design a site by pointing out something a competitor did, and saying, "Give me one just like that." Clients often ask for solutions they have read or seen, says Layne Polzin, CEO of BluSun Media in Gilbert, Arizona. "For example, their host may offer sites included in their solution. But the customer does not understand that thousands of other businesses have used the exact same look for their business, limiting the branding and unique representation," Polzin says.
It's fine to bring along examples of what you like, of course. That all helps. Just don't ask for a clone of Amazon or MySpace. "Surf the web, find things you like. Bookmark them. Whether it's the color palette, the layout, a special way something is done -- be prepared to show us what you like and tell us why. If you can't do that, prepare some keywords and phrases that will convey to us the look or feeling you want your web site to have," suggests Stephanie Sullivan, Community MX Partner and co-author of Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 Magic.
Niles emphasizes the value of saying what you want, rather than what you don't want. She says, "Some clients don't know exactly what they want, so they provide the designers with a long list of the numerous things they don't, expecting the designer to know what they want by elimination. This process is not very practical and it can take forever."
If you have a clear vision, you can save time and money because the site designer doesn't have to start from scratch. But you should expect the designer to spend some time with you, getting you to articulate your goals. (And you should expect to pay for the time this part of the process takes.) Says Polzin, "Our initial meeting with the client has now evolved into an explanation and learning seminar." Polzin's sales team explains that, while the client can buy software off the shelf and some of its development is easy to implement, those tools might not be the right answer for the business or the people who will visit its site.