Working as a web designer is an amazing job – I’m fortunate to get paid to create art and digital experiences. But as I’m often reminded by Mike Monteiro’s book, “Design is a Job,” there is more to web design than bits and bytes.
A designer’s work starts way before a single pixel gets placed and ends way after the last one is locked in place. You may not take the lead in every, or even any part of the process; throughout your career you’ll work on small teams, big teams, and sometimes alone. But even when you don’t own a particular process, make sure to (respectfully) insert yourself. The more you know, the better your work will be. And don’t wait to be asked.
As Monteiro mentions, much of the work on a web site comes before any research, site maps, UI, or layouts have been created or developed. The groundwork begins in the kickoff meeting, when designers like myself gather intel, discuss and big ideas, and perhaps most importantly, ground rules.
Learning from mistakes
I’ve been a part of two recent web site projects that at some point have gone awry. And independent of the site’s appearance or success, part of my job entails keeping my clients happy. From these recent experiences, I’ve amended my list of important things to share in a kickoff meeting. It’s critical to discuss these items before moving forward – at some point, it could save the project, a client relationship, or even your job.
- Bugs. There will be bugs. Things will go wrong. Make sure the client understands that at some point, there will be a mistake that needs attention.
- The medium. Web design is fluid, not linear. Alterations must be made on-the-fly and may unexpectedly alter the timeline and project plan.
- Testing. Even the smallest tweaks require testing in order to confirm proper performance. If a client is reviewing a page during a certain period of time, they may see something that won’t make the final cut for site launch. Remind them this is bound to happen as testing is constant.
- Integration. At some point, all web sites will require an integration or partnership with another tool or plug-in. These integrations can cause unexpected issues and often require troubleshooting. Patience is critical.
- Focus. If the client needs time to develop new content or messaging, give them ample time to invest. Similarly, communicate that design and development is time-consuming and works best when the creative team can focus on a specific task.
Accounts or no accounts
At many agencies, direct communication from the designer may stop at the kickoff meeting (or perhaps never happen). But even when a designer doesn’t have direct access to a client, ground rules must be established. It is the responsibility of the designer to communicate to whomever speaks with the client.
Time invested with a client during the crucial kickoff meeting effects the rest of the project and relationship. If you’re a designer, do everything in your power to get a seat at the table. It will make your experience – and more importantly, your client’s experience – comfortable and successful.