What a website designer requires from a client
This article is a Work In Progress, but I am making it available to help potential client's along. It may be beneficial to come back now and then and see if there have been changes. Or as I make updates, I will more than likely reshare the article on various social media services.
After reading many horror stories on Reddit, and remembering some of my own experiences, I thought I would put together an article outlining for client's what designer's or developers require, whether they communicate requirements or not, and possibly add some ideas for clients and designers or developers that may not have realised what they should be communicating to clients.
I've been building websites for a long time now, and have had a lot of good and bad experiences with clients, some of which my fault, and a lot where the client simply didn't understand what was required of them to proceed or complete work.
I'd like to make something clear at this point, and that is the difference between "Designers" and "Developers". This is a term that is often blurred and confusing to clients and makes understanding what those roles are a problem for clients to understand what may be required from each.
A "Designer" is someone that creates the layout of what the website will look like and may in some cases produce the HTML code that gets used or implemented by a Developer who makes the design work. At times some Designers may do some of the websites pages layouts inside an editor that may be built into the chosen Content Management System, or pass the layout onto the Developer to do.
A "Developer" is someone that creates or modifies the underlying code that makes the website work. Whether that is a static website or a website that uses a Content Management System. A Developer may also set up and install the necessary software, services, or plugins required to make the website work and function appropriately. A Developer may also do the design process, but does the extra steps that a designer doesn't do to make a website work.
In this article, I will most likely use the term "designer", but I am meaning both terms for the sake of brevity.
I have found that in most cases with client's where relationships have broken down, and from stories from others, the main issue is communication between both parties. By this, I mean communication on things like who enters the website content, or the time needed for a feature to be implemented.
Beside's communication, there is often a misunderstanding on the technical aspects, and what those mean exactly. As a Designer or Developer, we need to be mindful that client's will more than likely not understand different technical aspects of what they require, or what web technologies can be utilised. And in some cases what isn't possible. I remember a prospective client from my early days, where the client wanted to have their website do things that were not technically possible. It was very hard to explain to them and have them understand that what they wanted to do was impossible, and thinking about it while writing this, what they wanted is still not possible. And this is something that both parties need to be clear about as well.
That said, though, as designers we need to listen, and document what a client's requirements, suggestions, and what they think is required to have their Website work for their business while keeping in mind to advise the client how visitors will interact with their business, and work out a public-facing interface that allows visitors to become customers. If the Website is hard to use, and understand what the business is offering, they'll simply go somewhere else.
Some things to discuss with the designer, or they should bring up with the client what the Website should do may include:-
- Get more inbound leads / quote requests/ phone enquiries / bookings?
- Increase brand awareness?
- Educate visitors?
- Encourage sales?
- Collect visitor information to build a list for newsletters or chasing up leads?
- Encourage onsite or social media interaction?
Rarely does the discussion of contracts come up as the first topic of discussion, but is something that is required before any work is undertaken or paid for. Without an agreed-upon contract covering what work will be done, a timeline for tasks to be completed, and a payment schedule, both parties are open to serious problems that can occur. A properly written contract will outline and make clear what is expected of both parties, and can also outline legal responsibilities if either part breaks or can't agree upon changes that may occur during the process of the contract.
Part of the process is agreeing upon a design. In most cases, a client with an already established business will already have a brand that makes their business unique. It is not a good idea for a designer to recommend tampering with that brand, something, that the client will already have invested money in creating. For the client, it most helpful for the designer if the client can hand over not only design idea's, but also documentation that should include a guideline that outlines logo graphics, variations, colours, fonts used, and include files that may have been produced or licensed by the concept designer that developed the brand.
Once the design, and what will be worked on is agreed upon, outlining to the client what Content Management System will be used and whether the client or someone else is going to be entering the content, such as articles, services, or products. I've had some clients be confused with this, believing it was my responsibility to produce content, even though I was sure I had made it clear to them that the content wasn't up to me. Without content, a website is pretty much useless and doesn't help the business grow via their website. There are options for clients who don't wish to produce content, and that is to hire a Copywriter who will write content for the client and hopefully do so in a manner that positively affects the Websites SERP (Search Engine Rank Position).
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is another subject that is very important to discuss. From choosing an appropriate Domain Name (if one hasn't already been registered), to deciding if the client is going to do their own SEO, or hire someone to do it for them. In some cases, a Copywriter will also specialise in SEO. Outlining how SEO is to be implemented on the website is also important. By this I mean, how the different aspects of SEO will be utilised, from ad-dons that will be installed, or like in the case of AuroraCMS, if it's built-in already, and how necessary fields can be edited.
Where exactly the website will be hosted is a concern for some businesses. I've been made aware recently and depending on the type of business, that some business insurances can dictate where a business website is hosted. For e.g. a financial-based business in Australia is required to be hosted on Australian services. While the location isn't a factor for SEO anymore, it is a factor for legal reasons depending on the type of business.
Ownership of content and materials should be outlined clearly as there is often confusion about this. Generally, while the design of the website is being developed, and if the designer is creating materials and graphic content for the website, those are usually owned by the designer until full payment and handover of the website are made to the client. If the client hands materials over to the designer, which usually aren't altered apart from resizing, those materials are owned by the client, the client should also indicate any legal permissions and whether the material was sourced from another service which may make altering or using material difficult from a legal standpoint, and whether permissions are required or forthcoming.
The budget should be determined whether the designer works at an hourly rate or a one time fee and if a deposit is required before undertaking any work. A client's budget should also be taken into account with payment options where work will commence once a set amount is agreed upon, and how much work will be completed in a set time period for that amount. Incomplete payments should be outlined in the contract, and the consequences for both parties if those are not met. I've been caught with this in the past, where the client was unable to finalise payments to complete agreed-upon work. In those cases, I usually kept any completed work that I had undertaken but handed over material that was provided by the client, as I didn't own the rights to that material, but was able to protect the work I had completed by not having to legally hand that material over to the client. In some cases, it's better for both parties to come to an arrangement amicably rather than dragging the issue through the legal system.
Ongoing costs should be outlined, and options discussed, which usually involve design changes over time or if requirements come up as technology changes, as well as ongoing hosting, and domain registration. Hosting can be done a few different ways, with the most common being that the designer hosts the client's website and either includes a time period of hosting within the design costs, or changes per month, annually, or whatever is agreed upon. Domain registration is much like car registration where it is most commonly year by year, multi-year, or can be paid for years in advance. Sometimes this is left up to the client, but in my experience mostly by the designer, where the designer invoices the client when the ongoing registration is due, and they will have an account with a preferred Domain Registrar.