I know it can be intimidating when you approach a designer for the first time–especially if this isn’t work you need very often–if ever before!
One of the best things you can do to make sure that the designer-client relationship is a smooth one and you find someone that’s a great fit (I believe that fit is just about the most important aspect of a project’s success) is ask some questions of yourself before ever approaching designers you’re interested in working with.
While these hints are specific to website design, you can easily adapt them to any design project or similar collaboration.
1. What sort of relationship do you want?
This sounds like a weird thing to consider, I know, but stay with me here. This really speaks to fit. When people work with me, for example, I don’t just design a website and say goodbye. I talk through strategy, how their website fits into their marketing and business goals and make recommendations along the way for what we can do both right now to better meet those goals, or for roadmapping items in the future. Because I previously ran communications departments, that’s what I’m hardwired to do–take a top level look at what we’re doing. However, that’s not what everyone wants. I’ve referred great gigs to other professionals when it’s been clear that the client didn’t want that sort of relationship.
If you want your designer to train you and keep you looped in every step of the way, make sure the folks you’re talking to know that. If you’d rather be hands off and just sign off on revisions and designs, that’s important for folks to know too.
Communicating your expectations is really critical. And if you don’t know–ask the folks you’re talking to about what’s normal for them. I’m always happy to talk people through that process, as are most design professionals.
2. If you’re redesigning your site, what isn’t working for you anymore?
This is a question that I ask all the time with my redesign clients. It makes a lot of sense to spend some time really critically not only looking at your design (which is often the impetus for a change), but also the functionality and how you would–in a perfect world–like to use your website.
I recently sat down with an old friend to talk about his company’s website and this was the first question I asked him. As we talked, we discovered that there were all kinds of business processes that his website could help make more effective and efficient. This is a really common scenario! It’s worth talking to your designer/developer about this sort of thing because even if you’re not going to implement, say, online scheduling right away, it’s something you can plan for and ensure your new site’s infrastructure supports.
3. What do you absolutely hate with regard to websites and design?
This is a question I ask all the time now–but I never used to. Things changed when I put a lot of work into a website concept built around water imagery only to discover that the client despised this sort of metaphor! Boy, did I feel terribly. Fortunately, it all ended well and we came up with an idea that perfectly matched what the client was hoping for, but if I’d asked this question, I would have known from the beginning to avoid that sort of visual element.
The best way to figure this out is to really look at a lot of sites and examine your responses to them. Gather these links up and be prepared to discuss them with potential designers. If something really turns you off, the designer can likely help you figure out what it is you want to avoid, whether it’s specific imagery, fonts, site architecture or the ever-controversial parallax scrolling. You don’t need to have the technical language to talk about this stuff–we’re always happy to help you figure out what you mean if you can describe it or show examples.
I’m not typically a negative person and usually avoid framing these conversations in terms of what people don’t want–but there’s a lot you both can learn from that conversation.
4. What is my budget and am I willing to prioritize to serve that budget?
Talking money is always an awkward. But, if you have a budget in mind, or certain expectations, it’s always a good idea to say something along the lines of, “I’m looking to spend between $X and Y.” I’ve actually been in the situation on several occasions when a client’s budget has been actually above what I quoted their site and we’ve been able to add additional services, such as logo design, photography or copywriting (all of which my team can do, by the way!), to really make their project comprehensive, or they’ve just used that savings to serve their marketing in other ways, such as with social media ads.
Additionally, if your budget is modest–which is totally fine–be up front about that so that we can discuss expectations and what’s doable within your budget. I’m working with a very cool young artist right now who has a tight budget, but we’re designing her site (and a new logo!) within that budget, with plans for growing the site in phases. Basically, we’re getting her in a manageable place and laying the groundwork for a fabulous long-term collaboration around her digital marketing strategy.
With that said, most designers are happy to advise you on what the best use of your dollars are. Bells and whistles are awesome, but a functional, well-designed site provides the foundation you need–you can always add those hand-drawn icons or cool animations down the road. It’s really hard to reverse engineer a slap-dash approach to information architecture.
In fact, following up your conversation about budget should be one about what’s most important to you and how these priorities fit within your business and marketing goals.
5. Who else will be involved in the process?
When I work with clients, I do require a single point of contact so I’m not in the awkward position of negotiating between business partners (or spouses!), but with that said, it’s typical that the person I’m coordinating with doesn’t have final sign-off authority or at least wants to get buy-in from others in the process.
So, as you embark on the design process, make sure that you know how that internal flow, what conversations your designer will need to be involved in (common situations I’ve been in: group trainings, presentations to board members, spouses who have design experience, and chief executives who want to be briefed along the way) and at what points you could expect delays or have a need for additional input from your designer.
Even if you’re a solo business or partnership, you’d be surprised how you lean on other folks to help you with decision points and feedback, so thinking about that before you start a design process is frequently a huge help.
If you have questions about the design process, feel free to drop a note in the comments and I’ll reply. If you’d like to keep your question confidential, you can always drop me a line over here.