So you have an idea for a project but you need to hire a web designer to bring your dream to fruition. You’re not a web guru with intimate knowledge of design or programming so you need help. Maybe you’ve found somebody who seems knowledgeable, experienced and skillful enough for the role. You can communicate with them freely and they are eager to accept you as a client. So far, so good.
But how can you manage the relationship with your designer throughout and after the project to maximize your benefit? Web designers, like most professionals, expect to be paid for their time and expertise so you will often have to put in a non-trivial amount of money and your own time to achieve what you want. How do you get full value from that investment?
Have a clear and detailed macro focus
A hired web designer will bring a lot of things to the table but don’t expect them to tell you how to create a successful business model. That’s your responsibility not theirs. You should already have a clear idea about why you need a website, who is your target user and how you will define the success or failure of the site.
For example, maybe you need a website because you’ve identified a market opportunity for selling baby clothes made from organic materials (“why”). Your target user is mothers with infants up to 2 years old (“who”). Success for you would mean reaching a sufficient monthly sales turn over within 1 year for the business to support you as a full time job (“how”).
To maximize your designer’s effectiveness you need a clearly defined objective not a set of moving goal posts.
Trust your designer to get on with the job
If you clearly know your macro level objectives and you’ve communicated those to your designer – step out of the way and let him or her get on with the job. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a say in how your finished site looks or functions. In any good design process there should some scope built in for the website owner to comment and ask questions (see next point).
What it does mean though is that you shouldn’t start the process with a rigid conception of what the final outcome should look like. Your website designer probably has the benefit of years of experience, research and professional training to back up design choices, so let them put that skill to work. Too many clients want to micro-manage the design process and end up hiring an over-priced “pencil and eraser” rather than a business professional. Would you hire a mechanic to change your car engine then tell the same mechanic which nuts and bolts to tighten or loosen? Probably not.
Ask your designer to educate you
An “educated” client is a good client.
Furthermore, most designers have spent a long time learning their craft and they are usually quite happy to share some of that wisdom. After all, an educated client is a good client. So get value for money out of your designer by asking sensible questions about how design decisions have been made and feel free to challenge those assumptions if you don’t agree.
Be open about your budget
When new clients are asked “how much is your budget?” the typical response is “don’t know” or the client is cagey, hoping to somehow get a great deal. But buying a website is not like buying a pair of shoes. Generally you get what you pay for. If you are upfront about having a limited budget, your designer will think in terms of how to achieve your goals in a cost effective manner. If you have a more extensive budget, the designer can plan on incorporating elements that will really make your site shine.
Too many clients treat the budget question like a version of the old “New Price is Right” game show. Whichever designer can guess closest to the mark wins the project. Not necessarily the best way to make a hiring decision.
The golden rule your mother taught you still applies. Treat others as you would have them treat you. That means you should always be courteous and punctual in your dealings with your designer. Time is money for everyone, so if you promise to deliver content or something else to your designer, make an effort to stick to the commitment. After all it’s what you expect in return, right? Your designer might have another project on hold pending completion of your work. Can you blame him or her for being upset if you still haven’t delivered that product catalog you promised 3 weeks ago?
Web designers are consultants who make a living by solving business problems with design solutions. Following the above tips should give you a head start in maximizing the effectiveness of your relationship with the designer you choose.