I’ve heard teachers joke around saying teaching school would be so much easier if it weren’t for having students. It could also be said that it would be easier to design and develop websites if we didn’t have to deal with our clients.
But, of course as web designers or developers, we need those clients, and whether we are dealing with a single client or a group of clients, we need to develop and practice good work habits and communication skills if we want to keep our clients happy and have them refer to us in the future.
The truth is collaborating with a group is great when a project is working well, and everyone’s on the same page. But at times, the creative collaboration on a website project can be messy and somewhat challenging. And, that’s one reason that we have to charge more when working with companies who have marketing departments and multiple decision makers!
Having to take everyone’s diverse ideas and points of views into account does slow down the design and development process. It can be frustrating when having to change gears or do something over again. When this happens, I have to take a breath and remind myself that I’m not always right and that taking other people’s ideas into account often leads to a better product, helps create buy-in by the client organization and, definitely creates better client relationships.
I’ll share a few strategies for keeping a good collaborative process going during client projects.
Set the Stage for a Good Relationship in the Onboarding Meeting.
I tell my clients a little about who I am and what they can expect when working with me. I explain that I study the latest website user-experience research and design trends and will bring all of my experience to work on their project.
I let them know that they need to let me know what they like and what they don’t and they can count on me to tell them the truth about what I think and why.
I give them permission to let me know if I step on their toes.
I tell them, I will keep in touch with them and never be the bottleneck in a project without giving them a heads up on where things are and what is happening. I would much rather be waiting for them to get back to me than for me to worry that they are waiting for me.
Before Responding to Something, You Disagree with, Take a Breath
When someone presents me with an idea or suggestion that seems wrong, I try not to give in to the impulse to tell them that they are wrong and why. Instead, I try my very best to use a simple technique I learned from a dear friend who in that situation, would pause, take a breath, and reply, “Well that’s certainly an interesting idea.” This approach is respectful and keeps the conversation going, whereas quickly squashing a person’s ideas without consideration creates hard feelings and may stop people them speaking up with valuable contributions in the future.
Troubleshooting Misguided Ideas
Ask the person presenting their idea to explain it more thoroughly. Perhaps they can show you examples or sketches of what they have in mind so you can better understand what they are trying to accomplish. When you get to the underlying reason for the request, you can look at alternatives for achieving the goal at hand and make a more informed decision.
Major Design Change Requested
Check the user experience research on the requested changes. Search usability guidelines and best practices for examples of similar ideas. Help your client understand how a different design might work better than what they have suggested by saying such things as:
“I understand what you’re trying to do. Let’s explore what our options are for the best possible solution with fewer problems.”
“Let’s take a look at what other people are doing with this to be sure we are doing it better or at least as well as they are.”
“I’ll do a few designs along these lines to show you other ways we can achieve your goal.”
One of my main responsibilities as a web designer is to educate my clients on effective website design so we can create a site that will attract and convert business. But after all is said and done, if a client wants something that I’ve recommended they don’t do, it’s their website, and they get to make the final decision. When it reaches that point, I secretly invoke the Burger King clause, “Have it your way.”
Major Scope Change Requested
If well into a project the client asks for a significant change in scope tell them this idea deserves looking into and ask them for a little time to explore the possibilities. At that point determine the time, money and lost opportunity costs that a disruption in the development schedule would experience at this point in your project and share that information with them.
You can offer alternatives such as launching with the original specifications and making the proposed changes in version 2.0. If they are adamant about their requested change, then amend your proposal with change orders including the increased price and the adjusted launch date.
In our profession, excellent communication and project management skills are just as critical, if not more, than being a great web designer. As we take on larger projects, we have to stay on the ball to process all of the personalities, diverse opinions, sources of information and types of input coming at us that are needed to get a project done.
I know it’s easy to want to avoid dealing with what you perceive as a “negative situation” when they come up in these projects. But delaying or not responding makes it much worse.
Just suppose the idea that a particular situation is a negative mess is just a story you are telling yourself about it?
What if you change your story to one where this is just the usual stuff that happens on the way to creating a great outcome in a collaborative project. Give that a try and see if it makes it easier to keep the conversation going to work things out ultimately. When you feel more comfortable dealing with these types of issues, you’ll feel more comfortable taking on larger projects.