One of the sites we follow, www.webdesignerdepot.com, had a great article this week on the five things our clients should know to build a successful website. Click the link in that last sentence for the full article. Here’s a condensed version for you:
1. The client is the secret to a successful website
I have worked on hundreds of websites over the past 15 years and each site’s success or failure has always been attributed to the quality of the client. It is their decisions that shape the site and their commitment that defines its long term future. As web designers, I believe we need to clearly communicate to the client the importance of their role and dispel the misconception that they can hire a web designer and walk away. Not only do we need to emphasis the importance of their role, we also need to define the extent of it.
2. Clients have a diverse and challenging role
I believe that the role of the client is by far the most complex and challenging in web design.
A client has to be a:
- Visionary – capable of establishing the long term direction of their site
- Evangelist – able to promote the site both internally and externally
- Content guardian – responsible for ensuring the quality and relevancy of content
- Project coordinator – overseeing all aspects of the site as well as dealing with suppliers
- Referee – making final decisions between conflicting priorities
What is even more is that the client is supposed to know enough about a broad range of disciplines (from marketing to interface design), in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately their role is also often massively under resourced.
3. Clients identify problems, designers provide solutions
One of the biggest problems in most web projects is that the client starts making the decisions that are best left to the web designer. Not only does this lead to bad decisions, but also inevitably leaves the web designer feeling undervalued and frustrated. This problem can manifest in a variety of ways, however ultimately it comes down to a single issue – the client is trying to find solutions to their problems instead of relying on the web designer.
[One example is the] wish list of ideas that they have for the site. They are the client’s attempt to solve an underlying issue. For example, their problem might be a failure to engage with customers, therefore …they suggest adding a forum. Of course, in reality there are many other ways to engage with customers, however unless they express the problem to you, you will never have the opportunity to suggest a solution. At the beginning of every project, encourage your client to focus on problems and not solutions.
4. Sites should evolve
A typical website goes through a constant cycle of redesign. After its initial launch, it is left to slowly decay. The content becomes out of date, the design begins to look old fashioned and the technology becomes obsolete. Eventually staff stop referring customers to the site and it is perceived as a liability rather than an asset. In the end, senior management intervenes and assigns somebody to ‘sort out the website’. This inevitably leads to the site being replaced by a new version, and the cycle repeats itself.
We need to start encouraging our clients to invest regularly in their websites. They need a permanent website manager and an ongoing relationship with their web design agency. Together they need to keep content up-to-date, improve the user interface and ensure that the technology keeps pace with change. Ultimately this is more cost effective than replacing the site every few years.
The ongoing management of content is an area that needs particular attention. Unfortunately it is often massively under resourced and generally neglected.
5. Content is king – Act like it!
I am constantly amazed at the difference between what clients says and what they do. Take, for example, content; most clients fully accept that content is king, yet few are willing to spend money on ensuring its quality.
It is our role as web designers to educate our clients about the importance of copywriting and explain the size of the task, if they choose to take it on themselves. Without previous experience most clients will significantly underestimate this task.