Paul Boag gives us a wonderful, straight-to-the-point ebook with Client Centric Web Design, all about web designing with the client at the center of a web project. Though other UX purists may cry heresy, I say Paul’s words have quite a bit of truth to them. Paul asks and answers why designing for the client is key to a successful project. And how to work collaboratively with the client, while saying yes to their «non-expert» suggestions.
The client must be a collaborative part of any web site design.
When we start designing our projects, our first concern is to understand the need. That seems simple enough, but the simplicity is what makes it crucial, and if that is missed, the whole point of the web site may be set up for failure. And what you need to understand is precisely what Paul said: “…no matter how thorough our research is we are never going to have the same level of understanding the client has about their business. They will have years of experience working within the organisation giving them a unique perspective we cannot hope to match. Although our outside perspective is incredibly valuable, that does not mean their internal perspective is invalid.”
Putting the client’s business needs first insures positive communication between us and our clients. We bring web expertise to the table and our understanding of excellent UX, while the client brings objectives to the table and their understanding of what results they want. It is up to us to ensure that these objectives are well pronounced and understood. In other words the client has real value. Real expertise. We must include the client in the web design process.
The key requirement is our capability to communicate consistently and with empathy. There can never be too much communication. As Paul makes clear «… a lack of communication leads to anxiety.» Anxiety is an emotion that is obviously not positive, and a good way to create clashes where there doesn’t need to be one. I’ve seen it all too often, when we do not collaborate regularly with our clients, they feel we are not doing our work. That could be with project management. That could be with understanding why we choose such a design solution. And the worst is when things move along too easily, and problems are only pointed out after the project has been delivered. Sure, we did our job, but we most likely lost our credibility in the process by not digging deeper with the client on sensitive issues.
The key for me is recognizing that even when there may be difficult news to announce (not often where I work I should hope), good, informative communication puts the client in the same boat as us. It is not about saying «No, we can’t do this» for such and such reason, but instead about understanding the problem and searching for solutions together. Almost all clients are receptive to positive communication even in times of uncertainty.
That is what collaboration is about. Getting the client involved, reaching out to them with all our input. Even when the client does not offer feedback, they are listening. They are appreciative of our expertise.
And no doubt about it, I agree with Paul 100% when he says that «we need to make the effort to meet face-to-face or speak over the phone.» And then of course a documented follow-up by email (or using our favorite collaborative tool, as of this writing, Active Collab) should go without saying. With a phone meeting, I often prepare my email first. This gives me a sort of «ordre du jour» that I can follow while speaking to the client. Then I just include any decisions or client comments and send. Time management is essentiel in communication as with all our work efforts.
I highly enjoyed Paul’s practical guide to using brand identity (even going into content strategy), moodboards and wireframes. We follow this same method, and sometimes clients participate at the very beginning of our reflexions, sometimes less. This is all dependant on the client, and their particular collaborative needs. Moodboards, particularly, are beneficial for engaging the client. Again, we find out why in Client Centric Web Design moodboards help us: «The speed with which they are produced also lends itself to multiple iterations based on client comments. This is great for collaboration and encourages the client to make alterations now rather than later when change is harder…. The more we include the client the greater their sense of ownership. The greater their sense of ownership, the more likely they are to approve the design and promote it to other stakeholders.»
In the end, a web site should never just be credited to the web agency. The client should also be included. Our work demands that the client be involved, be it with content, with validations, or with financing. So we cannot ignore them. We must embrace them and their sometimes queer suggestions. To sum up using Paul’s words «Let’s not allow our egos to be bruised», because «job satisfaction should come from design the client loves, not design we (or our peers) love.»
Personal thoughts on why i loved this ebook
I loved this ebook, because Paul has captured much of what I have been trying to do (with more or less success) at WS Interactive. I believe absolutely that user-centered design is a subset of client-centered design. I believe absolutely that when we collaborate effectively with the client everyone wins, including the user.
There are two extra issues that Client Centric Web Design does not go into, as Paul limited the topic to web design, but which I feel are also quite prevalent:
- Getting the client to submit excellent content that a designer can use and
- Client-centered project development stages.
With content, we accompany the client to help them produce well structured, optimised and readable content. As designers we dive into the content strategy, the information architecture, the call to actions, the SEO, etc, and still we struggle to get clients on the same channel. I think here as well a client-centered approach should at least help us ask the right questions. Will the client be able to manage the proposed content? How often? With what tools? Often we as designers tend to produce great images, but ones that the client may not be able to manage over the long-term. Beautiful content becomes quickly obsolete without constant intervention.
Fortunately there exist other great books on helping web sites manage and create content (try Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, and Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy), though they do not necessarily look into this from a «client-centric» point of view. I would have enjoyed reading Paul’s take on that issue (though he did briefly touch on personnality).
When the development process begins, the client collaboration should not end. There is much to be done with the integration. Certainly, much of the strategy is defined, the maquettes are validated, but then comes the real chore of integrating the content and building the various databases and pages. Keeping the client in the loop, with continuous iterations and communication, can save time over the long run. Weekly reports are the norm where I work, and we make an effort to have the client validate key phases before going on line. Most of the potential problems come from new types of content, or just not understanding what the client expects.
Here too a client-centric approach will be critical to satisfaction.
Title of book : Client Centric Web Design
Author : Paul Boag
Date of initial publication : 2011
Publisher : Paul Boag
Where you can buy it : boagworld.com