the years, we’ve seen and been a part of a lot of really successful web
design projects. We’ve also been a part of a couple of not so
successful projects. Lately I’ve been reading about success in general,
and decided to put some focus into why some projects soar, and why some
flop. I reviewed my own experience, and talked to a couple of other web
designers while at SXSW last week. I’ve distilled those thoughts down
into the following 11 points. This list is not exhaustive by any means.
But if you hire designers, following the tips below will go a heck of a
long way towards ensuring the design process is smooth and the quality
of the designs will be very high.
Know what your goals are – why are you hiring a designer?
Communicate those goals to the designer in a concise manner. Often
designers and clients are super eager to get into the visual design of
the site, and jump over this vital step. Many designers will begin a
project by sending your a questionnaire designed to draw out your goals.
Complete that questionnaire! Don’t think it’s not important – it’s
vital. At the same time, don’t become so paralyzed by the importance of
it that you can’t get it done.
Be prepared - have all the technical requirements/limitations at the outset. Gather all that info together, and send it in a single email.
Get a project brief, and sign off on it. The brief should
summarize the project goals, list content requirement, list technical
requirements and limitations, and include a description of the look and
feel. It will become the backbone for the rest of the project, and
will be referred to frequently.
Use milestones to keep track of progress, but realize they’re not set in stone.
You should demand interim milestones, so that you can keep track of
where the project is, and if it’s going to be late. Realize though that
milestones that are set at the outset are just estimates, and are only
as good as the information that was available when the milestones were
set. Don’t freak out if some slippage occurs – it will.
Respond as quickly as possible – keep the momentum high. This
is SO important. Few things will derail a project with greater certainty
than a client who takes a really long time to respond to comps and
requests for information. Designers and developers do their best work
when they’re enthusiastic about a project. That enthusiasm will wither
and fade if a project comes to a grinding halt while they wait for
direction or clarification. Aim to get feedback to the designer within
24 hours. You don’t want another hot project to come and steal your
Be flexible – allow ideas to grow. Sometimes the best ideas
come late in a project. Don’t be so rigid in sticking to the schedule
that these ideas can’t take root. Sometimes an element that was
perfectly placed on the wireframe doesn’t work with the design direction
selected. Great design evolves, often in unexpected directions.
Pay on time. Design is a low margin business. None of us are
in this for the money. That means that most of us live pretty close to
the edge, financially speaking. When you pay late, you may be putting
your design team in a sticky situation. You can be pretty sure they
won’t be doing their best work.
Know when you’re going out of scope. If you’ve followed the
tips prior to this, you and your designer should have a really good
sense of what is and included in your project. There is absolutely
nothing wrong with going outside the scope, but be aware that you’ll
need to cover the additional time it will take to complete your
requests. If you preemptively say to your designer “I know this is
outside of the scope and will pay for the changes” rather than hoping
the designer will let it slide, the response you get will be very
Be enthusiastic. As designers, developers, and project
managers, we get our energy and juice from you. If you’re enthusiastic
about this process, your designers will be too, and the work will be all
the better for it.
Don’t art direct. Just because you don’t like blue doesn’t
mean it’s not the best colour. Odds are, you hired a designer
because you like his or her work. Trust your designer. Don’t trust
blindly of course. Ask lots of questions, but if there’s a good reason
the designer has used a certain colour or typeface, trust him/her.
Finally, I want to share a huge tip with you. Ask your
designer “if this was yours, what would you do?” This is especially
useful if you ask it just before the designer delivers the final comps.
Don’t ask it after the final art is delivered, since you may be going
outside of the project’s scope. Don’t ask it too early in the process
either, because you want the designer focussed on your needs, not his