Can you hear me now?
Improving communication between web design teams and their clients
The ability to communicate using sophisticated language is what sets us apart from the animals. We begin using language before we can actually speak and by the time we hit Kindergarten, most of us have a fairly impressive vocabulary and are certainly capable of using those words to get almost anything we want.
So why is it that communication between intelligent adults can sometimes be so difficult?
Somewhere between learning to talk and taking our first steps into the working world, we realize that everything we say will not always be greeted with praise and adulation. We also learn that expressing our ideas and opinions opens us up to criticism so we compensate, either by speaking less or by speaking louder.
Considering that the design team is mainly made up of communications professionals and that the website is itself a communications tool that will be used by the client to 'talk' to her customers, communication issues on such projects should be fairly minimal, right?
Well, not exactly. Like true love, the course of a website development project doesn't always run smoothly from beginning to end.
Good communication between the client and the design team is essential to ensuring the final product looks and functions as the client intended and is something all involved can be proud to put their names on.
When it comes to developing a website, there will be things the client knows or does best and certain things that can best be accomplished by the design team. So, the first step is to establish "who needs to do what", so the project can proceed efficiently.
The client is the expert on her business. She knows her industry, customers and products. She has all the practical details that are so important, like contact info, hours of operation and specific services offered.
The client also has to tell the design team her preferences in terms of colours, styles and other websites that she likes or does not like.
In the end, the website represents her and her business, so the client is responsible for the information and graphics that are published. She needs to be confident that the website is properly branded to her business and does not contain any false information or project an image she does not like or that she disagrees with.
The more information the client can provide up front, the easier it will be for the design team to create the website she wants. Better to offer more information than necessary and let the design team whittle it down. Otherwise your website may end up being little more than an expensive online business card.
The design team consists of at least one project manager, programmer, web developer, graphic designer and copy writer. Each member of the design team has his own area of expertise and they work together to develop the best website possible within the scope of the project. While the client will own the website, the design team also has a stake in the finished product and certainly wants to create something to be proud of.
For the process to move along smoothly, the client has to step back and let the design team do its job. She has to remember that she hired them for their expertise in web development.
As for the design team, they have to keep in mind that the client ultimately owns the website and has the final say when there are decisions to be made.
Keep the lines open
Communication is vital throughout the website development process. If the design team stops consulting with the client, the website can easily veer off in a direction she doesn't like or agree with. If the client stops responding to the team's requests for feedback and further information, frustration can quickly set in as the development process grinds to a halt.
The important thing is for the team and the client to keep talking. When communication breaks down and things start to go wrong, it can be easy to forget that everyone involved has the same goal: to create an amazing website both client and design team will be proud to put their names on.
Tips for clients:
- When it comes to designing a business website, there is literally no limit to the things you can do and the ways they can be done. Because of this, it is very easy for the scope of a project to expand beyond the original plan. To guard against cost overruns, you need to be very clear with the design team about what you want your website to look like and what your website goals are.
- Frequently Asked Questions are a great tool for developing content for your website. Come up with a list of questions that you know your customers ask you all the time, answer them and provide that information to the design team. Consider having an FAQ page on your website as this is great for helping improve your site ranking on the search engines. FAQs are naturally rich in key words and phrases that people use when searching for your products and services on line.
- It is vital to have strong graphic images and compelling photos on your website. You can take your own photos of various aspects of your business: staff, buildings, products, equipment, clients, etc. In some cases, it makes sense to hire a professional photographer to make sure your photos are top quality. If there are certain graphics you want on your site, you can inquire about the cost of having your design team create them for you. Photos and graphics can also be purchased from online sources, such as istock.com. Remember that copyright laws do apply to graphics and images found in the Internet. When you download images from the Internet, there is no guarantee the photos will be of good enough quality to use on your website.
- Before talking to the design team, take time to surf the web. Look at competitors' websites along with others and really think about what it is you like and don't like about them. Take notes and write down website addresses. Bring this information to the design team as it will help when they start to develop your website.
- Ask questions! There are no stupid questions. Better to ask than wish you had. Things left unsaid or questions left unasked can create problems later in the process.
Tips for Design Team:
- Be sure to take notes at every client meeting, write down what is agreed upon and also save all e-mail correspondence. That way you will have written documentation of the project scope and also a list of everything you need to do for this particular website. You may think you'll remember everything that's talked about, but you won't!
- Don't hesitate to ask for what you need from the client and ask questions if something is unclear. Better to get everything straight from the start than being forced to back track because the project started moving in the wrong direction.
- Keep the tech talk to a minimum to avoid boring the client or scaring her away with confusing jargon. That doesn't mean you should patronize or talk down to the client either.
- Don't do all the talking. Listen to the client and give her time to think and respond to your questions.
Tips for both client and design team:
- Set a realistic timetable and a deadline for going live and try to stick to it.
- Be understanding if there are delays. Things happen - people get sick, people get busy, machines and cars break down ... Sometimes deadlines have to be pushed. There's no point stressing about it if there are legitimate reasons for the delay.
- Agree on a communication timetable. Set a regular time when the client can expect an update on the progress of her website, whether it's once or twice a week or Monday mornings at 10 a.m.
- Answer e-mails and return phone calls as soon as possible.