No matter the amount of new web design projects we do, app we build, intranet we install or SEO we tinker with, one thing remains in the basement of all our projects: What can I learn from this client?
In the world of web development and design, there are a lot of wonderful ideas and terms we industry professionals use. We talk about user experience and acceptance testing. The philosophies are centred on design thinking, accessibility and improving the user’s relationship with technology. We even go so far as to invent personas to represent the future users of the product currently under development.
These are the standard ways an agency will approach a new web design. But there’s always more to the story.
One thing that isn’t often addressed or held up with such reverie is our relationship with the client. However, it is this relationship between client and web agency that can make or break a project before it even truly begins.
Here’s a little of what Webcoda attempts to keep in front of mind when working on a new web design – and why it’s always a process of learning
Client management versus Collaboration
Client management is term that is shared a lot in web development and web design. Sometimes, it conjures up visions of someone in Ringmaster clothing, taming the recalcitrant lion. Other times, it means bringing the committee herd together like an over-zealous Border Collie in a grass green field. It’s meant to be a positive process, a watertight explanation for an essential cog in the new web design wheel.
Yet it fails to accurately describe what you gain from a client relationship. Heck, even the term client relationship has been hi-jacked by greasy sales vibes and plastic smiles.
Management doesn’t cut it when it comes to clients. It implies the process has a leader and the other people need to follow. In truth, all new web design projects are about collaboration. Your client brings with them decades of understanding their organisation, their customers and their future vision. You as the web design agency bring your ability with the techniques and the technical. You meet in the middle to share knowledge.
With everything adding their own piece of the puzzle, what you attend is more like a picnic. You bring enough to nourish the people in attendance. You share enough so that you attract more of the same. Sometimes, you won’t agree on which idea is better and will have to account for each other’s backgrounds and tastes. Sometimes, there won’t be enough time or budget to get to a place where everyone is luxuriating in what’s available. But you work with what you have to ensure everyone gets what they need.
You’ll only ever experience this situation if you invite everyone as equals to the table.
Why learning from a client is important
One of the head scratching moments within the web design agency world is when someone talks about leading the way with innovation. It’s a wonderful idea that we’re these magical gatekeepers of sensational ideas who grab a torch and our client’s hand and lead them to a promised land. But it’s rarely the truth.
To be able to apply the web development and web design knowledge we hold, we have to know the back story. Not the 14 neat questions on a black and white page with logo at the top that probes into the business. The real, hungry essence of why an organisation has not ceased to exist in a competitive world.
Why they continue to attract the people they do is equally important.
Customers, staff, champions, supporters, places that herald the achievements, right down to the friend on Facebook who answers “you should try Bob’s Business. He’s amazing”- all these voices add to a rich tapestry of information. This tapestry is what you don’t get if you refuse to pop down into the bowels of an organisation and take a good look. These all need to be incorporated into a new web design project for it to work well once live.
Listening with ears open is important. You have to grab what is said and what isn’t. Those unseen moments of longing or deep dark secrets crash like an elephant in the tea room and right out into the marketing campaigns. They nose around the web and attract interest from an ever curious internet that is itching for the opportunity to be cynical and optimistic. Who are ready to get the gloves on if something doesn’t feel quite right about their most favourite, hated and previously ignored brand.
You have to listen to the client because the client is the one who knows better. The client has to win their internal teams over using your language and rationale. And who has to understand your choices as a web designer to the point where they can justify and fortify the team when the next abstract troll or internet news cycle circles the building.
Learning from the tough client
We’re not so excited by the idea of creating that we fail to recognise that sometimes, the members of the village aren’t happy to be there. There isn’t a web design agency worker alive who hasn’t met someone in a client process at some point that didn’t really want to be there. For that matter, while we’re lucky at Webcoda to have a team of people who get along and are there for the right reasons, each of us has experienced the reluctant colleague, the compassion fatigued boss or the cynical gatekeeper.
New web design projects create extra work for people who are often already stretched. They signify change. They can be time consuming and take what precious little brain space we have.
Besides, humans don’t stop being humans. This is both an issue and an opportunity.
It’s exciting to have the people who want to be in a room together heading in a positive direction. It can seem like a hard task when there is a boulder in the river, impeding that flow.
But there’s also something enormously satisfying when it comes from ripping through the layers, the phrases and labels, to reach someone. This is especially true if the person was previously reluctant to connect. And it’s not about turning them onto everyone else’s style of thinking or conversion.
It’s that moment where the awkwardness and the miscommunication drops and the people involved are finally talking the same language. Overcoming objections and having to tough it out in the initial stages often serves to strengthen web design. It mirrors the cynical customer who needs you but might not trust you yet. It is a potted version of the loyal customer having a pretty bad day.
It might be tempting to think “Gee, Gertrude is a bloody hard task master” and to focus more on Dana because she’s already in your corner. But if you and Sue can finally work out how to collaborate, that’s just about the moment where the project ceases to feel like it’s on track and starts to head towards something magical.
Once you learn, you can build better products
Neil Gaiman made an impassioned speech to a graduating class of uni students about creative process. He spoke at length about opportunity and going forward to “make good art”. He also spoke about the three things any creatively minded person needs to have to succeed. They were reliability, ability and ease of attitude.
Two out of three of these processes can make you a creative entity that kicks serious butt. You don’t have to be an artist or a poet to benefit from this idea. In organisations all over Australia, you’ll meet people who have the ability, the attitude and the reliability needed to perform a role in varying degrees. The stand outs are the ones who have made two legs of the stool their foundation. Those people who have true excellence in the field share all three.
At Webcoda, we come together as a web design agency that keeps each other honest. Some of us are creative and productive. Others are the peacekeepers. Together, we make our teams to match your teams so that we all benefit.
Getting that combination right begins with listening to you. It’s more than the scope, timeline or budget. It’s about inviting you to that initial picnic and sharing the pieces that move it beyond an introduction to become collaboration. Let’s be the experts in each other’s rooms and create great products that result.
If you want a new web design project that makes you feel valued and listened to, get in touch now.