For web designers, having successful client projects leads to happy clients, more referrals, a proven track record, and valuable experience and knowledge that can be used in future projects. But there is a lot that goes into making a project a success, and simply completing the design on time is not enough. In this article we’ll take a look at 10 things you can do to make your projects more successful.
1. Truly Get to Know the Client and Their Customers/Visitors
In order to create a website that maximizes its potential for your client, you’ll first have to get a clear understanding of the client, how they do business, how they brand themselves, and you’ll also need to become familiar with their target market. Depending on your familiarity with the client and their industry, this may require a considerable amount of time and effort. The better understanding you have, the more likely you will be to create a site that meets the needs of the client and their users.
A common mistake, especially for new designers, is to jump right into the design process without dedicating time to getting familiar with the client. This often leads to a site that may look good on the surface, but doesn’t effectively fit the needs and personality of the client.
Different designers have their own methods for getting to know their clients, so do whatever works best for you. Some designers have a standard intake questionare or form that they have clients fill out to get information about their business and their customers. Others meet with clients, discuss and observe. Whatever your process, be sure that you prioritize the need to get to know your clients, and account for this in your estimates and scheduling of projects.
2. Have a Clear Set of Goals for the Project
Some clients will want a website just because it is the thing to do, but they don’t really know what they specifically hope to get out of having a website. Others will want to re-design their existing site because it is outdated or because they don’t like the look anymore, but they may not know exactly what they want to improve about the website. Having goals for the project will help to get a clear determination of what will make the project a success, and it will help to keep the project focused on what is most important.
Take the time to talk to clients about what is most important to them, and together you can establish a few specific goals for the project. It’s best to focus on a small number of things rather than having too many goals and getting distracted by things that are not as important. This process will assist you by getting your clients to think and communicate with you about the most important reasons for going through with the project, and it will give you some methods for measuring the project to gauge its success.
3. Clearly Define the Scope of the Project
A problem that every designer runs into at some point is failing to set boundaries on the scope of a project. Your idea of what is involved in a website design or re-design may not match up with your client’s idea of what should be involved. Disagreements over the scope of the project can lead to clients feeling like they are not getting what they paid for, or you doing more work than you expected when you quoted the project.
The solution to this problem is to have a clearly defined scope from the start, in writing. Be sure that you and the client are in agreement on the scope before starting the project, and get it incorporated into the contract. The details of scope can always be negotiated along with the fees, so there are opportunities to work out differing opinions when trying to secure the work.
If you’re looking for a contract that will help you to have a written record of a project’s scope, we have a web design contract template available at Vandelay Premier.
4. Allow Plenty of Time
Creating an attractive, functional, and effective website takes time. One of the biggest hindrances to the success of a project can be a lack of time. When scheduling your projects be sure that you are allowing enough time to give each project enough attention. Plan some extra time for unexpected challenges or situations that arrive, because things tend to come up.
The amount of time that you’ll need to schedule will vary from one project to the next depending on what is involved, so it will take some practice to get it down, but learn from your mistakes and avoid unrealistic expectations.
One challenge that often arises is being held up on a project because you are waiting on information or decisions from the client. When preparing a timeline and setting deadlines for the project, the deadlines should not only apply to you as the designer. Setting deadlines for clients to get you certain information or to do their part is reasonable and will help to keep things moving forward. If the client doesn’t live up to their end and meet their deadlines, you’ll have a clear example of why the project slowed down if you have trouble meeting a deadline.
5. Focus on the User
It is the users who will ultimately determine the success of a design or re-design project. While we as designers like to create something that meets our own expectations or fits into what we think is a good website, the site is not for us, it’s for the users. If you can keep your focus on the user and work to create the best site possible for them, the project will be successful.
User focus starts with the first point of this article, getting to know and understand them. If you don’t take the time up front to get familiar with your client and their users, it’s difficult or impossible to create a site that focuses on the users’ needs.
6. Know What Actions You Want Visitors to Take
A successful design project will result in visitors taking some kind of action on the site. Depending on the client and the type of website, that action could be purchasing a product, filling out a contact form, opting in to a newsletter, downloading an informational product, or any number of things.
It’s important that you and the client have a clear understanding of what actions from visitors are critical to the success of the website. After you have established which specific actions you want visitors to take, leading visitors to those actions should be a priority throughout the design process. In the end, leading visitors to take the desired action is much more important than having a site that looks great or has a lot of bells and whistles.
7. Communicate with the Client Throughout the Process
Communication between designer and client is a critical aspect of the project for several different reasons. First, in order for the project to be successful the client must be happy with it, and that is very difficult to accomplish if you’re not doing a good job of communicating with the client from the start.
Second, consistent two-way communication helps to improve efficiency and eliminate time for unnecessary revisions and changes.
Third, good communication will keep the client in the loop with what is being done on the project and they’ll feel more comfortable knowing that the project is moving forward. Even when work is being done, if the client isn’t hearing anything they will often assume that nothing is being done. Simple communication can avoid this.
The web design process can be rather overwhelming and intimidating for many clients, and good communication helps to put them at ease. Communication is a skill that most designers continually work on throughout their careers. Learn from your experience and always work on ways to improve how you can communicate with your clients.
For more on the subject please see Designers and Communication Skills: Why and How to Improve.
8. Incorporate Feedback Throughout the Process
We’ve already talked about the need for communication and to keep clients happy, and a big part of that is incorporating their feedback into the design. Even though you will have made a strong effort to get to know the client and their customers/visitors, the client will still know their target market better than you will, so their feedback can be extremely valuable. Also, their feedback is critical to wind up with an end product that is an accurate representation of their business.
Web apps like Proof HQ and ConceptShare are great resources for helping to organize the feedback the your design projects. Regardless of your methods for gathering feedback, in order to make the project a success you will need to take that feedback and use your professional judgment and design abilities to incorporate what you are hearing from the client. You’ll need to be able to create something that the client is pleased with and that works for the users.
9. Consider the Future
Many websites are continually growing and evolving. When designing the site take the future into consideration and try to get a feel for where the client may like to go with the site in the future. The most successful projects will be well structured so that growth and additions don’t require a re-design too quickly. As new content or products are added to the site, navigational issues sometimes arise, so try to anticipate the challenges that may occur in the future and structure the site in a way that will allow for this growth.
Considering the future is also important in terms of the design style. Avoid trends that are likely to phase out in the near future that will leave the site looking dated and out of touch. A timeless style of design is more valuable to the client in the long run than a trendy design that must be changed a year later.
Successful projects must be well tested. Don’t rush the testing stage in order to get the site launched quickly, or the visitors are likely to experience unnecessary issues with the site. An effective testing phase can help to ensure smoother launches and a more positive experience for users.