As I originally sat down to write this, my intent was to write a takeoff on the popular pregnancy bible “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” But for all the complications that could arise in a pregnancy, trying to lump all web design experiences into a similarly consistent set of guidelines just isn’t that practical. Just like every client or job is different in some way, every web designer is different, too.
You could be dealing with tech-saavy computer nerd who never learned basic grade school communications skills; you could be interacting with a digital artiste who knows that he’s right every time; you could be doing business with a slick salesperson who really has no idea what he’s talking about. In a sense, it’s no different from any other aspect of business — there are various levels of knowledge, skill, and integrity in web design, just like there are in any other field.
The greater issue, I suspect, is that people approach web design with uncertainty because of some underlying insecurity with technology. But this is no different from how I approach my dealings with the local mechanic, or how I talk to my Mandarin-speaking plumber — I accept that I have no natural inclination to the area of their expertise, but that, as their client, I retain the ultimate control in our relationship and can demand a certain level of accommodation from them, if they want to keep my business. I do my research, I ask questions, and I trust my instincts.
Nevertheless, there are aspects of web design, and the internet as a whole, that are foreign to people who don’t work in the field, preventing the obvious questions from coming to mind. And, if the web designer doesn’t do his due diligence, the questions might not get asked by the so-called expert either. It’s with this in mind, that I propose a few preliminary questions that a prospective web design client should ask him/herself.
1. What are you expecting your web design project to accomplish?
This seems like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t. If you haven’t thought long and hard about what you think your website represents, what you want it to do, you are likely to be disappointed when you receive the final results. Is your website just a source of information for your current customers, or are you hoping to attract new business? Are you just putting out your shingle and printing business cards, or are you expecting to run a full-fledged internet-based business?
2. Do you already have a website?
What parts do you like about your website, what parts make you cringe? What part of your website wakes you up in a cold sweat when you think about all those prospective customers inspecting it in excruciating detail. Is this new project a basic retooling of a proven winner, or is this a square-one overhaul?
3. What are your tastes in website design?
Take a look around. If you’re not somebody who spends a significant time on the internet, force yourself to sit down behind your computer and surf the web for a few hours. What sites do you like, what sites do you hate? Do you like them for aesthetic reasons, or do you hate that there’s no actual information available? Do your competitors have websites? What parts of their websites would you like to replicate with yours?
4. How will your new website interact with other aspects of your business?
Is this website part of an overall re-branding effort, or will you be expecting the web designer to work with the logo, typeface, and visual style that you’ve already been using for years? Is the website going to be integral to new or current marketing efforts? Have you considered how social media will be involved in this digital project?
5. How involved are you going to be?
Is your website going to be fully outsourced operation with no upkeep from you, or do you expect to be updating your website on the fly? Are you looking for somebody to run your website on a fulltime basis? Are you expecting a web designer to train you to run it yourself? If your website involves significant written content, who’s going to be writing it?
6. How soon are you expecting results?
Do you want something online in a week, or do you want a web designer to finely tune a digital masterpiece over months? Are you willing to pay more for an expedited website? Are you willing to accept a less effective website in order to save time and/or money?
These are but a few issues that could arise in your preliminary discussions with a web designer. And perhaps you’ll find that the answers, from either yourself or your prospective designer, will keep you from moving forward with the project. Or perhaps they will open up new areas to explore in your plans, and excite you to the new possibilities that are out there.
In any case, it’s always better to ask the questions, rather than risk what the untold answers would have been.