How to Get the Most From Your Web Designer

Too often, businesses don’t get the website they require. Webcopyplus recently spoke to Tamara Brooks of Vancouver’s Syntric Design about how to get the most from your web designer and attain a website that will serve you well.

WCP: What are the first steps to creating a well-managed web design project?
TB: Creativity is subjective but the process should not be. A professional web design firm will desire a strong briefing document, and this is the groundwork of any successful project. In addition, be sure that you have the decision maker at your company interacting with the account representative at the design firm.

WCP: Can you elaborate on creative briefs?
TB: It’s a complex structure, a briefing document clearly articulates your company’s design needs. The process for developing this understanding precedes the web design stage and is one of the most important factors in the outcome of a website. It establishes a mutual understanding of the scope of the work, the project objectives and specific deliverables. It defines the tasks to be completed based on the agreed on estimate or proposal. If the website is complex and includes a large budget, this design brief should be agreed on and signed by both the design firm and the client, and should also be reviewed at a meeting with all stakeholders prior to project commencement.

WCP: What makes a truly effective creative brief?
TB: All successful briefing documents share common features.

Background: Define the project’s design goals and summarize the project challenges and desired results.

Target Group: Define the demographics and any purchase behaviour information that may influence their response to the design.

Product/ Service: Outline the exact project or service that will be highlighted. Identify any potential additions that may be added at a later date. It’s better to plan ahead to ensure the design can accommodate future add-ons.

Competition: Explore how competitors are positioning themselves within the marketplace.

Creative Mandate: List the goals of the design process and outline existing items that must be retained or changed. Be clear on how the previous brand standards will be applied to the design. Decide on a hierarchy for the communication messages and overall tone of the piece.

Deliverables: Decide on the expected deliverables for the initial creative presentation. Include the number of concepts, presentation format, depth of exploration and desired feedback format from the client.

Timing: Create a project timeline. Include time for fact-finding stages and identify milestone tasks and feedback due dates. Assign corresponding responsibilities to team members so both clients and design firm are clear on their tasks and deadlines.

WCP: How do you minimize missed deadlines that are so common in the industry, and the stress associated with being behind the eight ball?
TB: Providing ongoing reports, including weekly status reports or meetings with the design firm will encourage open lines of communication that can aid the design process. A status update can be as simple as a one-page spreadsheet that outlines the progress of the project and the decisions that the web design firm needs the client to make in order to proceed.

There are no rules or standards to adhere to, but the report should identify due dates, actual dates, status of each task and who is responsible for tasks. It often helps to break the status reports into stages and steps to clearly illustrate the where and when’s of the project.

WCP: What happens if the scope of the assignment changes mid-project?
TB: If a project change is outside the scope that was agreed upon in the initial contract, make sure you have the design firm amend the proposal to clearly state the changes to scope and any additional billable changes. If you don’t provide notification of changes within a reasonable amount of time, you can undoubtedly expect added costs, but it will avoid unnecessary conflict.

WCP: What is the best way to deal with website design revisions?
TB: A good website design project will always require feedback and refinement. When delivering revisions, be sure to comment on the positive elements as well as outlining the areas in need of improvement. It’s best to discuss these points and come up with decisions together as a team. Often, the design team will have encountered similar issues before and will have valuable knowledge in the area and suggestions on how to tackle the problem at hand.

Date the revisions and include the exact points that need refinement, and include desired actions, outcome, timeline and responsibilities. Keep the report short and easy to read by employing bullet points instead of paragraphs.

WCP: When it comes to final artwork approvals, what role does a client play?
TB: Be sure to have the final artwork signed off on by the lead web designer, copywriter (for proofreading), account manager on the client’s side, and any production artists involved. This is an important time for you as a client since you are responsible for the approval and accuracy of all the content and design after you sign-off.

WCP: What can clients expect to receive in terms of final website files?
TB: Every design firm will handle this differently, so it’s best to be clear when obtaining a quote who will retain rights to the artwork after completion. Design firms know that transmittal forms should be required for material sent to clients or suppliers. They list exactly what was sent, the date it was sent, how it was sent and to whose attention and by which delivery company. During the process, our web design firm recommends off-site back up or virtual backup of the files at all points of the creative process. You can never be too careful! Once the files are in your hands, you will be responsible for maintaining a backup of the work.

WCP: And what happens if a project is ‘killed’ or cancelled?
TB: Many web design firms differ on this issue so it’s a good question to ask before initiating work with a firm. If the circumstances are beyond the design firm’s control, they often require a “kill fee” that is outlined in contracts or proposals to protect against this possibility. These can sometimes range to 50% of the estimated fee. Others suggest that the client be billed for all time and expenses up to the time of cancellation. Whatever the policy, it should be clearly outlined within the contract. This rule applies to other creative professionals as well, including photographers, illustrators, copywriters, and so on.

When dealing with a web design firm it’s best to be clear about the objectives, outcomes and expectations. No design firm likes surprises and it’s best to be honest and up front with all of your desired deliverables and timelines. Ensuring there is a paperwork trail, fair deposit and consistent open lines of communication will help your project run smoothly, and increase your chances of getting the website you desire.

Syntric is a Vancouver web design company that approaches marketing and design as a science to engineer positive results for clients.

3 responses to “How to Get the Most From Your Web Designer”

  1. Stacey W says:

    Creativity is subjective – process shouldn’t be – I like that! Some interesting point…thanks for sharing!

  2. Karl Weiss says:

    Good common sense advice one should follow when planning a website. Some web designers seem to lack the business sense required to manage things properly. Syntric seems to get it.

  3. Donna Lin says:

    I get confused by the definition of content. Some say designers create it and others say writers develop it. According to online dictionaries, it is about what is written.

    Anyway, the part about the creative brief was very helpful. Thank you

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