WordCamp San Francisco — the event, the talks, the people, the fun — was amazing.
I was honored to be selected as a speaker for the flagship WordCamp event and to give a talk alongside some of the most talented people I know and new people I was lucky to meet.
This year, WordCamp San Francisco did something a little different. Instead of each session featuring one speaker, giving a longer talk, they peppered in lightning talk sessions throughout the event, each featuring short 5 minute talks by three different speakers. I spoke in the design and business lightning talk session with Taylor Aldridge and Tracy Levesque.
My five minutes were dedicated to designers and encouraging designers to champion their design and be the expert they are hired to be.
In a world where web design can quickly turn to web decoration, designers are problem solvers who must not only lead clients through the creative process, but protect the integrity of the solutions they deliver. With an abundance of options readily available, it is imperative that designers step up and become the voices of, and champions for purpose driven design, where each element has a specific purpose and only the elements needed to compel action are included. No more, no less.
My Talk Slides & Some Thoughts
While my WordCamp lightning talk was only five minutes, below you’ll find my slides and more in-depth thoughts on just what they mean to me:
Client work is tough.
It’s rarely ever easy, simple, or neat and tidy. It’s challenging, sometimes brutal, and frustrating — but it is also one of the most rewarding things a designer can ever do.
The key to finding success is being able to be the champion for your design work and communicate why it is the right solution for your clients.
Graphic design solves problems. Web design solves problems.
While WordPress allows anyone at anytime from anywhere to access the web and own a website, it also allows anyone at anytime from anywhere to do anything they want with their website. This has created a surge in web decoration, in design for design’s sake, and in merely pretty sites, with the result being clutter, distraction, and sites that don’t convert.
Yes, part of the problem is non-designers offering design services, but an even bigger part is designers being more worried about their clients liking them, than creating a solution that meets the project objectives and delivers the desired results. They look for and need validation and approval from clients to feel good, so they often say yes to revisions, suggestions, and ideas the client has, instead of first assessing whether it’s smart for the project at hand.
After all, it’s easier to say, “Sure we can do that,” than it is to say, “That’s a great idea, but I’m not sure it’s great for this project. Can we have a call to talk through this?”
There are a TON of options available when it comes to setting up a WordPress website — and I’m not just talking about the decisions pertaining to the site itself, like functionality, design, conversion points, visitor flow, and content planning, etc. Decisions need to be made about domain names, hosting, email marketing, social media, shopping carts/payment systems, and more.
For a designer or developer who lives in this world every day, these decisions are no big deal, but for a client this can be overwhelming and scary.
Clients hire designers to be the experts in an area of their businessnthey are not experts in. They trust us to lead them through the process, to help educate them and guide them to make the best decisions for their business, to provide the best solutions to their challenge — to always put their objectives and interests first.
You as a designer always need to lead your clients.
- You must be confident or you risk dissension and possible lack of trust — and no one likes to be second guessed.
- You must be compassionate or your clients may not feel comfortable asking the important questions that need answers.
- You must be crystal clear in your communication or you’ll experience frustration and problems later in the project.
As a designer, your job is to keep the focus on what matters.
Before you even start on the actual design:
- You need to first understand the full scope of the problem or challenge at hand from the perspective of each key stakeholder (hint: sometimes everyone making decisions isn’t on the same page).
- Second, you need to identify the project constraints, like budget and timeline, as well as the project requirements, like functionality and specific deliverables.
- Third, you need to set and agree on clear objectives for the project, as well as define what a “win” looks like for all key stakeholders.
Clients don’t know what they don’t know.
That’s why they hire us in the first place, so they don’t have to know (hint: their time is better spent elsewhere). It doesn’t matter what the investment level is, the amount they are spending is significant and important to them. A project may be small to you, but it may be enormous for them.
Show empathy toward your clients. Know that this is a big deal for them, that they are probably nervous, and that the process can be scary and overwhelming, especially if it is the first time they have worked with a professional designer or true agency.
Be open and available to answer their questions and understand that often they aren’t asking just to try to get more out of you or to take advantage of you or your original contract, but because they are curious, they just don’t know, and they trust you.
Art is subjective. Design is subjective. People do judge a book by its cover, and they will judge a project by the design and how it looks — without giving a single thought to the strategy behind it or why you made that blue.
It’s your job as the designer, as the leader of the project, as the expert your client hired, to champion the design and objectives of the project. You must communicate that while you will do your best to incorporate their preferences, a successful design isn’t about what they personally like, but what solves the problem, meets the project objectives, and delivers the desired results — all while staying on brand and on message.
Often, the success of a project comes down to the relationship you have with the client.
Only when a relationship lacks the foundation of trust and respect, will it struggle and cause frustration and resentment.
A relationship built on mutual trust and respect will create more open, honest conversations and pave the way for real dialogue and healthy debates about process, flow, solutions, and implementation. — and the project will be better for it.
You never want to challenge your client, but as a designer, you can never be afraid to voice your opinion or a different perspective, or have a healthy debate with your client.
A good client doesn’t hire you to say yes to everything they suggest or every idea they present. Again, they hired you because they don’t know what they don’t know. They have turned to you to guide them, to make sure they stay on track and avoid detours, and to help them reach their destination.
Design with out intention is merely decoration.
You have spent hours and hours meticulously researching, planning, and creating a design solution that you are excited about and can’t wait to present to you clients. It solves their problem, does so beautifully, made something complex simple, and you know it will deliver amazing results.
You show it to them and they ask for revisions. Some will ask you to make the logo bigger, to make everything bigger, and to try to put everything on the page “above the fold”. They’ll ask you to make it pop, they’ll want it to have more pizazz, and they’ll say the black isn’t “glossy” enough.
It’s okay. They aren’t professional designers. They aren’t professional strategists. They just know what they like. So, listen to your client’s feedback on design. Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and let them know they are heard and that their input matters.
The key to success at this phase of the project is balancing your client’s feedback and what is best for the project. You need to take their input into account, but at the same time stand up for the integrity of the solution you created. You need to be the champion for the design.
Making random changes without purpose will push your carefully crafted solution from a successful design to a decoration.
No one knows their audience as well as the client does, so often clients will have revisions that have merit. They will have valid reasons for the revision request, and sometimes even data to back it up. These revisions are the ones you make right away (as long as it is in scope).
Other revisions will seem like they came out of left field and there will be no basis for the requested revisions. Here you need to dig deeper and find out WHY the revisions are being requested.
- It may be feedback they received from their mother, brother, or best friend.
- It may be because they saw a cool site recently that they liked and decided that a similar feature would be cool on their site.
- It may be because they read a blog post or attended an event where an expert said it should be done a certain way.
None of these reasons for making revisions are reasons for making revisions.
At this point, you need to loop back to the initial project objectives and what the client defined as a win. Review their revisions and walk them through each one, outlining you recommendations in each instance.
For example: If their mother, brother, or best friend is not also their ideal client or customer, then their feedback should not carry enough weight to change a design that was carefully planned, strategized, and executed to specifically deliver a solution to their challenge.
When it comes to graphic design and web design, you’re going to have big projects and small ones, projects that earn a spot in your portfolio and those that don’t. You’ll have clients you love and who love you, and clients who are challenging every step of the way. You’ll be trusted and you’ll be second guessed, you’ll be valued and looked at as nothing more than a leveraged resource.
But in every instance, no matter what, a true designer will deliver amazing work because their work is their life.