How you as a client can deal with developer expectations – Part 1

16th March 2017
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Lots of classic design materials still work great

(This is part one of a three part series.)

How to make your website project seamless — Part 1 The Planning Phase

Expectations. They frame our lives by determining if we’re happy or not: lower expectations means less disappointment but also we don’t do our best work, whereas high expectations create an opportunity for amazing results…or massive disappointment. Setting the right level of expectation at the beginning of a website project will make everyone happy with the end result and give everyone room to exceed those expectations to delight the user!

The key to setting the right level of expectation is everyone agreeing on the main goal and understanding when that goal has been achieved – i.e. deadline!

1 – User questions

This can be a very frustrating part of the process, but is just like laying the foundation of a house. You get this part right and the build will go smoothly.

Great questions to ask are:

  • Who is the user?
  • What is the problem the user is having and how are we solving it?
  • How do we determine if we are successful in fixing the problem, thereby helping the user?

All the work, the content, the technology, the design, must answers these questions. These questions help me as a developer understand who the user is, how they operate, and what she wants. It’s my job to make sure I create a functional website, but also to really excite or delight them. Do you want your users to come back to your website over and over again? This is how you do it.

2 – Maintanence Questions

Now I, the developer, need to find out what’s going to happen after the project is complete and in your hands. I want to make sure that you’re in charge of your own website, that you know how to use it and how to make changes.

So I need to know:

  • Who will be in charge after the job is complete? Does that person have any web experience, or will they need training? Will we need to build more back end services so this editor can do more, faster?
  • What will happen with the site later (i.e. frequent updates)? What is its “Shelf life”? (i.e. will is disappear in 6-months?)
  • What’s the ongoing strategy around finding user problems and fixing them so the website experience continually improves?

Now let’s dig into who the User is (this is neither the developer nor the client)

Interaction Design (IxD) is a big part of website design and for good reason. IxD is to web design as personas are to marketing. Once you have the right person in mind then you design for that person, which makes it more engaging for the user and less frustrating for you and for your web developer (me) because the plan has a clear focus.

We can’t make everyone happy! Nor should we.

If we can’t make everyone happy then we need to choose our audience carefully and this is the foundation we build on and what makes a website, large or small, successful.

Once we have this IxD foundation we start thinking about how best to present that information for it to be most helpful to the user (notice I said user and not you the paying client).

What sort of content is required:

  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Animations
  • Graphs
  • Diagrams
  • A searchable information directory
  • A static marketing site vs a constantly updated CMS
  • Is it a shopping cart or a blog
  • Does it need a great search function or are there only three easy-to-find pages
  • If the user is younger do they want a more modern look
  • If the user is older do they need larger text and simpler language

Most often a mixture of 1-5 of the above items will make a really engaging site. Any more and it can start to become content-heavy and pages start loading very slooooowly; this is also bad! But, again go back to IxD, and when we know the content beforehand we can design for it in advance.

3- Mobile is King so design for mobile first

Websites are viewed on mobile devices more than 50% of the time compared to desktop so your website needs to be ready by being responsive (mobile-friendly). Over 80% of website users, scan on a mobile device and Google will give precedence to mobile-enabled websites so don’t make Uncle Google ignore your site – Google uses mobile-friendliness as a “Ranking Signal”. One of my first thoughts when being presented with a new website build is “How will the content look on the smallest possible screen?” If it doesn’t help the user fulfill her goal (IxD) or the content becomes messy at a certain screen size (Responsive Design), we need to adjust the design and/or the content. Remember Mobile is King, so we design for Mobile First. Get this book on Mobile First, to learn more about Mobile First design.

Now let’s keep planning our Responsive Website

A responsive website means we need a plan for mobile too – and for that we need content! What, You don’t have content yet? This may be difficult to provide at the beginning but being very clear about your content at these early stages will shape your design, the functionality and how your website will be editable in the future. If you don’t have finalised text and images at this stage, at least have a very clear outline of what you want. This allows me to put place holder material in there and is critical to a successful website build. Changing content at a late stage in the project can make you miss your deadline.

Most clients want the content to come last for good reason – it hasn’t been created yet! But the problem here is a website is all about text and images. If you’ve ever seen an empty web template you will understand what I mean. It leaves you feeling flat and uninspired; the website is, and feels, unfinished.

Responsive design is about a single source of content across many viewports and, therefore, requires the content up front for a truly award winning design that spans a million devices.” and “When you ask a designer to design without the content that will be used for the final site you may as well be asking an architect to design a house without specifying the number of bedrooms, ensuites, kitchens and bathrooms. – credit: responsivedesign.is

Planning is the key to any large project, you wouldn’t build a 6 story building without plan. The foundation would be completely wrong and would have to be scrapped. We need to talk first before we can draw up plans.

If you start with a house then change your mind and want to build a skyscraper, the foundation is all wrong and you’ll need to start all over again by removing the house and digging a really deep foundation for a skyscraper instead. That translates to a lot more time and money but a good design and agreement between everyone on what we’re building saves us this pain.

I, your developer, want to make you, the client, happy! In the next post I’ll tell you how this can happen with you in complete control.

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Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with Rails, Python, and ASP.net/Umbraco back end frameworks.