Andy Clarke: How to call a client an idiot without getting fired

Orde Saunders' avatarUpdated: Published: by Orde Saunders

Andy Clarke (@Malarkey) was talking about client relationship management at #TIDE and Handheld conference, these are my notes from his talk.

Responsive design isn't just our problem.

We forgot to tell our bosses and clients that RWD isn't just our problem. There are much more problems beyond the design and build. RWD is an issue for business, it's not an engineering problem. People need to consider for new ways to work on and pay for RWD projects. People who structure the teams need to change how they do their jobs. Many of the problems stem from the workflow and that's not within our control.

A common workflow for making websites:

  1. Pre-design planning
  2. Visual design
  3. Development
  4. Deployment

Any part of the process that limits the creative input is a problem. Wireframes can be a problem as they are often produced and signed off before they get to the designer - reduces their role to colouring in between the lines. Wireframes set expectations of layout but wireframes shouldn't set the layout. Usually one size, fixed width, desktop centric.

"Creatives" working on visual design. This is where we get pictures of websites. These have become the currency of web design - they are handed around as part of the process. They are also used as a QA tool. However, they are now terribly ill equipped for what we are doing now. It's not necessarily the medium, there's so little communication.

Developers often work quite separately from designers, physically and organisationally.

Databases, CMS and other black ops make up deployments.

This waterfall process hasn't changed in a very long time. Each stage of this workflow can be turned into checkpoints for approval and billing. The inflexibility of this doesn't work for us on the web - we can't go back through the process. We need to reassess everything throughout the process. People need to work much closer together.

Design testing is not the same as device testing. Test your design assumptions as you go - make sure designs work on real devices. We use design code to get things onto these devices. It doesn't matter exactly what device you are using at this stage, this code isn't supposed to work on all devices - you are testing how it feels on that class of device.

[Personal note: If you are deploying to test servers throughout the dev process then production deploy should use the same process and be smooth.]

Participation process is fundamentally broken.

How we get people to participate in the design process is broken. Everyone wants to do the best work they can and a broken process leads to frustration. There's very little from what is created in photoshop that makes it through to the final process - they can't communicate design decisions. Photoshop has one way of doing things and that way isn't how the browsers do things. When we show comps to a client we are trying to have multiple conversations with the same image - people focus on the wrong things. Separate out the elements into different conversations. Design elements independently. Static comps set the wrong expectations. Never show a client a PSD, show them somethign they can interact with. Work with the client and allow them to put something of themselves into a design.

  • Never email a picture of a site to a client.
  • Direct constructive feedback.
  • Don't have a big reveal - keep clients involved. When people are involved they don't change things at the last minute.
  • Restrict feedback to structured sessions. Keep it face-to-face. Limit the scope of the conversation.

How to call a client an idiot.

You are an expert - never underestimate your importance to a decision. This isn't about ego, it's about respect. Set rules on how we receive feedback.

  1. Don't ask for unstructured feedback out of context.
  2. Take control the environment where you present your designs. Use feedback sessions to find out about your client.
  3. Remind people this is about the work and the quality of the product. Be honest, if you have a good working relationship then people will thank you for it.

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