SitePoint Podcast #157: Client Centric Web Design with Paul Boag

Episode 157 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Kevin Dees (@kevindees) interviews Paul Boag (@boagworld) of BoagWorld and Headscape about his new eBook Client Centric Web Design.

Listen in Your Browser

Play this episode directly in your browser — just click the orange “play” button below:

Download this Episode

You can download this episode as a standalone MP3 file. Here’s the link:

Subscribe to the Podcast

The SitePoint Podcast is on iTunes! Add the SitePoint Podcast to your iTunes player. Or, if you don’t use iTunes, you can subscribe to the feed directly.

Episode Summary

Kevin and Paul talk in some detail on how we need to make sure our communications with our clients put them at the center of the design process, have them feeling a sense of ownership of the project, and use all their knowledge and skills as well as ours.

Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/157.

Interview Transcript

Kevin: Hi, and welcome to the SitePoint Podcast. I’m Kevin Dees and today I’m joined by Mr. Paul Boag; welcome, Paul.

Paul: Hi, it’s really good to be on the show, thank you for having me yet again, it’s good to be back.

Kevin: Yes, yes. So I don’t believe I interviewed you before on the SitePoint podcast, but we have spoken a few times now so it’s good to hear your voice.

Paul: Yes, and of course we met at South by, not this time round but previously, so it’s good to catch up again.

Kevin: Yes, it is. So, today we have you on to talk about something I feel deeply about and I know you feel deeply about, which is the focus of websites and designs. And not only that, but also where agency and application development on the Web kind of come into play and some of the parts of that. And this is going to be an interview about your book, Paul, which is Client Centric Web Design, correct?

Paul: Yep, that’s right.

Kevin: Okay. So, before we get into that I feel that I should introduce you, a proper introduction anyways.

Paul: Okay.

Kevin: So, Paul, if you don’t know who Paul is, Paul does the Boagworld website, he also does the Boagworld Podcast which has been going on for some time now, many years; how many years now?

Paul: I’ve no idea how many years.

Kevin: (Laughs)

Paul: All I know is that there weren’t any others around when I started.

Kevin: Right. So, Paul is an established speaker, you’ve written a few books now, self-authored a few, and you also have The Website Owner’s Manual, correct?

Paul: Yep, that’s right.

Kevin: And so again today we want to talk about Client Centric Web Design which is your new eBook, self-published book, correct?

Paul: Yeah, it’s to go with the third season of the podcast I do, so each season I’m trying now to do an associated eBook with it.

Kevin: Well, I think this book is an interesting perspective on the way websites are developed because usually, if you haven’t noticed from the title already, it’s Client Centric Web Design, not user centric web design, which is really what most web designers, or designers in any field, think about is design based around the user.

Paul: Hmm-mm.

Kevin: And so you have this different take on where agencies and freelancers and those who work on the Web should put their focus, which is on the client. And so I’m hoping maybe you can explain just a little bit about Client Centric Web Design, and then I’ll have more questions around the way.

Paul: Sure.

Kevin: But what is Client Centric Web Design.

Paul: It’s interesting, isn’t it? We’ve been going on about we must user centric, we must be user centric, which of course is true, we know this to be true; I’ve got three principles of client centric design, because first of all you have to make up a fancy title for something if you want it to be adopted in the web design community, there’s Ajax and Responsive Design and Progressive Enhancement, all these things, so I came up with this title, Client Centric Web Design, and it’s got these three principles. And one of the principles is that — which is probably the most controversial one, the one that you’ve just touched on, is this idea that actually user centric design, this idea of putting the user first, is actually not as important as client centric design; sure it’s important, but it kind of sits as a subsidiary of client centric design. So let me explain what I mean.

You get this scenario where most of the time it is true to say that you want to make your site user centric because without your users being happy your users will leave, if they leave then you’re going to go out of business. But notice what you’re saying there which is that ultimately the reason that you’re user centric is so that the business succeeds. And sometimes I think we get so caught up in this idea of being user centric that we almost put the cart before the horse, we almost end up saying it’s more important to please the user than it is to meet the business needs, to meet the client’s needs. Now, most of the time the two are compatible, but just occasionally they get out of line, and it’s important that you know which is more important, so let me give you an example. There was a law firm that we did some work for, and this law firm all the users that went to the website cared only about one thing, and that one thing was going and seeing the biography of the particular attorney that they were either, you now, was either representing them or they were thinking of hiring or they were opposing counsel of, or whatever else, so the bios were everything. And that’s because in the world of attorneys it’s the person that matters, the superstar, the expert in this particular field of law.

But the problem is from a business point of view is that these attorneys come and go, they move between company, so it’s really important form a business perspective that users aren’t just impressed by the individual superstar attorney, but they’re also impressed by the organization, so maybe if that attorney moves on they still stick with the company. So even though the user’s requirement was show me the attorney information, show me the attorney information, from a business perspective it was more important to give that broader view. So that’s why I say that the business needs have to supersede the user’s needs in those rare occasions when the clash. Now in that situation obviously we can still send users through to the attorney information, but we want to expose them to other stuff too. So it’s kind of getting that balance I think is so important.

Kevin: Right. You know just the other day I saw something on Amazon, and they had completely replaced their standard homepage, there were no recommended selling points or anything like that, it was just this body of text, it was an announcement that the company was making to me as their customer. It was just right after I had finished reading this, and you know I had to sit down and think, I was like, you know, it’s true, right, like they have an objective, it’s not just to sell things to me and to get me the things that I need, but also to make sure that I’m aware of what their business is and what they’re doing.

Paul: Yeah.

Kevin: And so —

Paul: Absolutely.

Kevin: Yeah, I think it’s a really good point that you’re making here.

Paul: Yeah. So that’s one point of Client Centric Design. The other one is this principle that we should collaborate with our clients, right, I think so many of us have had bad experiences with clients over the years that we’ve got into this situation of kind of excluding them from the process, you know, so we have this attitude of we’re going to limit the number of iterations that we’re going to do on the design, and we’re going to go away and produce this thing of beauty and then we’re going to present it to them and they’re going to love it. But actually client want to work with you on the website, not just for you to produce something for them, and I believe a fundamental part of good client centric web design is this idea you work collaboratively with a client, and that a whole plethora of benefits comes out of doing that.

And the one other kind of underpinning principle of client centric design is the fact that the client has real value to bring to the table, you know, I think oftentimes we think we produce great websites despite the client, you know, that the client just kind of gets in the way. But I really believe it’s impossible to produce a successful website without the client’s involvement. And the reason I think that is because if the client doesn’t feel a sense of ownership over that website, if they don’t feel passionate about it, if they don’t feel it’s their website, then the thing is that they’re going to — they’re not going to invest in the website over the long term, and we walk away and it’s great for five minutes, the website we’ve produced, and then it becomes out of date and obsolete, you know, you need the client to be invested in the website.

Also, we have this — sometimes we get this arrogant attitude that we know best, but we don’t know the business as well as they do, and the chances are we don’t know their users as well as they do. So I think it’s really important to kind of bring them into the process, so yeah, you can tell I’m quite fired up on this subject (laughs).

Kevin: Yes, yes. I tried to interrupt you there for a second —

Paul: (Laughs)

Kevin: — but I want to jump back to that.

Paul: Yeah, you’ll fail.

Kevin: (Laughs) but basically you said that the client needs to be involved in the design process.

Paul: Yes.

Kevin: And help with the design. And you pointed out that that gives them the sense of ownership.

Paul: Yep.

Kevin: But doesn’t something like that increase the time scale and the scope of a project and can ultimately lead to overshot budgets where designers or agencies have to eat hours? Like how do you get around this?

Paul: Yeah. I can kind of understand why people come to that conclusion, however, that hasn’t really been my experience. Before we started to take this approach, right, an average project would run something like this, you would get a brief from a client, it was often more of a wish list than it was a brief, and it was all a little bit vague and wooly around the edges, but you do your best to kind of understand what it was the client would want. Then you went away and you produced this design based on what the client has told you that they want, then you come back and you present that, well, immediately you’ve got one problem there, and the problem is that there is a good likelihood you’re going to have misinterpreted what they want. Now that’s not because you’re a failure or because you don’t know, it’s because the client hasn’t got a clear idea in their mind of what it is that they want to achieve, not in every case but in a lot of cases, and until they see something they’ve got nothing to react to, you know, this is all new territory, it’s hard for them to picture it in the way that you do. So immediately when you come back with the design they’re going to start saying, yeah, but I want this and I want that, and you’re going to go well I didn’t — you didn’t specify that. So actually a lot of time is wasted at that point of that potential misunderstanding.

Then there’s another aspect which I think wastes a lot of time in the traditional way of working, which is that because the client wants a sense of ownership and wants to feel like they’re involved in the decision making, when you come back with a design at that stage the design is your design, not theirs, they’ve got no sense of ownership. So what they start doing is they start trying to stamp their mark on the design.

Kevin: Right.

Paul: And that’s where you start getting into iteration cycles which go on and on and on because the client doesn’t really know particularly what they want, they’re not experts in design, and you’re not really guiding the process anymore, they’ve just started coming back with changes. So I think we’re taking a more collaborative approach where you’re showing the design to them every step of the way, you’re showing them sketches, you’re showing them mood boards, you’re showing them wireframes, you’re both educating them but you’re also taking them on that journey with you where they feel that sense of ownership. And a client is much less likely to reject a design that they feel a sense of ownership on, so in most of our projects these days we go from initial inspiration, you know, kind of collection, to mood boards, to wireframes, to final design, maybe some minor tweaking to that final design, and then we’re done. And actually that process is as quick if not quicker than the traditional kind of ta-da! moment, here’s a wonderful design, oh no, we’ve got it completely wrong.

Also, because you kind of go through that process there’s no need to do multiple designs either, because that wastes a load of time as well.

Kevin: Yes, it does.

Paul: Because you only do multiple designs to provide a mechanism by which the client can feel a sense of they get to pick a design, and so all of that goes away as well which saves a lot of time.

Kevin: Yeah. I want to jump back to the design stuff later on and talk about the mood boards, because I think that has a lot to do with the multiple designs, it kind of modulizes that in a way. But I think what you’re saying here, and you’re making a good point, which is that the traditional way of doing it you end up doing these large iterations of multiple designs basically, and that ends up wasting the time that you make up for when you’re working with a client in tandem to create this design, so the agency doesn’t lose any time. However, but, I’m going to pushback on you again here —

Paul: Sure, fair enough. Go for it.

Kevin: So I think this is good, that requires more time with a client then, and so while the agency may be saving time, in fact, I totally believe what you’re saying in that it saves agency time, so you’ve bought yourself time but you’ve spent more of the client’s time.

Paul: Yeah.

Kevin: Do clients pushback against that or are they more opted to come in and help you out, because depending on the size of the client you have, if you’re freelance or if it’s a one-man show, or if you’re an agency you may have multiple people involved in the process, and I know we can step into the stakeholder interviews and stuff a little bit later on, but the involvement from the client and the amount of time that that takes, what do you have to say to this?

Paul: Yeah, I mean they do — in the vast majority of cases I think that’s what — I think clients actually want to work this way, they want to be involved, the do want a sense of ownership. For those that don’t I think they need to anyway; sooner or later a client has to invest considerable time in their site, if they don’t the site’s going to die, you know, they’re going to have to write content from it and they’re going to have to keep that content up-to-date, they’re going to have to work on social media stuff, they’re all going to have to engage, a website is not a brochure, it’s not something that can be built and then you can then walk away from. And so the kind of consequence is that because sooner or later they’ve got to do that, I think the sooner you break them in to that mindset of having to invest in the website, and the website being as much theirs as it is yours, I think that’s only a good thing. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a situation where a client has pushed back and has said no I don’t want to be involved, I’m too busy; if they did I’m not quite sure how I would react really, I think I would push them hard to be involved and would say that they do need to make time for it.

Kevin: Right. I think that’s a good response. I do want to get some more of these other questions, so I’m going to abruptly change subjects here, which is we’ve covered the basics of the client centric side of things, but you also take about a partnership of experts in the book, and you say that the client is an expert and you are an expert, and figuring out how to display yourself as an expert is a little bit different than figuring out the expertise that the client has. Can you talk about the two different segments of experts that you talk about in the book, one being the client, one being the designer or the agency.

Paul: Yeah, I mean the first thing to realize is that a client has got expertise. I think we can be very arrogant as web designers, and we live in our little bubble of web stuff, so if somebody doesn’t get the Web therefore they’re thick and stupid. Well, no, sorry, it’s not like that, you know the client is going to have their expertise in their particular field, be that marketing or project management or whatever, and I think we can utilize that as web designers. Also as I’ve said before, they’ve got expertise in their business, and they’ve got expertise in their users, and we need to acknowledge that as well. So a big part of kind of client centric design is checking this negativity towards clients and recognizing that they have value, recognizing that they bring something to the table, and treating them like experts and grownups that we can interact with.

So it’s easy for us to change our attitude towards the client, well, it’s not necessarily easy but we can do that, what we can’t do is change — we can’t alter the way a client thinks, we can only alter our own behavior and our own attitude. So the thing is, is that not all clients do recognize our expertise, and there is a need for us to establish in the mind of the client that we are the experts and they should trust us. And in the book I go through lots of different approaches to this, you know, I talk about — one thing I talk about is the idea of being an expert by association. And what that is, is if I turn around and say you should listen to me, I’m an expert, you know your immediate reaction to that is who the hell does he think he is, you arrogant little so and so. So it’s quite, you know, it’s not just a matter of saying you’re an expert, but what you can do is you can point to someone like Jacob Neilson or Steve Krug or whoever else and say, hey, that guy’s an expert, this is why he’s an expert, and he says this on the topic. And so you can use other people’s expertise as a way of adding to your own credibility because it shows that you’re knowledgeable, it shows that experts are backing you up in your opinion, it shows that you’re well read, etcetera, etcetera. So expertise by association is one thing.

Another way you can show your expertise is through process and projects, having a very specific process that you take the client through reassures the client that you know what you’re doing, that you have done this before, that you have a system that works, whether that be — you know, whatever your — I mean my system is let’s start with some inspiration, let’s work on some mood boards, let’s do some wire framing, let’s do some stakeholder interviews, etcetera, this plethora of tools that are available to me that I can use. And those give the client confidence as well as helping get the result that we need to from the website, and that gives them confidence that you are the expert and you know what you’re talking about. So that’s another tool that you can use.

So there are lots of different ways of kind of establishing your own expertise, and I think that’s massively, you know, is a really important part of it, because the client’s got to believe in you and believe in your abilities.

Kevin: Right. I think you’re spot-on about the process and giving that to the client, because it gives them something tangible to kind of take a hold of. In the past experiences I’ve had I know that has been the key factor that’s helped me win work and that kind of thing, where it’s been, okay, you know your stuff, show me how it’s going to work for me, and I think the process that you’re talking about is that piece that they get to touch and feel and breathe-in and experience.

Paul: And then also of course there’s referring back to old projects, you know, if the client’s worried about a particular decision that you’ve made on the design you can say, well, I took a similar approach on this project and it worked very well, and da-da-da-da, so, again, you’re referring back to that body of work behind you.

Kevin: Right. Okay, so another abrupt segue.

Paul: That’ fine.

Kevin: I’m good at those. But I said that we’d come back to the design side of things.

Paul: Yeah.

Kevin: And I don’t want to leave this part out because I think it’s super important, mostly because I believe the listeners of the show are probably going to fall more into this category on a broader scale. And so the person that’s coming in and they’re saying, okay, I’m going to try this client centric web design thing, and you talked about this design process of mood boards and these kinds of things, and that kind of goes into the expertise side of things as well. What would you say to somebody about the dealing with design on that side of things? You talk about in the book that pride becomes before the fall and the danger of limiting iterations, that kind of stuff, so where does the design, the dealing with the design, fall into client centric web design?

Paul: Yeah. I mean design is always the hardest area, and it’s the most likely to I think cause conflict because, you know, design is such a subjective subject I think, even we see design in very different ways, and so I think having a process is a big part of that, you know, I think that provides a lot of reassurance, I think you need lots of communication, you need to talk the client through the fact that design is a very subjective process, and that it cause conflict and disagreement. And one of the things that I’m a great fan of, and something that Andy Clark said to me only earlier today is that if a client comes back with a comment on design, say that’s great, I can see where you’re coming from and I can see your opinion, but do you have actually any evidence to back that up or is it literally just your personal opinion. So it’s kind of highlighting to the client what’s personal opinion and what’s, you know, what’s actually tangible fact, if that makes sense.

Another big part of it is clearly defining whose role it is to do what, because many clients kind of lack experience of web projects, they might be a bit unclear about what’s required from them, and I think this often leads to them suggesting design solutions rather than identifying problems; you don’t want a client coming back to you and say “make it blue.” What you would prefer to hear from a client is “I’m worried about the color scheme because you’ve done the design pink and it’s aimed at kind of middle age men, and we don’t necessarily feel that that color scheme is right.” And if you understand what the problem is rather than just being given a solution, then you could go back and say, well, yes I know it’s pink but I don’t feel necessarily the answer is to make it blue, why don’t we put — I don’t know, what do middle age men like, pipes and slippers on it, you know. So it’s a matter of kind of educating the client that their job is to suggest problems and not necessarily to provide you with the solutions, and for you to come up with the solutions.

Also I think another big part of getting designer privilege is to educate the client, so it’s about how you present the design to the client, you know, you show them a little and often throughout the process, there’s no big surprises, and you can talk them through the mood boards and the wireframes and all the rest of it. And even when we present final designs, you know, we present our final design as a video so that they can see the design but they’re hearing all the background and all the thought process behind it as we talk over the design, and we talk through how the design has been informed by the mood boards and by the research that we did and by the wireframe so that they’re being educated through the process as well. So I think those are all things that really make a big difference, but you’re right, I mean the other one you mentioned was pride, and I think as web designers we are kind of rightly proud of what we do, because we are experienced at building user interfaces, and the client is not. But we often become kind of very protective and get very easily hurt when the client makes even the smallest suggestion about the website. But actually a non-designer is capable of making a good suggestion about a design, they’re not going to be as well informed about you, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t suggest something that’s good.

Kevin: Right.

Paul: You know, and I think it’s really important that we stand back a little bit from our design and don’t allow our egos to get bruised, and don’t allow our kind of relationship with the client to become confrontational. We need to rely on our thinking, you know, we don’t just produce websites to look great in our portfolio or to impress our peers or even to impress users, we need to recognize that our job satisfaction should become for producing design that the client loves and not just design that we personally love. So I think putting aside our pride is a big part of the process

Kevin: Yeah. When you talk about educating the client, and educating them on what good design practices are, patterns, all this stuff, I feel like there may go on a little bit of patronizing or belittling of the client and their ability to comprehend what you’re talking about. And so how do you prevent what you’re saying to them coming off in that way? Basically how do you go about communicating to a client so they could understand the goals that you’re setting in place not only from a user perspective but from their perspective now, right, because this is client centric web design we’re talking about.

Paul: Yeah. I mean I think that’s where the collaboration really comes in. If you’re working side-by-side producing sketches for wireframes, if you’re looking through different websites and discussing color palettes and typography and all these things with a client, then they’re kind of being educated without you directly educating them, if that makes sense, they’re kind of learning on the job. It’s not a matter of you need to say, well, you need to understand this about color theory, it’s more the fact that you’re kind of playing around with color palettes and you’re saying well I’m not really sure that works because those two colors clash, check out this thing about colors that go together and don’t, and it’s much more of a kind of friendly collaborative working on it together approach rather than I’m going to sit and educate you now.

In terms of the videos where you’re kind of — you’re presenting the design, the education that’s happening there it’s not really education, it’s more reminding the client what you’ve already done, you know, it’s lots of okay we’ve done this on the design because we did this in the mood boards, and you remember we agreed on that in the mood board and, yeah, that was the way we thought we should go where you can see how I’ve reflected that here. So it’s more kind of reminding the client there of the process that you’ve already been through.

And the other way I think of kind of educating them is questioning a lot, so instead of saying, you know, taking the kind of attitude of, oh, don’t be so silly, that’s a ridiculous idea and here’s ten reasons why, I think it’s better to say, you know, to go to the client, let’s say the client suggests something outrageously stupid, I don’t know, they want a flaming logo on their website.

Kevin: Right.

Paul: At first when you go back say why do you want this logo, explain it a little bit more, you know, let’s kind of bat around some ideas, so they then talk about some of their thinking behind it, and then just ask questions about it. Say things like, well, how are we going to deal with that if we have that, how are we going to deal with that distracting people from the content, right. So what you’re doing there is you’re getting them to think through what they’re doing and suggesting some potential issues that might need solving, so eventually they come to the conclusion that their idea wasn’t the best idea after all. So it’s kind of leading them to the solutions rather than just bombarding them with this is why you’re stupid.

Kevin: Right. Briefly could you touch on another side of this, what you talked about being the yes man.

Paul: (Laughs)

Kevin: And I’ve actually put this into practice and it does work. So explain a little bit about the yes man concept that you talk about.

Paul: Yeah. I mean that’s really what — I’ve kind of touched on it already really. The yes man concept is simple: you should never say no to your client, right, every time I ever say that they’re just, oh, God, you’ve got to be joking; you’ve got to say no to them, they suggest such stupid things. But it’s the principle that says yeah! — the client’s come up with an idea, the last thing you should do is crush them, right, you know, you should encourage them, so even if they come up with a stupid idea say, oh, you know, yeah — it’s hard to word it in a generic way, but that’s great, thanks for the idea, I really appreciate the idea, wonderful, but let’s talk through that idea; is that really going to work? What issues are there that might come up, what problems might arise? And, again, it’s this principle of getting the client to think through the issues, and getting to them where they’re saying no about their own ideas rather than you saying no. And that’s the key, yeah, that does take more of a conversation, but, as soon as you say no to a client there’s nowhere for that conversation to go, right. The only way it can end is the client backing down or it turning it into a fight, right.

Kevin: Right.

Paul: And most of the time once people express an opinion about something and it turns into a confrontation, even if we have been — let’s be honest with ourselves, even if we have been convinced that we are wrong we still dig in our heels, don’t we, because we stated a position and we want to remain consistent with that. So the last thing you want to do is create a confrontational environment, so a ‘no’ only ever ends in confrontation, so instead get the client to think it through and get them to come to that point where they reject the design themselves, or their suggestion themselves.

Kevin: Right. So I wish we had more time to talk about this, it’s such a good topic.

Paul: It’s always the way!

Kevin: (Laughs) but I want to jump into the application side of this.

Paul: Yes.

Kevin: What can someone do today to start using client centric web design, because you’ve sold me on it; I don’t know that you’ve titled it this until recently, but I’ve listened to your podcast for at least two or three years now, and it’s kind of become your song in that clients aren’t the enemy. So how can somebody go about implementing this Client Centric Web Design approach?

Paul: To be honest I think the biggest part of it is your own attitude. This is different from let’s say a new CSS technique or, you know, most of the stuff that people write about, most of the time when people write books it’s here’s a list of a, b, c, d that you have to do and you end up with this result. Client Centric Web Design is not like that, it’s about a state of mind — wow, that sounds so pretentious.

Kevin: (Laughs)

Paul: But it’s making a decision that you’re going to treat the client as the center of your job. It’s about, as I said earlier, deciding you’re going to build your job satisfaction on sending clients away happy rather than you thinking your job is just about building websites. Once you decide that you provide a service and that you should have a service mentality, that changes everything, it changes your whole approach to websites. And I think that is the main thing that people need to do is starting out in this process is really set aside — set aside their prejudices, almost, towards clients and make a decision that you’re going to work collaboratively alongside clients. Once you’ve done that I think in terms of practicality it’s about how you work alongside clients, I think it’s sitting down and looking at the process that you go through to create a website, and identifying as many points along that process as you can engage the client with, right.

So I’ve already talked about, you know, if we just look at my design process that I normally start — once I’ve got the brief and I understand what I’ve got to do, the first thing I start doing is looking around at other websites or bits of architecture or print design, or whatever else, just to get inspired, right. So instead of keeping that inspiration to myself I now show it to the client, right, and that starts off a conversation, and maybe the client finds some stuff that inspires them and they like and they contribute that into the mix. Then once I’ve got that I go into my mood board phase where I kind of collect together different parts of the inspiration and start thinking about typography and color and imagery and all of that kind of stuff. And that’s where I start to explore ideas, but I do that with the client, I show them mood boards, I iterate mood boards, because producing a mood board only takes a few minutes rather than a few hours like a design comp does. So you can show and through lots of them and try different approaches, and show them to the client and say here’s a really conservative design and here’s a really kind of over-the-top hippie design, and just explore different areas and include the client there.

And then of course there’s the wire framing; instead of you starting to sketch out and think about the wire framing, sit down with the client and get them drawing some boxes, and get them saying well okay what do you think the homepage should look like? you know, ask them what element should be on it, how they would prioritize those elements and how they would organize them, you know, let’s try wire framing this website as if it was mainly focused around news and events, alright now let’s try wire framing it as if it’s focused around the ecommerce elements, or let’s try wire framing it if we were just aiming at this audience or that audience, and just sketch, sketches that take seconds to do and then discuss those and include them. And, again, with the design and as much as possible include the client in the process is the key really.

Kevin: Right. Now what about the situation, which I think is fairly common in the agency world, which is where the agency wants to keep the designer in a cubicle and have them just pump out these designs. How can someone in that position where they don’t really get to get in front of the client and talk to them, or that’s mostly done by project managers and sales people, how can you get this approach into that place where you’re working?

Paul: Hmm, that is difficult.

Kevin: That’s a tough nut to crack.

Paul: Because you’re trying to instigate a cultural change there. You know I could give the flippant answer and tell them buy a copy of the book and then give it to their boss.

Kevin: (Laughs) right answer.

Paul: I always present stuff, right; whenever I’m trying to convince anybody of anything what you’ve got to do is talk about it in terms of the benefit that it provides them rather than you, right. A project manager, if you turn around to a project manager and say I want to be speaking to the client, that’s immediately going to ring bells in the project manager’s mind of I’m going to lose control of the project, I’m not going to know what’s going on, da-da-da-da, and you saying but it’ll really help the design process ain’t gonna mean anything to the project manager, you know; that it helps you doesn’t matter, it’s got to help them. So in that situation you’ve got to package the message as a benefit to them, that it’ll mean that they will have to do less kind of middle man between the two of you, that you’ll be more proactive, that there will be less misunderstandings, you know, that work can be turned around quicker and the client feels more engaged and will be happier, etcetera, etcetera. So you put it in benefits that will make their life easier. And then at the same time you’ve got to think of it from their perspective and what problems they might have with it and address those problems. So, for example, they feel that they’re going to be out of control, that they’re not going to know everything that’s going on, well say to them, look, if I even have a conversation with the client afterwards I will confirm everything that was said to you via email so you have a written record of that conversation, or, you know if you want to be involved in every phone call that I have with the client that’s absolutely fine as well. So you kind of address their needs and their fears, it’s the only way you can really do it I think.

Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent answer, Paul. You know at the end of the day it really comes to communicating with anybody, clients, project manager, you have to communicate.

Paul: And I think that’s what we’re so bad at as web designers, and let’s realize, let’s make a huge, sweeping generalization here, but you know I do think as a sector we have a disproportionate number of people that are on the autistic spectrum, you know, we’re computer people, we’re not people people. But we work in a client service industry so we need to learn how to be people people, we need to learn — and it’s funny isn’t it, because on one hand we pride ourselves on our ability to get inside of the head of users, don’t we, to empathize with them, to imagine what they’re doing on the website and what problems they’re going to encounter, and we care, we put a lot of energy into doing that. But we need to put that same energy into what makes our clients tick, what makes our project manager tick, you know, what do they care about? One of the things I mentioned in the book is find out when you’re talking to say a stakeholder, if there’s a problematic person within the company, find out what is the one thing they really care about, and then any argument or anything you present to them build it around that; if they care about recruitment, for example, when you present the design make a point of saying how it can benefit recruitment, you know, you’ve got to find out what makes people tick, and we’ve got to put that same effort into doing that with clients and our colleagues as we do into our users.

Kevin: Right. Yeah, I guess the thing is you can’t be passive about your approach, you have to be proactive, a self-starter in a way.

Paul: Yeah.

Kevin: So, Paul, unfortunately we’re out of time.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely, I do talk a lot, I apologize.

Kevin: No, no, but it’s good information. I think this is something that needs to be talked about more in the community of web design, specifically when it relates to client work, but also I think it relates to also when you’re dealing with your own projects and your own needs, right; if I’m creating an application I need to use this approach as well because at the end of the day it’s an app, and so the app is kind of like my client, and I need to present the information that the users want to the users, but also at the same time put those behind the needs of the app, because at the end of the day the app or the client or whoever it may be, it’s ultimately their thing and the thing that they’re trying to sell, so it’s their goals above user goals in a way, correct?

Paul: Yeah. I mean absolutely. I mean with an app, I mean depending on why you’ve created the app, if you’ve just created it for a bit of fun then sure put the users first, but if you’ve created that app to earn money or you’ve got business objectives for that app then they need to be first, they need to — everything needs to hand off of that.

Kevin: Well, Paul, where can people find you and the book, where can they find more information if they want to know more about this Client Centric Web Design thing?

Paul: Sure. I mean there’s — basically the best place to go is Boagworld.com/season/3, and what that will get you is the podcast for this season that’s coming out, I don’t know when this podcast is being released, but we’re doing Season 3 of the Boagworld Show in April, April 11th it kicks off, so you can go to that URL, you’ll be able to get to all the episodes as they come out, all of that’s completely free. If you want to buy the eBook as well, which obviously goes into more depth, you can get to that from that page as well. But from my point of view it’s really about getting this message out and getting people to rethink how they’re running their businesses, because I’m certainly not going to get rich from selling eBooks, that’s for sure (laughter).

Kevin: Well, perhaps one day you will.

Paul: One can only hope.

Kevin: Wouldn’t that be nice. Well, Paul, thank you again, and do you have Twitter?

Paul: I am, yes, I’m on Twitter @boagworld, so you can check me out there as well.

Kevin: Awesome. Well, Paul, thank you so much for coming on, I very much enjoyed our chat, and hopefully folks can start taking some of these things away and implementing them in their current workflow.

Paul: Yep, thank you.

Kevin: Alright, take it easy.

And thanks for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. If you have any questions or thoughts about today’s show please feel free to get in touch. You can find SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom, that’s sitepoint d-o-t-c-o-m. You can find me on Twitter @kevindees, and if you’d like to leave comments about today’s show check out the podcast at sitepoint.com/podcast, you can subscribe to the show there as well. This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad, and I’m Kevin Dees, bye for now.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

No Reader comments

Comments on this post are closed.