By Andrew Neitlich

Should the first thing you show the client be perfect?

By Andrew Neitlich

A reader in the last blog asked about whether the client should see A+ work the first time you show something.

Here are three answers:

1. Each client is different. Ask your client what their expectations are. Propose different ways to work (e.g. show something perfect; show an early draft to get initial thoughts) and find out their preference.

2. For simple sites, I expect designers to show me two iterations of their best work (for a home page/look and feel), and then I want to choose one. Some designers I’ve worked with take weeks to show me as many as 10 iterations, which annoys me to no end. Two or three alternatives is the most I can handle. One is fine, too, if it is great, but two is better. I like to feel in control, and have some choice. Either way, if we are talking about a simple 10-page site, I want to see a top-quality attempt at a home page. That’s because it should be relatively easy for you to understand the requirements of such a simple site, and so the ball is in your court to understand my goals, other sites I like, etc. Ask your client if they want to see 2-3 alternatives or not.

3. For complex sites, I much prefer an iterative approach: Get something up based on my specifications, and let’s work together to make rapid improvements. This agile approach is the trend, for good reason. I much prefer it to having a developer take weeks to put something up that doesn’t match my needs. Plus, since I’m not great at graphics (like many of your clients), I need to see it and think about it in a concrete way.

Is your experience similar?

  • For simple sites, if designeres are showing you 10 iterations, then yes, they’re clearly not understanding your business profile and objectives/requirements. Any reputable artist will show you no more than 2, ideally 1, comp because they took the time up front to truly grasp what is your business is about.

    For the complex sites, I agree with your working process. I actually start designing the wireframes and page descriptions first and then once these are approved, the design comes next. This way, we get all of the functional specs in place and then add the graphics when it’s appropriate. Too many designers work the other way around – design first, spec second. Bad idea.


  • whackaxe

    In the book “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be” by Paul Arden (I HIGHLY recommend this book) he suggests that it’s best to show the client a more rough and basic idea. if you go into details straight away, the client might get sidetracked on them, and focus on the negative details when thinking about your design.

    I think this is a good point, but it can backfire of the client is waiting to be impressed by a design (if its his main focus)

  • I ask all my clients to give examples of existing websites they like and what specifically they like about them (ie the colors in abc.com, the fonts in 123.com, the 5meg flash intro in xyz.com, etc.). Then I ask them to give some words to describe the overall feel of how they want their site (corporate, friendly, classy, conservative, etc.). This is usually enough to put together something to start. Half the time they love the first iteration. Half the time they love the second. And nearly all the time they’ll think of major changes a week after they’ve said they can’t think of any more changes.

    I make purely custom-built sites to match the clients’ existing brand, and I don’t do template sites (though I’m tempted), so this works for me. For people who do template sites I imagine you can just say, “hey, look in my catalog and pick one.”

  • DONMAC17

    You’d be a good client to work for. ‘Realistic’, I’d say.

  • I try to solve this problem normally while meeting with clients. I feed them the expectation that I have via sketches and ideas that are realistic within their budget. The digital version is coupled in the proposal later along with other details.

    I’d rather work with clients along the way than let them foolishly choose one design cause it appeals to them. My beliefs proved that not all clients know what they need thus only aim to look for the prettiest and not functional.

    Cheers. :)

  • digitman


    I often face the problem that my clients are very non technical. They don’t care about how the project is done/what technologies are used, they just want it done. I know I should discuss the project with them in a non-technical and easy to understand language so they can easily understand what’s happening, but i always seem to talk in a technical language. That turns off many clients.

    I’m sure this is a common problem. Do you have any advice on it?

  • deliteness

    Digitman, I hear you! I think the most successful salespeople in the web world are the ones who can give technolgy a friendly face. I find it helps me to imagine I’m talking to my dad (a smart guy, but about as non computer savvy as they come – pick whoever you think would help you!), and use extreme care not to overload the client with information. But don’t swing too far in the non-technical direction, some clients may want to hear some tech jargon just to be sure they are working with someone who knows their stuff. Listen to their questions to see if they probe for more details about the technology, to understand if you are getting technical enough. And don’t worry too much about semantics – correcting the client or trying to make them understand something they clearly don’t may not be worth the fight!

    Of course the exception to this is always that fun conversation with someone who *thinks* they know what they are talking about but they don’t. IMHO when it starts to turn into a pissing contest, it’s ok to make their head spin ;)

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