Category: Been BoDo’d
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Have you Been BoDo’d?
Welcome to our first Been BoDo’d. So, what’s this ‘Been BoDo’d? In a nutshell, it’s where we select a noted veteran or up-and-coming designer to share thoughts, insights and experiences about the business side of design. You can see more of an explanation in our sidebar under Being BoDo’d.
For our first You’ve Been BoDo’d, we went in search of someone experienced in design, business and more. With Andy Budd (popular author, blogger, web guy), we got the ‘and more’.
A bit about Andy
Andy Budd is the Creative Director at Clearleft, a noted team of web design and interaction consultants. He’s also an internationally known user experience designer, web standards expert, frequent speaker at major design conferences and beer drinker extraordinaire.
Tapping into Andy’s design experience and knowledge, he is often requested to judge various web design awards. He also sits on the advisory board for .Net magazine, the UK’s leading web development periodical.
Andy is also the author of CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions, where he shares his years of experience in creating attractive, standards compliant websites. I have a copy, and even though my CSS skill are cacca (not the books fault as I cheat by yelling for Jay), as a fan of CSS Mastery, I highly recommend it for your CSS library.
I’m also a long time fan of Blogography, Andy’s blog. Years before I knew anything about blogs, Blogography was one of the first I kept going back to. And still do.
A bit about the Designers Working With Series
Last month we started the Designers Working With Series (DWW) to get real people advice about running a design company. Starting with designers, the DWW series focuses on how designers work, and how other professionals (writers, photographers, marketeers, printers and pre press specialists, etc) work with designers.
Andy participated in the first round, the designers round. It’s where we asked seven questions with a design industry bend. Below are Andy’s answers, all in a row.
As a professional designer, what are the main points that you’d expect / want clients to know before contacting you about a project?
Ideally the client will have done some preparatory work and have a rough idea of the project goals, budget and the type of design services they are looking for. However as a professional consultancy, it is our job to guide clients through the process no matter how prepared or experienced they are.
When working with clients, what do you see as the top problem areas?
The two main client issues I see occurring on a regular basis are unrealistic or inflated expectations, and the tendency to offer solutions rather than outline problems.
The majority of clients have little or no experience in building a website which is why they come to design professionals for help. There is a popular misconception that web design is easy, and this is something that has been propagated by tools manufacturers and educators over the years. Because of this, many clients have unrealistic expectations when it comes to budget, timeframe and features.
As web professionals, it is our job to manage our clients’ expectations and make sure they understand exactly what they will be getting as a result of the design process. Unfortunately in the rush to sell services and win pitches, agencies often over promise and under deliver. This may win clients in the short term, but in the long term they will be left feeling short changed. I think it is much wiser to under promise and over deliver. That way clients will always be delighted with the work you produce.
Good communication at the start of the project is vital as it allows you to manage client expectations. It is also an opportunity to set some ground rules and explain to clients exactly how the design process will work.
Design is all about creative problem solving. In an ideal world your clients will define the problems they are facing, and then you will come up with the best solution to solve those problems. However people are naturally helpful and clients really enjoy getting involved with design projects. As such, rather than coming to you with a problem to fix, clients will often come to you with one of several possible solutions and ask you to implement them. Examples of this could be anything from a client suggesting that a button needs to be made bigger, through to recommending functionality like a blog or a forum. In these situations, it is important to understand that the client recommendation is just one possible solution to a much deeper problem, and it is your job to examine what that problem is, look at all of the available solutions, and then suggest the best one for the job.
To avoid these situations, it is important to explain the design process up front and make sure your client is explaining what the problems are rather than simply offering one of several solutions. That way your client will get the most out of your design knowledge and the project has a much higher chance of success.
How do you work?
At Clearleft we employ a relatively flexible process that can be scaled up or down depending on the needs of the project. This flexibility is vital as every client and every project is different, so what works for one may not necessarily work for another.
Where time and budget allow we like to start our projects with some initial stakeholder research. This could be anything from a few quick user interviews through to a more structured program of contextual inquiry. This information is then used to create a series of personas, scenarios and user tasks that guide the rest of the process. If we were dealing with an existing site we would normally perform a content inventory, whereas with a new site we ‘would run a competitive analysis so see what the marketplace was doing.
Using this information we would normally arrange a series of planning workshops with the key project stakeholders. We would use these workshops to uncover the required site functionality and content, and then create a content plan, features list and site map. Once the client approves the proposed functionality, we create a series of wireframes that are tested on real users. Once everybody is happy with the overall user experience, the user interface is designed and page templates are developed. These are then integrated into the back-end system, tested and deployed.
We don’t have dedicated project managers so each team member is responsible for their own part of the project. This means that our clients have direct access to the people working on their projects and requirements don’t get lost in translation. We use Basecamp to manage our written communications and make liberal use of Skype and IM throughout the process. We like to build relationships with our clients so face-to-face meetings are good. However with around half of our clients coming from overseas, it’s not always possible or practical. An average project will take around 4 months and we usually have several on at any one time. We are in fairly high demand at the moment as there aren’t many agencies offering the range or depth of service that we do. As such, we usually need a couple of months notice before scheduling new projects.
How should a company or individual in your profession be chosen?
If you are looking to commission a design partner, you should spend a reasonable amount of time researching possible candidates. Look at the problems you are trying to solve and the skills you require, and then try to find a good match. For instance, if your main concern is branding, then you probably need to find an agency that specializes in visual design, whereas if you have a lot of information you need organizing, you’ll want an agency that that focuses on information architecture. If you are building a content oriented site, your partners will need a good understanding of content management. However if you are building a web application, interaction design and user experience will be key.
With so many agencies out there specializing in different ways, it often makes sense to commission different companies for different parts of the project. So you may want to hire a design and interaction specialist to design the user experience, and then a development company to program the application.
The best way to select an agency is to ask for recommendations from your colleagues or other web developers. If somebody you know has worked with an agency before or has heard good things about them, they are already pre-qualified. Look at sites in a similar field to yours. If any are particularly good, find out who designed them and add them to your list of possible partners. I also recommend looking at design galleries and noting any sites that are a similar size, quality and style to the one you are trying to produce. Create a shortlist of 3-5 agencies, send them a detailed brief and then base your decision on the result. Remember that you’ll have to work with this agency for several months, so choose a company that’s a good fit and you get on with.
At what point should your profession be brought into a project?
The sooner you can get a professional consultancy involved the better. A good way to start is to commission an initial discovery phase. This gives the designer an opportunity to learn about your company and the problems you’re facing, and come up with some initial recommendations. It also gives the client an opportunity to work with the designer on a smaller project to see how they get on. If both parties are happy with the outcome, you can then move forward with the main project confident that it will be a success.
How do you charge?
Like most professional services, we charge based on the time spent on a project. We will estimate how long each stage of the project will take in order to calculate the headline figure. We’ve been doing this for a while now, so our estimates are generally very accurate. However all projects are different and have their own unique set of influences. As such we always recommend building in a refundable contingency to cover unexpected expenses or additional functionality.
As the project progresses, we’ll track how much time we spend on the various components and keep our clients up to date with how the budget is being allocated. For fixed cost projects we will normally break functionality down into core, desired and deferred components. We promise to deliver all of the core functionality and as much of the desired functionality as the remaining time will allow. This lets clients to see exactly where their budget is being spent and allows them to make much better financial decisions.
How can a designer improve their skills?
You can continuously improve your skills by reading books, going to conferences and learning from your peers. Every project you take on should be an opportunity to face new challenges and learn new skills. If you are not getting this challenge at work, I highly recommend taking on a personal project to stretch your creative muscles.
until the next
You’ve Been BoDo’d