Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Giving the client what they need, not what they ask for

Thu, 04/10/2008 - 03:28 -- rprice

Just now I was buying a new domain name because of a misprint in my AXIS interview - it's probably a common mistake, so it was worth the $7.

Anyway, there was an ad for some wannabe-posh restaurant on I-Drive - "Bola". link

OK, seriously, who has a flash website that plays music? With late-90's slideshows?

I also love that when I link to the "blog" - check out the design they chose for that. All of the posts on said blog have this huge text right below the title and right next to the very stale and infrequent date of the posts - "No Responses".
No Responses

Way to go on the authenticity, D*****bags! It's not the designer's fault, there was a breakdown in communications. Somebody has also dropped the ball on doing a follow-up with the client once the dist settled.

If you really want to create a compelling experience on a website these days, I think the only option is to use video. If your restaurant is so "high-end", hire a damn video crew to come out once in a while and throw THAT on your site - or maybe even your non-blog.

Check out some of the stuff MindComet is doing, for example. They don't mess around. I can't say I always love every site they put out, but they know their strengths. I definitely appreciate the need for experienced marketing folks working along side talented designers and developers. I don't slight the person who created this project, they just had too many things to think about all at once.

I've recently been re-reading a book by one of my role models - Hillman Curtis. It's called MTIV: Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer.

I actually had "New Media Developer" printed on my business cards for a while, and people would ask "What does that mean?" I'm sad to say I didn't have a story for them at the time, but now I think I'd have a thing or two to say about it.

In MTIV (Making the Invisible Visible), Hillman, who is a world-renowned designer with clients like Adobe and bestselling bands on his client list, tells you how he gets his work done. In fact, all of his books are like that - he goes through his creative process. He's got some steps, he identifies the goals at each step, and he gives lots of anecdotal support. He's clearly been working at a very high level for a long time.

People who have read this book and really understand it would have never designed that site for BOLA - at least not in the last 18 months or so.

MTIV Here's lesson 1 (implied) from the book for me: separate the technical requirements of the project from telling the story. As a team of one, when I go into the job, I always know I am going to have to turn around and implement these ideas once I get back to my text editor, so most times when I'm in a meeting with a client, my brain is already downloading Drupal modules and clicking checkboxes. At my new job, this isn't so much of a problem, because my role during those meetings is to translate what the editorial folks or the PMs are asking of me into technical requirements, identify sticky points, and give them an estimate of how long this new awesome feature will take.

However, even at a job I had for a couple of weeks managing an online store for a print shop, I not only had to put my propeller hat on, but my marketing/customer/business hat on, and normally the propeller hat gets priority. That means I'm donating 40% at best to thinking "is this even a good idea, does this communicate the message, will visitors understand the story?"

Then a few weeks later, I've started writing code, laying out the homepage, or what have you, and it hits me - THIS SUCKS! Did I design this? Then I remind myself I'm "not a designer" (which is bollocks because I'm always calling myself a "front end guy"), and I come to terms with the reality of the situation. We're not communicating effectively here, we're masturbating and pretending the result was a web page.

How do we fix it? Drive back to Sanford, tell the client "I'm sorry Mike, I had my head up my ass when I designed this... will you pay me to fix my own mistakes?" Nobody is going to go for that! Sure, you can give them a spiel about ROI and conversions, and maybe wrapped in the warm fuzzy blanket of "SEO", which might as well be voodoo and divination to most clients, you might even be able to convince them to spend 30% of the original budget doing what you really should have done in the first place, in 15% of the time, without your trusty subcontractors, in your spare time, just so you feel good about work that you'd already written off as "finished".

No, you can't fix it. Clients don't go for maintenance contracts any longer. Most of them don't even want to pay you for hosting, let alone support.

The ONLY solution is to do it right the first time. That means making checklists, getting your freelancer buddy support system to consult and make sure you're not leaving any huge gaps (oh, you do have some sort of a peer support system, right?), and above all, making sure you understand what the client needs.

I'm only feeling the slightest bit hippocritical right now, and if you've worked with me in the past, and you're quietly thinking I'm full of shit as you read this, consider this my formal apology for underdelivering. In most situations during my "freelance" ("slacker") career, I didn't put 110% to anything work-related, and it wasn't until my "Tabula Rasa" day (Jan 17th, 2006), that I had even decided to push myself to improve, and it looks like it's taken about 2 years and 3 months.

So, FullSail grads, budding New Media Designers and Developers, and folks that have been doing this "since the early days", and are planning on making a concerted effort to create stunning work, every single time, even if it's for half of your rent money, here are a couple of tips:

  • It might take 27+ months to feel as though you've arrived
  • You MUST make sacrifices in your personal life for professional improvement
  • Freelance is not a hobby, it's making a living. Mom and Dad can't pay the bills forever
  • Go buy a copy of MTIV, you'll thank me later
  • Keep your head out of your text editor (or photoshop) while you're asking the client how you can work together to effectively communicate the story of his/her business
  • Don't use flash slide shows with music on every page ;)

Commenting on this Blog post is closed.



Totally resonate on multiple levels. Two years ago I walked into a 4 month gig with a client for what was meant to be the "all singing all dancing guitar retail website of the world". 6 months later, I walked away embraced to show any one what ended up happening. Why?

Unclear expectations from the client, unclear vision of brand, poor boundaries etc. I blamed the client for MONTHS, but then one day I woke up and realized, "oh wait, I never insisted on defined goals and objectives for the product, I never insisted that he know what he wanted to accomplish before I start pounding PS and code for him." Never made that mistake again. You are there to make a product that will advocate on behalf of your client on some level, you have to know them and what they're "story" is first.

And yeah, it's about knowing what your strengths are, not compromising on them, and putting in the hours... and showing up on time and making delivery dates with out being a jerk. That's what makes the world go round.

I think there are a lot of 20s developers/designers/2.0 strategists is because it sounds cool and looks easy. I think the reason most of them drop out is because they can't do that last paragraph on some level.

Sorry for the rant. The post hit close to home.

I agree with everything but this part:

No, you can’t fix it. Clients don’t go for maintenance contracts any longer. Most of them don’t even want to pay you for hosting, let alone support.

95% of my clients host with me. I build support (for the hosting) into the price - which I generally bill annually. Bigger clients get an SLA (and pay much more), which basically gives them priority access to me. This is a strategy I developed over the years in running my business.

As for fixing stuff - this is a give and take. There are times when I will go back and continue improving a site - long after its delivered, just because I'm unhappy with it. Other times, especially if the project ran long and ate into my profit, I will just let it go. Sometimes you have to know when to hold them and when to fold them.

But there is one thing we can both agree on... if you aren't giving it your all - quit. More times than not its because you aren't inspired about the project which means you took on the wrong project. This may be the one thing that has carried me through my 12 years of web development - I will never work on a project that I hate for more than I have to (approx. 2 mos).

Great post!