How to Work with a Web Designer

What Web Designers Wish You Knew

Because everyone will stumble up against a website sooner or later in their professional lives, it’s important to have some basic understanding of what working with a web designer to build, redesign, or update your website involves.

All designers will have some unique ways they approach their work and the platforms vary, but enough of this is universal that I am sharing for the good of humankind. As a designer, I’ve run into some of what follows often enough to realize a PSA is in order. You’re going to be your designer’s favorite client after this.

My content is in here somewhere. Just look through and find what I want to say.

You will be asked for your content. You will need to provide this to your web designer.

“But I don’t know what the heck content is!” you may be saying. Good, let’s start there. Content is everything that forms the basic information and visuals of your site: text, photos, videos, graphics. Good designers are often intuitive, strong editors, and have an innate understanding of how to organize your content into the cohesive message about your brand, widget, project or non-profit that will become your website.

What we aren’t: mind readers. If you don’t tell us everything you want us to tell your audience, we can’t tell them. If you have photos or a logo or custom graphics or Youtube videos you want on your website and you don’t share them with us, we can’t put them on the website. If you have existing branding you want us to match in style, we need this. See, it’s simple. You’ve got this. Tell everyone you know what content is so they can tell their friends, too.

We Need Your Content When We Begin the Project

If you really want this thing to make sense and not take the rest of our lives or cost an arm and a leg, the form and function need to happen simultaneously. We can’t just be building pages and menus with no idea where they’re going or what this is about. Would you ask your homebuilder to get started before you explain what square footage and how many bedrooms you need and then get mad when it isn’t right or costs extra to finish?

Yes, we’re good with the Google. If you have an established web presence and some branding in place, we can hunt down links to your social media profiles and your YouTube channel. But we can’t fabricate the heart of your message out of thin air. We need your help with that.

This is a screenshot, that’s much too small for the display size needed. Gaze upon the pixels. Notice that it looks like crap.

Your Content Might Suck

It’s ok. Your ideas don’t suck. But you might have old, grainy photos that are too small or someone tricked you into paying for a logo they made in Photoshop. It will be ok, but we’ll need to get you some new content. Many web designers are, in fact, graphic designers who can create a new vector logo for you if you pay them for their time. We’re really good at finding stock photos that don’t look like stock photos when needed. We’ll edit the fire out of your typos and grammatical errors. But you’ll still have to give us some words that say roughly what you want to say, and if you have specific photos you want to use that are good quality, you have to actually get these to us.

This is the original photo, in high quality. Notice the difference in how it looks on your screen?

How do I get you my content?

We’re so glad you asked. We’ll cover that while reviewing a list of ways you *shouldn’t* get us your content because we have reasons for this that aren’t that we’re divas. And someone has tried all of the following.

Content Fails
Actually, I’d prefer you send your content by messenger pigeon. Is that too much trouble?

Text message – Just, no. Have you ever tried to locate a particularly important piece of information in a long text thread? That you actually needed to work with on your laptop? How’d that work out for you?

PDF – The purpose of a PDF is that it maintains its integrity across operating systems. Translation: there’s no editing a PDF, no copying and pasting your glorious text from the PDF into your actual website. Do you really want to pay us hourly to retype the text contained there? Also, images in a PDF are sealed there for eternity – do not count a graphic in your PDF as a useable image for your website, because it isn’t. (Yes, there’s fancy PDF-editing software. It’s not what you think. Impress your web designer by never giving them a PDF unless it’s going on the site as a document exactly as is and is the best dang White Paper anyone ever read).

Word Doc – Guess what Word docs are for? Word documents, like the name implies. DO NOT embed your photos in your Word doc and think that tiny image is going to look like anything on the web. You can probably convince your designer to accept the text portion of your content on a Word doc and many Mac users have Word because it’s so common and because this will stop you from…

Emailing everything – Designers vary somewhat here but most will ask you to use a project management tool of some sort to organize your communications and content about the project by topic or at least a cloud storage system to keep it all in one place. Remember looking for that important info through all your texts? Over the course of a big project, emails become the same needle-in-the-haystack. Sure you said in line 5 of the 10-paragraph email about fonts on day 2 of the project that you need to remember to get an e-commerce cart that plays a song, but don’t be shocked when that’s not in the build if you didn’t communicate it in the e-commerce discussion 6 months later in the project management suite. Your designer may use email (and probably will) to discuss things, ask questions, document details so everyone can refer to them later, and maybe even plan parts of the site.

Do follow their lead and don’t make communication unnecessarily difficult – if they email a question, answer it in reply to that email. If they organize email threads by different topics, try to stay on topic. If it’s all in one thread, don’t start a new one to continue the discussion.

For the love of all that’s good, pick one email address for yourself and stick with it through the project – this makes it so much easier for your designer, and you, to keep track of your discussions and find info in emails. Do not, ever, cc your designer on some other discussion with a third party that may or may not include usable content in attachments mixed in with a bunch of information that’s irrelevant to the website and think you’ve communicated within any reasonable bounds of professionalism.

Phone calls, and in-person and video meetings – These are best used for initial consultations, a quick question (not a highly technical discussion), and project updates that involve showing you something. Really, they’re for keeping it human. If you expect to dump your whole brain’s worth of ideas on your designer and have them implemented into a website from what you said in a meeting, you actually need an administrative assistant. And while you best pay that highly valuable worker a living wage, I hear the going rate is less than the cost of paying a web designer to take notes and organize your thoughts-out-loud since this isn’t in our job description and may not even be among our top skills.

Google Docs – This one often surprises people. But Google Docs and Drive are a lot like Word, only worse because everyone thinks since it lives and breathes the interwebs, it’s besties with websites. Same deal as Word with the teeny, tiny photos embedded in Google Docs – these are useless for our purposes. Trying to share your photos in Google Drive with your designer is going to be a pain in their arse.

Visualization Exercise/Word Problem: Let’s say you have six – twelve clients or more a year, each with 50 – 2000 photos for their websites. Now download onto your computer so you can upload them again to the respective websites. Calculate how many hours you’ve had to waste and bill the client for (we’re not even covering legit photo processing time in this lesson). Next calculate how long it will be before your storage is completely full, or you can calculate how many hours you would spend deleting photos after every project. Welcome to hell.

Alternatively, make friends with Dropbox because you’re not pure evil and we know you can do it even if you’re not “that techy.” Also, those professional photos you had taken are too large for an email attachment so let’s all work together here.

Why Are Web Designers So Bossy? Do You Think You’re the Boss of Me?

We’re actually trying to save you money and frustration with these methods and keep communication clear so we can all win. But it’s worth pondering: do you tell your doctor or mechanic how to do their job? Because it’s really important to trust that the expert you’ve hired has your best interests in mind. Web designers have a vested interest in meeting your goals. We want to do good work that accomplishes what you need – and we also know that if the end result doesn’t, even if that’s because we followed your well-intended yet misguided instructions, you’re going to blame us. And our portfolio will suck.

We know you really think you should put everything on the homepage/main menu for easy access and don’t forget about the pop-up newsletter sign-up. You shouldn’t and that’s why you pay us to do this for you. You likely don’t have countless hours of formal education in this, years of experience testing what works in designs, or actively spend your free time poring over SEO, drooling about new fonts, being elated at an amazing plugin or researching audience behavior. On a related note, your best friend or spouse likely isn’t a web designer or you would’ve hired them to create your website. You know what they say about opinions.

In seriousness, opinions have their place and we both want your site to match your project and style. But if you think you understand information architecture and how an objective viewer will receive the message you wrote, you’re probably way too close to the project, under-qualified in those areas, and sadly mistaken.

But you make gluten free cupcakes like nobody’s business or have the best art project or widget this side of Mars. And we should totally share it all with the multiverse – so get out of your own way and let us help you do that. And we promise not to tell you how to bake your cupcakes.

Rules of Etiquette: Just be kind

Other Assorted Etiquette when Working with Your Web Designer (or Almost Anyone)

You can feel comfortably woke in your moral fiber and emotional intelligence if none of these would ever cross your mind, because, believe me, we’ve seen it.

Just answer their damn questions – They’re asking for your opinion, what you like in colors, fonts, your most favorite photo for the header image. Tell them! Do not ignore these, do not say “I trust your judgment” (you don’t), do not think you’ll answer later and never get back to that email or, worse, tell them you’ll know by launch. You do, and will continue, to have an opinion when you see the typefaces and colors. It saves a lot of time and money to communicate your ideas up front to get started down the right path.

Don’t make them keep asking you – If we wanted to be teachers grilling you about your homework or your mom reminding you to pick up your socks, we’d be off doing those things, not emailing you for the eleventieth time for your content. It holds up everything when we have to keep asking for answers or content and just makes it needlessly awkward for all concerned. Resentment will brew on both sides. I have, remarkably, had clients asking me when the site would be done who hadn’t yet provided content or basic info needed to execute it. This is just as illogical as it sounds. We have to work collaboratively to pull this off. Don’t be the bum wheel on the otherwise sweet ride. It’s super uncomfortable for everyone.

Watch it on the negotiations – We quote you a fair price based on our understanding of your project, having done this rodeo a few times and understanding what it will take. Again, do you nickel and dime your doctor or mechanic? Nothing says, “I don’t really care how much money I’ll make with this website. Besides I heard I could do this myself if I had time” like offering an insultingly low rate once you’ve been quoted a price. If you are lucky enough to have the best designer in the world who was nice enough to give you a discounted rate, and you are not the picture of kindness and appreciation and follow all the guidelines here, you are a person of dubious integrity. At best.

Pay your web designer on time – This one is so often broken, it’s astonishing. Otherwise lovely people out there, PAYING THEIR WEB DESIGNERS LATE. You will know in advance what the payment agreement is. You will receive an invoice with a due date. Just. Pay it. Are they working on your project to make you money and advance your cause in the world? Do they need to eat? Can they be working on anything else during the hours they’re working on your project? Heaven forbid, did you ask them to rush something, and then even * think * about paying them a day late? Nothing puts a bad flavor in your working relationship like breaking this cardinal show of mutual respect.

Don’t expect them to deal with you, your business partner, and assorted staff – Repeat after me: one contact person. Pick the person who will be the communicator for your group. This is now the messenger and thou shalt not kill them. You can have a whole committee thinking about this internally if you wish. If there are decisions to be made, figure them out together, then the messenger reports back to the web designer. See also: saving time and money and minimizing miscommunication.

Appointments – Do not expect your web designer to be available to chat you up at any hour without notice. We tend to have multiple clients and projects, and we tend to structure our days with long, uninterrupted stretches to *gasp* work on these projects (including yours). We also tend to have lives and families and pets. Yes, you could interrupt your own project by calling without an appointment. So don’t get snippy when we don’t answer if you’d like this to be a pleasant working relationship in the future. Expect to have to make an appointment for a meeting, phone or otherwise, and expect to keep your appointments.

Scope Creep Happens – Scope creep is when the scope of your project begins to avalanche into something much larger than anyone bargained for. This always happens to a minor degree, there will be the unanticipated, there will be delays because: life. Your web designer may offer some better alternative that no one initially saw and be happy to implement or be willing to accommodate your new idea or unfolding in your business. Polite requests, rather than demands, and being otherwise easy to work with, go a long way. When in doubt, refer to the contract, working agreement or project proposal. If it doesn’t say you get to switch platforms midstream, insist on unscheduled meetings weekly, and then get rude if the web designer doesn’t have time for your nonsense, then that’s not a part of the agreement.


Web Designers Also Wish You Knew How Much We Care

Lastly, what I wish clients knew is how deeply I’m cheering for their success – all of it, not just the website. How I love creating a beautiful container for their business for the world, one that I know will achieve what they need. How I build customized time-saving devices into every one that they’ll never see because they never have to deal with the time-sucking alternatives. How many technical details I handle that they never have to think about working. How I make sure their site isn’t a security nightmare, and that they’re good citizens of the internet, even if they don’t get what that means fully.

How I bring the same level of dedicated time and attention to all my work, even if I gave your budding business a discounted rate. How patient I am because I know this is new for you and I’ll make sure you have the information you need. How I hate designs that tether clients to the designer, so I seek to leave you with a website that can be maintained within your technology comfort zone and still function beautifully. How much work and skill it takes to get on the first page of Google, that I cheer for you when it happens, but that most of you go, “Meh?” when I share the great news.

As web designers, we can’t turn every piece of your project over in our hands without coming to appreciate it almost as much as you do. We wish you knew how much we love what you do. And we wish you felt the same about what we do.