This post is the first in a series on website and digital publishing best practices from The Marcom Group’s Dave Plivelich.
Have you built or rebuilt your website recently? If the experience was positive, it’s likely that the project started with an excellent design goal, the goal was achieved and the website design was completed at or near the budget. Best of all: It was finished on time or close to it. Companies that enjoy these types of results are usually excited about using their website’s new features and are committed to creating fresh, educational and engaging content to enhance their visitors’ experience.
For those companies that didn’t have such a positive experience, the completion of the project might result in a postproduction hangover. If the project dragged on and on, it probably left a bad taste in your mouth, defeating the purpose of having a new design and sucking vital energy from the marketing team.
Understanding the postproduction hangover
A postproduction hangover happens when a website development project drags on. Both parties work for months structuring and writing the content, designing comps, developing and testing the site—all which require client involvement and feedback at various points: revisions, meetings, phone calls, etc. It’s quite a process. Meanwhile, the point person on the client side has other duties and responsibilities. The project wears on them and when it’s finally time to launch, they’re relieved because now that the website is done they don’t have to deal with it anymore. The result of this experience can be damaging because several months down the road, the blog isn’t updated, events are outdated or nonexistent, and the graphic sliders that were used to launch the site have never changed.
Often, the hangover is a result of miscommunication. In his book Mindwise, author Nicholas Epley, Ph.D., explains that miscommunication is often a source of misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict. It’s the result of not knowing what the other person thinks, believes, feels or wants based on what they say. “Understanding other people requires getting their perspective and then verifying that you’ve understood it correctly,” Epley says. “If you have to reiterate someone else’s point to their satisfaction, then you’ll find out if you’ve understood.”
For example: The client wants a bigger logo, more “pop” or flashing text. Designers reel at these types of requests because they are concerned primarily with the visual aesthetic. So they push back, explaining, “It’s just bad design,” which trivializes the client’s feedback, has a chilling effect on future communication and has the potential to cause resentment. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that designers are not always correct. The client knows his or her business, and although they might use vague terms like, “Make this bigger,” or, “Give it more pop,” it is likely that the reasoning behind these requests has merit. A great designer is able to put ego aside, see past the vague terminology and identify the underlying reasons for these types of requests. The client may be asking to make the logo bigger, but in reality just wants more of the brand identity incorporated into the design, and there are other ways to tastefully accomplish that without compromising the aesthetic. Again, it boils down to effective communication—the kind that comes from real-life conversations instead of e-mail threads.
Avoid postproduction hangovers
In spite of the tendency for postproduction hangovers to occur, there are ways to enjoy a great website design project that finishes on time. Here’s how:
1. The marketer-client team should have a clear plan, like building a house.
And like a good set of blueprints, the website proposal process is crucial. At a bare minimum, the proposal should include the proposed flow of the website (site map), a list of individual content types (such as blog posts, staff bios, etc.) and a definition of any custom functionality.
At this stage, it is most important to avoid overpromising and under-delivering. Price is a major consideration for clients when investing in a large project like a website redesign. The best agencies will carefully consider the client’s needs and offer several options, starting with their core design and development solution, designed to meet the client’s basic needs, and then present additional services or “features” for clients who want more “bells and whistles.” It’s wise for both sides to be totally transparent during the proposal process.
2. The client needs to know how critical content is.
Content drives the whole project. If the content isn’t well-crafted, there is a risk of the entire project failing. What a website visitor or prospect wants to know in seconds is, “Who is this company?” “How can they solve my problem?” If the answers are unclear, the website investment will not deliver the intended results.
A competent design agency needs to recognize how difficult content can be for the client and take steps to help them. The best way is to involve a professional writer. Another is to give the client a questionnaire or set up their current site’s content in a word processing document to give them a starting point. Great agencies will do everything in their power to help their clients develop the content because without it, the agency can’t do their job.
3. The marketer-client and the website designer-agency make sure that communication is open, transparent and frequent.
There is a clear understanding of goals and terms or language. Though it is a part of the proposal (discovery) process, of course, there still needs to be a plan in place for ongoing discussions. The teams need well-defined expectations that include duties, responsibilities and time lines. There must be trust and respect between the client and the website designer. Everyone is on the same team pulling the same way.
4. Engage in meaningful dialogue over the phone or in-person.
What happens when the project starts to go sideways? Stop the e-mail avalanche. Ambiguous forms of communication like e-mail and texting are fertile ground for misunderstanding. Call people on the phone right away. Have a meeting with both the web designer and the client’s team. The point person for each team has to be willing to seek feedback, listen actively and ask questions to ensure understanding.
5. The designer and the client celebrate milestones.
Lots of folks forget this one. Celebrating progress, even a tiny step, keeps the momentum going. It helps make it fun and sometimes saves projects.
Experience the fun
The postproduction hangover for any creative endeavor reduces its chances for success. If agencies and their clients take the steps to avoid this problem up front, website design projects can be fun. They’re exciting. It’s a new beginning whether the website is brand-new or simply getting a face-lift. Properly managed, the website design experience will fill a company and its employees with a resurgence of marketing energy for promoting its products and services. The website launches with bubbles in the air, and the marketing team has wind left in their sails to handle the influx of new business.
David Plivelich is the CEO and creative director at The Marcom Group Incorporated. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (661) 489-4444.