When I first started my design business, I primarily did graphic design projects with a little bit of website design mixed in. Then over time, especially as I dove into the WordPress space, web design projects took over and dominated my services.
While print design and web design are totally different beasts that require a very different approach, there are also similarities in the two design processes—one being how you manage design concepts and mockups.
Doing It All Wrong
Early on in my self-employed career, I was undercharging and overworked and I had no time to spare—not even to sleep. I worked my butt off and produced some terrible work and some work I am still very proud of, and the process wasn’t without stress and frustration.
As I mentioned, I was overbooked, so when a project came in, I created the design, emailed it off to the client to review, and asked them to provide their feedback and two things usually happened:
- I waited, irritated at the hurry up and wait situation I found myself in.
- I received revision requests from the client that made no sense.
At the time, I was young and inexperienced so it was easy to blame the client. They are uninformed. They don’t know what they are doing. They are ruining my work. They are wrong. But that wasn’t really the case.
The reality was that I was doing it all wrong.
Of course the client is uninformed. Of course they don’t know what they are doing. Of course they are ruining my work. They aren’t professional designers. They don’t do what I do every day and they certainly don’t have my education, training, and experience.
Yet I put them on the spot and asked them to review a design mockup, provide a design critique, and give feedback with absolutely no context and no support. Yikes!
At one point, a friend of mine (who was also a client) complained about how intimidated she was when asked to provide design feedback and how hard it felt to her to do so. At first I was shocked because I had been doing this for years—I was trained to do this while earning my Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design.
That’s when it finally clicked: Clients don’t have the same knowledge and vocabulary designers do so they can’t be expected to understand design and provide feedback as designers do.
The Design Concept Presentation
From that point forward, I changed my design process to include a presentation of the initial design concepts—done either in person or through a screen sharing service like Zoom.
When the initial mockups are ready for client review, the design presentation is scheduled. At the start of the meeting, the client is put at ease, by communicating that they won’t be required to give design feedback and revisions on the spot. Instead, during the meeting:
- I walk the client through my thoughts, the strategy behind the work, and my design decisions.
- I explain things like why specific elements are in specific places and why certain items are certain colors.
- If I didn’t do something the client mentioned, I provide the reasoning why.
- I tie every decision made during the design process back to the client’s big business goals and objectives, always keeping their goals the focus and priority.
- The client has an opportunity to ask questions and provide off-the-cuff feedback.
After the meeting the client is emailed links to the same design mockups I just explained. This way they have the opportunity to review them in greater detail and gather feedback and revisions from key stakeholders on their own.
The Positive Results
Incorporating a meeting to present design concepts to the client has had a much broader effect on my website projects than I ever could have imagined in an extraordinarily positive way.
- By putting the client first and taking the time to hold their hand through the design review process, I am able to show up as expert the client wants and lead them through the process.
- By explaining the reasoning behind my design decisions, clients no longer second-guess my decisions, and because they have context for the mockups they are reviewing, they provide feedback and revisions much faster.
- By revealing why I didn’t do something the client requested or changed something we originally talked about, I avoid tough conversations and the client feels good about the rationale. They appreciate that I always put their best interests first.
- By tying every design decision back to the client’s business goals and objectives, I practically eliminate all revisions but the critical ones, which are few and far between.
Presenting the initial design concepts to clients has allowed me to repeatedly reach final design approval with minimal revisions, and when clients do have revisions, they are usually to non-essential things like the content or imagery not the core site design. In fact, while all of my client agreements include up to three rounds of design revisions, most clients only use one round of revisions and some approve the design on first draft.
As you can imagine, eliminating friction around design revisions, speeding up the revision process, and reaching design approval in fewer rounds of revisions saves time, reduces stress, adds more margin and flexibility to the rest of the project, and produces higher profits per project.
Create Another Win-Win Opportunity
Presenting the initial design mockups to clients creates a win-win situation for you and your clients. Another win-win opportunity is partnering with Liquid Web for your client’s Managed WordPress Hosting, which takes care of image compression, automatic updates for WordPress and plugins, automatic daily backups, automatic SSL, and staging environments, as well as access to developer tools and no pageview/traffic limits.
Jennifer Bourn is founding partner at Bourn Creative a full-service design and development company specializing in WordPress. With twenty years in the industry under her belt, she is an award-winning designer who consults on branding, website strategy, and content strategy. Jennifer speaks often, delivering workshops and keynote presentations, co-organizes the Sacramento WordPress Meetup and WordCamp Sacramento and writes regularly about freelancing, client services, blogging, marketing, websites, and branding. Learn more at the Jennifer Bourn website.
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