This a Q & A with Amanda Wray of Wrayco Design, a design studio based out of Monrovia, California. Here we will talk about how clients can interact with designers for a successful web project. We also talk about some of the thought processes that go into designing a site.

As someone who has no prior experience working with designers, as well as, one without much design skills, I am not familiar with what the designer would expect from me. Can you hence describe what according to you are the characteristics of a good client?

I have read many a good blog post about this very topic, but briefly, a “good client” is someone who:

1. Is committed to the project and has one key person heading it up who will work with the designer.
2. Sticks to their delivery dates (in terms of written or visual content, or decision making on revisions).
3. Does not try to bring your price down based on a vague notion of global rather than local market prices for the service you are getting.
4. Is willing to do a little bit of learning about how to use the end product/design/website.
5. Takes your advice seriously and does some of their own research.
6. Pays attention to the designer’s process and sign-off stages (you don’t want someone moving everything around after you have already built the site unless it’s billable time).
7. Pays invoices on time.

Here is a piece I wrote on my site about “How to Choose a Designer” which may be helpful: http://www.wray-co.com/

What are some of your first thoughts as a designer when you visit our site, https://blogvault.net?

Regarding your site, I do think the design is important, and how professional and polished it looks can influence if people (especially designers used to see a lot of websites) will take your business/service seriously. The basic nature of your site called your longevity or commitment to your product into question for me, but I was attributing a certain lack of sophistication to your product/service is relatively new to the market.

If I were to go to a designer to fix the blogVault site, I would have very little to add beyond, “make my site beautiful and professional”. Maybe I will say something about my product, some content and the target audience. I like the way you have the perfect doc (http://www.wray-co.com/) for a person like me. But still, I would have a very little constructive opinion about anything regarding colour or anything design related beforehand.

How would you handle something like this? How would you go about helping me out?

Part of the designer’s job is to gather as much information about the client’s business and desires, and translating that into a structure that is visually appealing and appropriate to the content. It is the client’s job to answer questions and provide information so that the designer can get as rich a picture as possible. For example, if a client’s target audience is seniors, then the designer would need to make sure that the default type sizes are a bit larger than if the target audience is teens. The types of imagery and colours that appeal to your target audience can be general or specific. The broader your audience, the more you must take into account, and offer formats that will serve more people. For example, several of my clients in the last year have either decided against or reduced their use of Flash on their sites, in an effort to give iPhone users a better experience.

The designer must also take into account the client’s industry. Certain products will have a certain look and even a particular colour palette. An example would be pharmaceutical packaging, which makes liberal use of white, blues and blue-greens. The cosmetic industry often uses very light or thin sans serif type. In these cases, you should pay attention to what makes you ‘fit’ into that category, but not necessarily be a slave to it.

The designer wants to know if there is anything a client doesn’t want, but will want to come up with everything else. That is the designer’s job, after all. The client does not need to make stylistic recommendations. I have found that the more I have allowed the client to take any kind of charge of the design, the less happy the client is with the result. The client may want to do it because it seems like ‘fun’ or satisfies their ego, but ultimately they will end up frustrated because of their lack of training in this area.

So what happens after that? Would you create a few samples(mockups) and then have me select one? I might actually prefer that. That will something that will put some ideas into my head. It almost sounds like 99designs kind of approach, involving only a single designer.

Generally, when the designer is satisfied when they have enough information from the client, they do some research on their own, along with word association (aka “mind mapping”) and visual “mood boards” to funnel their ideas into a direction. From here, the designer will start creating the first round of designs, or “comps”, to show the client. These can either be presented in person or more casually emailed as jpeg or PDF files. When it comes to larger sites, sometimes I will use something like Jumpchart so the client can start organizing their information into clickable pages. I will also sometimes invite the client to look at my mood boards, which I can make online with a service likeStixy. From client comments on imagery, I will further be able to hone the type of design or colours the client will respond to.

As a programmer, I sub-divide my work in terms of modules, and they become my deliverables. What are the deliverables from your perspective? Do you work in terms of pages?

The client will generally choose a couple of directions they prefer, and then I will refine those designs based on the feedback I have received, and again present the refined designs for review and comment. From here I will take comments and further refine the chosen design, and then if that is approved, create an HTML mockup of it as a single page. For a basic site, there will be a homepage design, and an inside page design which can have 1-3 structural variations (one-column, two-column, etc). I try to get as much ironed out as possible before constructing the site, as it’s much harder to go back after a site is built. Since I’m not really in the webmaster business, I prefer to build sites with a content management system so my clients can keep it updated themselves. I have created sites with WordPress, Expression Engine, Squarespace and VerbCMS, and am likely to work with more systems so I may match up a client to CMS more accurately.

What kind of interaction do you have with a client, once the big deliverable is done? Do they make small fixes themselves, or are you involved? Is this something you work into the original contract?

After a site is completed I back it up and then train clients on how to edit their own content, and set up a support contract if desired. Some people pay me for a certain number of hours every month; others just call me when they need me.

Speaking of contracts, do you have a written contract before you proceed? Is it a generic contract you use for all your clients? If so, how did you procure it?

When it comes to business contracts, I have consulted a lawyer for detailed information, but rather than attach a long document clients would likely not read, I decided to write out terms in plain English so there are no surprises, and include these terms on estimates and invoices.

There is also good information on contracts in the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Pricing in here is for the U.S. market only, but may still be useful if you can interpolate relative prices for goods and services wherever you are. Contract and ethics information would be pretty universal.

Apart from word-of-mouth how do you find your clients? How did you end up writing for AIGO Los Angeles or Rapaport?

Most of my clients are word-of-mouth. Sometimes people find me in the phone book, and on rare occasions, I get proactive and solicit work. I ended up writing for AIGA because I had friends active in the organization, and was interviewed by Rapaport though a client.

To know more about Wrayco Design and Amanda please visit their site: http://www.wraycodesign.com/

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