7 Things A Web Designer Wishes His Clients Knew

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time after numerous experiences I’ve had working with clients at Skyline. A lot is often assumed about designers and developers, so I’d like to take this opportunity to express myself while the web remains open, free and uncensored.

1. We need each other

We designers don’t like to admit it, but truth is we need you [the client] and you need us. It doesn’t matter whether I’m a freelancer who boasts about coding in his boxers at midnight or a smartly dressed guy in a tie clocking 8 to 5. When the bills come, I rely on what you paid me, or my employer for that matter. Indeed I may defeat all odds and end up being the next Mark Zuckerberg, but even then you’d still be the one paying me albeit for something else like advertizing.

So yes, I need you, but before you get smug, remember that you need me just as much. Over the past 5 years I have watched businesses go from good to great simply because of a strong brand and a professional online presence. I have seen one of Africa’s best photographers dominate the blogosphere, I’ve seen Kenya’s largest media group simplify a logistical nightmare and shrink its processing time from 3 weeks to 1 week, and I’ve seen a client who had to carry samples to customers take orders for products from the comfort of her home and the convenience of her phone. We need each other.

2. We’re on the same team

Now, just because you need my expertise and I need your money doesn’t mean you should try and milk as much as you can from me for as little as possible. Please remember that, especially when we’re negotiating the quote. If I sense that you’re trying to take advantage of me I naturally won’t give my best, if at all I decide to take the job. I’m not trying to buy a Jaguar next month, I simply know what my efforts are worth and I need you to see me as someone whose success is dependent on yours. So do unto me as you’d have me do to you and I’ll work on that site like it was my own brainchild.

3. It’s (really) hard work

fb-blood-sweat-tears

I know there’s a lot of fake “web designers” out there, but on this point I speak for the Martians and myself. It’s really, really hard work for those of us who choose to do the right thing and build authentic products. When you have to understand a client’s needs, sort out content and its accessibility, come up with a unique design, then hand-write code for it so that it’s functional in browsers and easy to update, you can be sure of sleepless nights galore. In fact, we invite you to follow along on Facebook and see first-hand the crazy stuff we’re often up to; like spending 40hrs nonstop at the office or being asked to do a critical site in only 65hrs coz we’re known to deliver. This is A-Team stuff!

Small piece of advice: Don’t ever say to me, “It’s simple. I would do it myself if I had the time”. I’ll throw a shoe at you! Okay, maybe not, but believe me when I tell you you’ve no idea what you just said. Respect my trade, and I’ll respect yours.

4. Let me do what you hired me to do

Look, I know you love how indigo and yellow go together, and I know you have a thing for cherubim and grungy fonts, but would you please leave the designing to me? I’m not saying your input is not important. As a matter of fact, it’s essential. But that doesn’t give you the right to micro-manage every single detail. With all due respect, you’re the businessperson and I’m the designer. You may demand the bigger logo all you want but from my point of view, the design ends up making you look like a total idiot, and a disproportional one at that.

You know why it’s important to listen to what we designers think? Because it’s our responsibility to know how human beings think and how they subconsciously react to elements in design. So here you are trying to look expensive yet you force me (kicking and screaming) to cram incoherent text into a tiny indigo-yellow banner. Ever wondered why BMW usually take a full-page ad with only two words at the bottom while the ads towards the back of the newspaper have 2 superimposed images, 3 paragraphs and 19 bullet points? Who looks cheap and who looks expensive? Yeah, who’s laughing now?

5. The web site is not yours; it’s for your users

It might help further to keep this in mind. The site I’m using my precious time to build is not primarily so you can show off its indigo-ness to your friends and family. It exists because you have a business need that you want to be met or a process that you want enhanced by the web site. Real customers/clients/fans/followers/supporters are the ones who are going to be frequenting and using your site, so please don’t force my hand by using the “customer is always right” card. That would make you a hypocrite. Yes, I said it. You know why? Because you’re conveniently forgetting that your customer is always right and that’s whom I’m ultimately designing for.

6. Think marriage, not one-night stand

Gone are the days when a web site was nothing more than a glorified brochure. When you approach me for a web site, think beyond the here and now. Think of yourself and your business 6 months, 12 months, 24 months down the line. Is it possible for me to build a single solution that will be relevant at each of those points? I really appreciate your high estimation of my capabilities, but nope! Haiwesmake.

However, what I can do is future-proof your web site and walk with you over time not only to evaluate whether the site is doing what it was intended to, but also to think of how to exploit exciting new technologies for your benefit. I mean, come on! Even if I gave you the password to the server (which is what we always do at Skyline), that’s analogous to me handing you a missile launcher that you wouldn’t know how to fully use. And even if I trained you (which we do), what happens when smarter technology comes out in a couple of months and you’re on your own with your dinosaur of a missile launcher? Think of me as a design veteran on your side.

7. I’m human

Yeah. I’ll understand if your jaw just dropped. Pull yourself together…

I know it’s scandalous for me to say this since at Skyline we call ourselves “Martians” (based on John 17:16, actually). Yes we have Martian skills and have done some pretty amazing stuff, but we have feelings too, and we’re not perfect.

I’m going to make mistakes. I might ask you for the same information twice, or even miss a deadline. I’m sorry if I do, please know I’m doing my best to be faithful in my work.

When I present a site to you after working on it for weeks, it hurts when all you notice is what hasn’t been done or what hasn’t been done the way you wanted. Give me the benefit of doubt and ask me why. A couple of compliments on the neat navigation and typography would be really appreciated too. I might’ve had a rough week; you never know when it’ll be my turn to bring you flowers at the hospital.

Life’s too short to simply work for the sake of work. Can’t we be friends? No? Ok, I’ll send you the invoice tomorrow then.


  • RL

    thanks guys, pretty good stuff…

  • antony toldo

    cool stuff.. think marriage not one nyt stand

  • I like the way you speak your mind. Really refreshing. I truely understand now the work it takes to have a good/perfect job done. God bless.

  • “It’s really hard work” so so true, I have this client who thinks, because I taught myself these skills, anybody can do it.

    • You know, I taught myself too…

      As the saying goes, “Web design takes a day to learn, but a lifetime to master”.

  • wow , strong stuff … you got a point on that scene !

  • great points. How i wish clients could read this!

    • Huston Malande

      Well, you could always tweet or email them the link :-), that’s why I wrote it.

  • love this, totally on point

  • MIKE CAYVOOTI

    i understand, especially when you have to code from scratch, rather than using someone’s template.

signed. martians.™