Taking on a project with a web developer or designer can be a complicated process to navigate. Here are some tips to ensure a successful project!
1. Don't assume the developer understands your business
Unless your developer has worked closely with you for a while and has a good understanding of your business, you're going to have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting when it comes to writing marketing content and communicating your company's USP (Unique Selling Proposition). This can take a significant committment on your part. This is especially important if you're working with a developer to build software that's tightly coupled with your business operations. When writing custom software, a programmer needs to make a myriad of decisions centered around how the software works with your business data, and he's going to have a lot of questions.
If you make the assumption that they'll "figure it out", the website or software will end up needing a lot of revisions, which in the end is going to cost you more money.
A website or software project is a collaborative venture, and you need to be available and switched on for every step of the way.
2. Have your content ready
Usually the biggest delays in a project are because the client doesn't have his content ready to go. Often I'm asked to create a design before I even see the content, which can be done, but it somewhat defeats the purpose of getting a custom design. A website should be built around the content, and if your developer is forced to design the website and then try to force the content in to fit the design, the end result isn't going to be as good. So what qualifies as content?
- A hierarchical list of the pages; the order they should be in and how they relate to each other
- Your text content, clearly labeled with what page it belongs in.
- Any media and/or documents you want included on the website
3. Don't manage by committee
This is a big one. The surest way to have a website come out looking like Frankenstein, and to drive your web developer to the brink of insanity is to design by committee. I've done websites before where multiple people on the client's side had a say in making revisions. Often I would get a revision request by one of them, only to get a request from someone else a week later to change that same thing to something different again.
If multiple people need to have input on certain parts of the website, make sure you have a clearly defined project manager as the point man who communicates with the developer, and then ensure all requests go through him/her. That way you can present a cohesive idea and the developer isn't pulled in opposite directions.
4. Resist the urge to micromanage
Can you move the logo 10 pixels to the left? Can you make the drop-shadow on that text bigger? If you're asking question like this, you may be micromanaging. Remember, your designer/developer does this for a living, and there may be a reason they've done things the way they have that you don't realize. Aim to hire someone whose design and development skills you trust, and then leave the micro-decisions up to them.
Sometimes I get requests to re-arrange elements on the layout so they look better on the size of screen the client is looking at, without consideration for how it affects the layout on different screen sizes when the website adjusts itself.
5. Build websites based on your target market's preferences, not yours
Remember if you're building a marketing website, you should be designing for your customers' preferences, not yours. In practical terms this means following good design practices: site navigation should follow standard design patterns, and your message should be clearly communicated. Your website in most cases it not the best place to showcase your quirky personality if it interferes with the user's ability to find the information they're looking for. Sometimes the "plain" way to do things is the most effective.
6. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification
Web developers, myself included, can sometimes be guity of talking over our client's head. We don't do it on purpose, but often we can overlook what might be common knowledge to us, is a completely alien concept to someone who doesn't eat, sleep, and breath inside the tech world. Client's also can have a wide range of competency when it comes to the web world, so we don't always immediately understand what level they're at themselves.
The solution to this is easy -- ask lots of questions! Not only will it help you get clarification on things you may not understand, but it will also help your developer understand your level of competency and hopefully adjust his level of communication for you. And of course, when you're shopping for a developer, it may also help you assess HIS/HER level of competency as well by how he answers your questions.
7. Make sure you have access to product you've paid for
This is a big one. If your developer gets hit by a bus or suddenly goes AWOL, do you have access to your website? I don't know how many clients I've had come to me to try to recover their website because their developer stopped answering his phone & email or went rogue and abandoned the project -- and they were the only link to the site files. Always make sure you have the username & password to your website files & database, and you know where its hosted and how to get there.
When I provide hosting for my clients, I always make sure they have a copy of the hosting login details, so if something happens to me, they're not up a creek. As a client you would do well to keep those details in a safe place. It very well might represent the entire cost of your project.