What do I need already prepared before I talk with a designer or developer?
There are actually a lot of things that you as a client need to be prepared with before you get in contact with a designer or developer. If you don’t prepare these, then things can still progress but you will see a delay in things moving forward.
Unless the project itself is to do your branding assets (think logo), then once the project starts off this is going to be one of the first things your designer is going to ask for. This along with an optional style or branding guide will be the basis for your entire design. It will help determine colors, fonts, and general look and feel for your project.
It is also important to note what format your logo is in. Most designers prefer to work in a vector format. This might be the first time you are hearing this term and that is perfectly fine. We will get into terms a little later in this article but it's typically a professional graphic format that differs from a JPG or other pixel-based image formats. The designer will want a vector logo in order to display your brand in the best possible way for high-quality displays (no one wants a blurry logo) and as a possibility to use parts of it in the actual design without the worry of image quality.
They say content is king. That is certainly true on the web or anything in print. While you don’t need to have every sentence laid out perfectly, a general idea of what you want to be said is minimum when working with a designer. Part of our job as designers are to convey information to your clients and visitors. If we don’t know what that content is, how can we expect to deliver that message in a way that is most effective? Think of it this way, if you contacted a radio company about producing an ad, but didn’t know what your ad was going to say, how would they even get started? It is exactly the same here.
You know your business more than we do. We need your help in understanding it and getting the content on the page. We can help and guide you, but we will rely on you the most for the content.
This also goes for images. A designer can certainly come up with some images for your website using stock photos or generated images with Photoshop if needs be, but the best sites to show off your business are the real ones of your business.
It might seem weird that a designer or developer asks you what your budget is. It’s not like a mechanic is going to ask that when they look at your car. This is mostly because different designers and developers charge based on skill level and other factors.
The last thing we want to do is give you sticker shock (we will talk about pricing later). We actually lose a lot of clients because of this. So if we know ahead of time knowing what you are prepared to spend for this project, we can tailor our services to your needs. Say for example I know what a project is going to cost, but your budget isn’t going to allow for a CMS (content management system), I will let the client know that it is up to the client to say if they would like to add a budget or be fine with no CMS.
Don’t be afraid to give a budget range or even ask us what a normal project like this would typically cost. We aren’t afraid to give you a ballpark estimate though we might need more information first. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked how much I charge for websites. That question for us without any additional information is like asking someone what a general house costs. It depends on a lot of factors. One website might cost $500, and another might cost $1.5 million.
What is the general process of a project?
This is always a good question to ask a designer or developer. Everyone will have their own process for how to do your project and it's important to know what the steps are. While they are custom to every designer and really every project, this is an example of what a general website process could be.
Discovery. This is the information-gathering stage. Research your own business and sometimes even the businesses of your competitors. Be prepared to talk a lot to the designer so they understand what you are looking for, what you like, what you don’t like, and your needs and wants. The more information you can provide, the better the project will come out.
Site Map. This is to get a visual understanding of the structure of the site. What pages are needed and a high-level understanding of functionality that is needed like log in or forms
Wireframes. This stage is getting a basic concept of page structure. Nothing about actual content is presented at this stage, just a general idea of “an image will go here”, or “the header will go here”.
Mock-ups. This turns the wireframes into something that more looks like a website. It is still for most purposes an image though basic click functionality can be added if you need to make it appear more like a website to shareholders or something. This gets the images, colors, text, and everything down for the website to look the way it should get approved before going to code.
HTML/CSS/JS (Front End Conversion). This is where things get interesting. The developer will take the mockups and turn them into code. Things will start acting like a real website because it is.
CMS or Back End Functionality. Now depending on how many developers and the process, this might happen at the same time as the previous step. This step controls the functionality and information that happens on the server. Basically everything you don’t typically visually see. This area is vast so I won’t go into too much detail, just know the front end is how the website looks, and the back end is how the website works.
How long will a project take to complete?
This is like asking how long a piece of string is. There are many factors that come into play with this such as how many designers and developers are on the project, how fast can information be passed over or approved, and how much work is there to complete.
The very VERY short answer is to expect small projects to take weeks while larger projects can take months. Your designer and developer can give you an estimate, but it is just that, an estimate. If you need something done by a certain date, certainly speak up, but know that a lack of approvals or a delay in anything else could lead to delays so it is important to have constant communication with the designer and developer. You should be having contact at least once a week if not more.
Why does it cost so much?
Going along with the last question, this has so many variables. Every designer and developer is going to have their own way to bid on projects. Some charge by the hour, some by the milestones, and some do a fixed bid. Just know that anything you ask in addition to what you originally agreed on will be charged extra.
Now in terms of sticker shock, it does cost a lot. And there is a reason for that. When projects take weeks or even months, that is a lot of work. You are getting some serious dedicated time from a professional to do your project. It won't be cheap. It is unprofessional to expect work that will take several months to only cost a few hundred dollars.
Please keep that in mind when getting a bid. There are some designers that will make it super cheap for you. Like getting a logo for $20. But the design is either coming from someone with little to no experience or is stealing or mass producing the design.
What are some common terms I should know to better understand what is going on?
We try our best to not use our fancy tech words, but sometimes its the best to explain what is going on. So here are a few words that might come up when talking with a designer or developer.
Raster. This is an image based on pixels.
Vector. This is an image based on math that can be scaled to any size. This is best for icons and logos.
HTML/CSS/JS. This is the core of what makes a website. HTML is what structure the data on the page. CSS is what makes it look nice (the style). And JS makes things intractable. It’s an extreme oversimplification but that should be enough.
CMS. This is a content management system. It is a program that lives alongside your website that allows you to log in and edit the contents on your website. It can range from free to several hundred dollars. Each CMS is different so sometimes going with the free one will cause more issues than a premium one.
Domain. A domain is a URL that your visitors will visit when they go to your page. www.yourdomain.com
Host. A host is a computer that the files of your website live on. There are many services out there such as BlueHost, GoDaddy, and DigitalOcean. Depending on how your website is made (as in how the backend is made) it might limit you on what service you can use as certain hosts only support certain backend structures. It is best to talk to your developer about this as your site is being built. This will avoid spending money on a service you can’t use.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the terms that might come up. If you are ever confused, just ask. Sometimes when we talk with clients we always aren’t aware that you might not understand some of these terms. We live in this world all day every day. So please ask.
How should designers and developers (or any professional really) be treated?
When you hire a designer or developer you are doing so because you lack the time knowledge or skills to do what you need. It is important to treat that professional as a professional. There have been too many times when I have been treated like a screwdriver and told what to do without the thought of my expertise. You wouldn’t tell a plumber how to do every step of his job, the same is expected here. We will do what we can to please you, when we tell you something won’t work or that the color combination is really bad, please listen to us. We (should) know what we are doing.