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6 posts from December 2009

How Can You Not Afford It?

The Three Year Slump

The email arrived at 2:43 PM, marked high priority. It ended with the following words: "We're going to postpone our web site redesign until our sales pick up." Hmm... could there be an causal association between sales volume and the quality of their website experience? (That was a rhetorical question.)

I was tempted to write back the following one-sentence response: "How can you afford not to?"

Yes, I know that embarking on a holistic redesign of your corporate website isn't about waiting another day to eat the chocolate cherry crinkle cookie sitting expectantly in the larder. Large-scale redesigns are heavy-duty, overwhelming, emotional experiences that rarely ends in everyone sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya" and slinging back shots. The hard costs associated with a redesign—the fees we charge over a length of time for services rendered—are just a facet of the time and energy clients withhold in order to find the "right time" to engage. And if there isn't a firm content strategy or IA plan in place for future growth, they're going to outgrow the thing faster than a white hare being chased by a polar bear.

But begging off a redesign on a weak web presence, especially when your customers are sobbing for it, can have dramatic consequences on revenue and web traffic much further down the road. (Read: Catastrophic.) And most clients can't look that far ahead, especially if their business isn't 100% contingent on the Interwebs. Short-term tactical gains are fairly easy to squeeze from limited means—i.e. more aggressive marketing and promotion—but the substandard quality of a lacking user experience will eventually shave down possibilities for long-term growth.

The only way you can articulate this to a client, beyond hand waving and terse pronouncements over a crystal ball, is to take a page from the playbook of all those MBAs. At some point, your clients are going to have to invest not just in the new website you can help deliver, but the long-term plan that said website is only beginning to fulfill.

So do these activities as due diligence, right out of the gate.

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Separating the Why from the How

Why How

When deep in discussions with a client over wireframes for highly complex systems, I've developed a simple way of defusing discussions regarding aesthetics:

Wireframes are the why. Visual design is the how.

If a client disagrees with why a specific bit of functionality is on the page, or has concerns regarding the types of content described in your documentation, then you're having a productive discussion that will contribute to the quality of the end product.

However, if you expending a substantial amount of energy describing how that functionality will be expressed, you have an option to recommend the following:

"In this meeting, we are looking to confirm that we've included the appropriate functionality, and determined its use for your customers/users in the right contexts and task flows. Upon approval of these wireframes, we will show you how that functionality will manifest to the user in a UI design on [deadline/date]."

Separating these two activities can help you move your functional ideas more swiftly into back-end development, and afford your visual designer a bit more freedom in expressing the how of the final result.

Now, if there are details you're presenting that the client keeps questioning—meaning that they are concerned about behavior, animation, and other attributes that contribute to the usability of a documented feature—a quick "grey box" motion study or disposable prototype built in a tool such as Flash, Photoshop, AfterEffects, Expression Blend, etc. can help move your discussion along. At the lowest fidelities, it's even appropriate to demonstrate an interaction using a few pieces of paper with pencil sketches. Whatever can help you show the proper attributes of how as part of your why will help you and your client agree on what's being built.

And if your design goal doesn't warrant wireframes? Answer for the why and the how with simple, annotated visual comps.

Focusing on the Climb


Rock climbing is physical problem solving, a process of continually resisting of gravity (and physical harm). In a way, it's a kind of controlled falling. Similarly, design is a kind of controlled failing, ever climbing towards a "certain" goal without any certainty at the start of the process of how the end product will really look.

In both sports, there is a dollop of artistic Yin in our risk-filled Yang, and a similar level of required focus in how you fulfill the work without harming yourself—whether through willful distraction or negligence.

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Estimating Projects by Long-Term Asset Value

Logo Cost TBD

In 1998, I remember catching up with one of my former classmates from college and hearing about their experiences of working at their first design studio as an intern. She related to me the following story (which I hope wasn't mangled by my faulty memory banks):

"All of the designers were really busy, so one of the owners gave me an identity project to work on over a week. I worked on a few concepts, but the one that I was really excited about had the last letter of the logo (a T) working like a construction crane picking up the letter to the left of it.
My boss showed the logos to the client and they immediately fell in love with my favorite. With just a little bit of further work, we delivered the logo and invoiced the client their standard fee for the logo. At the time, it seemed like a robbery for the amount of time I put into it.
My boss was really happy, they didn't have to spend much time art directing me, and they offered me a job when my internship was up."

As I asked her further questions about how the project went, then did the math:

One logo. One intern with minimal oversight. One week. $8,000 flat rate fee for just the mark.

Continue reading "Estimating Projects by Long-Term Asset Value" »

How to Handle Change Requests

Requires More Money

Tape this to your monitor:

"We'll be more than happy to make the changes that you've noted to this most recent round of [name of deliverable]. However, to accommodate your request, there will be an impact on the project schedule and overall scope, which may result in a change order. We'll get back to you within [X number of hours] with an idea of what kind of impact, if any, these changes may have."

Painting a clear picture of what deliverables and edits are included as part of your overall service offering, and then being just as clear about what client-desired changes are outside the boundary of that offering, are a fundamental attribute of running any service-oriented business.

Continue reading "How to Handle Change Requests" »