How To Successfully Educate Your Clients On Web Development


If you are running a design agency, your job is very likely to combine business development, graphic design, technology and user experience design: a basketful of very different fields. When dealing with clients, one faces the challenge of clearly and effectively communicating the goals and results of the work done in these areas. In this post, we’ll provide you with some ideas on sharing information and knowledge with developers and clients — a couple of tips and tricks we’ve learned from our own experience.

Education of clients

As designers, our core purpose is to solve business challenges for our clients. No, I haven’t forgotten you Mac-loving, single-mouse-button-fanatic designers. A business solution includes an application platform, solid data design and a page design that makes the UI and website approachable and easy to use (for converting, transacting, clicking on a monkey’s butt, etc.). Your daily challenge, then, is to deliver the project on time while satisfying the client’s visual, business and aesthetic requirements.

You’re Not As Smart As You Think… But Google Is

I like to think that I’m always right (boy, would my wife have something to say about that), and that becomes tricky when communicating with clients. As a professional, I am able to detect patterns, usability issues, trends in the industry and other important issues that the client might not be aware of. On the other hand, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to semi-conductor temperature tolerances, furniture for pre-school institutions and the importance of steel spikes in lederhosen. My client, on the other hand, may be an Encyclopedia Britannica on every single one of those topics. What I’m trying to say is that you have to remember that you’re an expert only on your own field and that you should prick up your ears when the client tells you something.

Education of clients

Negotiating For A Win-Win Result

So, as you tread your pitiable pixel-pushing existence, you should be aware of things that might give your sorry designer self an advantage in negotiating those sticking points in projects. Have you ever had a client who wanted a larger logo on their website? Maybe a logo done in Flash, with a spinning earth and sparkles!? All valid requirements, I’m sure; and so during that meeting, as you slowly reached for the pencil to stab your quads under the table, you should have realized that business owners love their brands and are emotionally attached to them. You should have based your response, then, on a composite of research-based facts (best presented as a link to a reputable source on the Web) — an explanation that is specific to their business.

Education of clients

Client: “I really want a bigger logo. I feel like it’s getting lost in the website.”

You: “I understand why your brand is important to you. I have research here based on the top 500 retailers on the Internet and their logo sizes. The research indicates that the logo should take up less space than or be similar in size to the call-to-action element, or be one-fourth of the website’s width at most. In our case, that ‘View products’ link should be the focal point of the website.

Damage Control: Sometimes Bending Over Is Part Of The Job

A successful negotiator (and you are a negotiator — perhaps not a gun-toting, hostage-holding Samuel L. Jackson, but a negotiator nonetheless) delivers a solution that makes both parties win. Your client is happy that their demands were met by their responsive and well-informed developer, and you’re happy because you didn’t have to waste time in meetings. Hopefully, after you’ve demonstrated the facts and your reasoning for keeping the logo at the same size, the client will change their mind and leave you basking in the glory of being right and not having to go back for a fix. In case they don’t, you still might not have to increase the size; perhaps you could reassess your use of white space or employ other visual trickery of that devilishly sexy design field.

Position Of Authority: Your Voice Must Be Heard

As I mentioned, you do wield some authority in this line of work, but your client does also in their business. I recommend that for every project, you establish attainable and clearly defined goals, goals that will be measured by the website’s performance and enforced by strict deadlines. If you or your client doesn’t meet certain goals or deliverables by the deadlines, you could still launch the website if all critical items are completed, and then clear up the remaining items once the website is live. This strategy is used by major tech companies such as Google and accomplishes several important things:

  • Forces you to deliver on time;
  • Focuses you on date-based deliverables, which makes the client easier to educate on “sticky” issues;
  • Forces the client to deliver content, stock photos and their ideas to you on time, because any missing features would have to be paid for on an hourly consulting basis.

As you work towards these goals, know that at a certain point your opinion and decisions are critical to the project’s success. There’s no backing down or hiding your tail between your legs. Sometimes you cannot negotiate, and the client must understand that they are paying you for a reason: because you know your stuff!

Education of clients

Keep in mind that your client also has authority and knowledge that might not be apparent to you during negotiations. For example:

Client: We want IE6 support through the website. The website will have a lot of JavaScript, dynamic elements, PNG graphics, etc.

You: [Jotting down a reminder to send hate mail to the IE6 team at Microsoft,] IE6 is actually an outdated browser that has security flaws, a very poor rendering engine and very few users out there. I recommend we don’t accommodate it (even Mailchimp doesn’t!), and we tell those suckers to go to hell.

Client: Did I mention that we service a large restaurant industry, and a lot of the terminals in restaurants still run Windows XP with IE6?

You: [Updates reminder to hunt down IE6’s creators.]

Education of clients

At the end of the day you are at the mercy of the client, and you need to meet all of their requirements. But you also have to recognize your value and be able to demonstrate it through examples, research and logical arguments. Be responsive: ask a lot of questions in order to understand the client’s motivation. I endorse client education, but not to the point of losing the client and project. Remember that your client is a resource to you, and good communication will enable both of you to complete the project in time to watch the men’s figure-skating competition.


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Aurimas Adomavicius is a creative lead at DevBridge, a Chicago based web application development company. He is also responsible for the creation of the website review community, Concept Feedback. A photographer, web developer, and web designer whose opinion can be often heard on the company blog and on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Excellent article! I especially like the logo chart!

  2. 52

    re-used your superman image in a blog post and linked it to the article here. Hope you don’t mind. Thanks. Here’s the link:

  3. 103

    Hey guys and gals! Very happy you guys like it. :)
    A couple of responses that I feel are needed:

    1) James Cready- I know macs have 2 buttons these days. I <3 the company as they make phenomenal hardware… but you fanbois are too easy to mess with.
    2) Part 2 you say? Well, perhaps. This topic is as inexhaustible as the quantity of jokes that George Lopez has stolen.
    3) Whoever bought – I bow to you, good sir. :)))) We're rolling around on the floor here. Well done, well done indeed.
    4) For the humorless captain obvious who found the article on our website – well DUH! I write because I like to share what I've learned. I share via all available outlets and Smashing is not paying me for it. Seeing as there's not that many visitors to a development companies site – the next logic step is to volunteer my content to popular sites.
    5) Kryptonite / CryptoNITE / ChRYPTonight – whatever. I'm a bit more X-MEN and a little bit less Super.
    6) Steve Jones – yeah, sorry, the database design stuff just kinda fell in the wrong spot.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. 154

    OMG the article is brilliant and the CryptoIE6 cartoon fantastic :D

    Thanks for making me laugh of my daily IE browser family nightmares.

  5. 205

    The points of authority concept is interesting but am not sure how many small time operators can pull off something like that…

    On a separate note, the ie6 vs web developer relationship cartoon is eerily accurate :p

  6. 256

    Ahhh, the “make the logo bigger” feedback and IE6. Just when you think you’ve won, it starts all over again with some other ahole. lol, great article.

  7. 307

    Love the brand confidence to logo size chart!

  8. 358

    I really have an urge to click that Monkey’s Butt. Is that weird?

    Too bad that Mr. PC guy can’t spell “solutions”.

    (I am a Twitter feed subscriber, but my goodness, there’s like a Tweet every 10 minutes. I can’t keep track.)

  9. 409

    I enjoyed this article to the fullest! Well-written and very funny!!

  10. 460

    Thank you, now i can send this to people without explaining myself

  11. 511
  12. 562

    No offense, but this article seems kinda childish. There’s no real acumen to gather from this information. It’s a bit condescending and shallow.

  13. 613

    I’m not all that impressed, sorry. I didn’t enjoy the insinuation that we all want to be the ‘mac guy’. I’d rather perfect my craft than be inept and look like a hipster.

    (I agree with Ray in the post above)

  14. 664

    @Ray – different audiences will read different things from the same message. Most of the commenter seem to have been in situations I have written about, so I think there’s value in discussing possible approaches to those situations.

  15. 715

    This made me laugh.. Great post, very informative.

  16. 766

    A good article, but I find some of your word choices unprofessional and immature.

  17. 817

    A very informative article with loads of great inspiration and guidelines to pay attention to in your quest, thank you Aurimas Adomavicius for authoring this post and I thank “SmashingMagazine” for showcasing it here !! Besides, this is a great blog for learning and inspiration for all of us “newpeople” who are only in the dream stage of creating our own “real” blog !!

  18. 868

    I could’ve sworn I was experiencing Déjà vu because I remember reading this article. Glad to see it here on Smashing, enjoyed reading both times around!

  19. 919

    There are a lot of truths here for SEO work as well. Managing expectations ahead of time is crucial.

  20. 970

    IE 6 = creative killer :D

  21. 1021

    I enjoyed reading it thank you for sharing and for that person who shared this link to me…. i will also share this to my page….. =)

  22. 1072

    Funny and great post! One of my favourite!

  23. 1123

    last ilustrattion … i like

  24. 1174

    i like this article, its funny and i still in this situation when meet my client, especially talk about ie6 :) …thx for the article!

  25. 1225

    Good job, I read the whole piece. I would like to add a few things. 1) I have found it very helpful to keep my designs very flexible and show my clients many iterations as we move along in the process. This gives them plenty of opportunities to share their thoughts and offer “tweaks”. These tweaks are usually easy concessions for me to make and the client feels as though they’ve steered the project all along.

    2) When I present my first real draft to a client, I no longer send an email with a link and “look forward to hearing your thoughts.” I now withhold the design until we are able to meet and discuss it together. Clients like to know that I didn’t just wing it. This formal presentation gives me a great opportunity to explain the choices I made. I find that I make far fewer revisions to my designs since doing this.

    Good article and comments. Thanks everyone!

  26. 1276

    Nice article,but not covering all aspects.As said “The Logo Problem” & “IE6″(as itself) are just two examples of many problems we`r facing in working with such clients.It`s very useful even for a professional with many years of experience to hear other`s experiments.

  27. 1327

    The most ridiculous is this= “Client: We want IE6 support through the website. The website will have a lot of JavaScript, dynamic elements, PNG graphics, etc.”

    I NEVER came across clients who actually said ‘this’, no-one, or knew what they wanted.

    Most of the time they surf the net for examples, then to pick out the bad examples and ask us to do “something of that genre”..
    + They don’t need a photographer, they already have crappy pictures and body copy will be sent, will be sent, will be sent…

  28. 1378

    eXcellent Vivek

    April 24, 2010 6:54 am

    Hi man you written it well, but as others said it needs more key strokes should be in next part carry it on and give us more ideas on the topic.

  29. 1429

    Craig Leontowicz

    April 24, 2010 11:34 am

    Really helpful article. Thanks.

  30. 1480

    true and funny lol.. specially when you are a project manager and trying to manage these developers and/or trying to get a group of developers in a discussion with the client!

  31. 1531

    I’ve been lucky enough to not have to accomodate IE6 since I dropped it about 2-3 months ago. I must say, I’m MUCH happier as a result. Most of my sites look perfect in IE7 the first time, so I no longer need to spend more than a few minutes browser testing :D

  32. 1582

    Helge-Kristoffer Wang

    April 24, 2010 2:24 pm

    IE6 is an additional feature to my designs, and will be extra charged. Creating hacks (good hacks) takes time.

    I really enjoyed reading this article, and it gave me some laughs. Good, but still needs a part two.. feels like we are missing something.. Again, good reading! Thanks! :-)

  33. 1633

    So, did any of you guys/gals have a success stories how to convince your client to not use IE6 compability? Because I have this stupid boss who always accommodate this IE6 user.

    • 1684

      Your boss is almost certainly right to do so, but there are ways you can persuade him / her. Have them take a look at Andy Clarke’s stuff about progressive enhancement:

      This is well-written stuff and it illustrates why it’s ok to let IE6 have something less of a full experience so long as everything is actually functional and doesn’t look horrible.

      You may also want to look at the metrics for what your clients are actually using and then use those metrics as leverage – if you don’t collect this data or you’re not sure it’s a useful statical analysis, then try a larger data-collection pool, for instance from NetApps’ regular analysis (look in the left hand sidebar for browser reports). According to this, IE6 still has an 18% market share, which is not to be sniffed at. It shouldn’t be ignored, but there’s no real need to make designs look the same for it as they do in other browsers.

      NB: One thing that you really shouldn’t do is use the W3C Schools browser market share stats or indeed any data collated by web design / development sites unless they are specifically collecting data from normal people in the wild. W3C Schools stats keep being trotted out by the web development community as a sign that IE is finally dying, but they’re not good statistics for analysing any user group other than the web development community itself.

      Good luck!

  34. 1735

    dealing with a client’s ignorance can sometimes be a daunting task!

  35. 1786

    IE6 has been one of the biggest issue to educate users about and web developers and designers are literally cracking their heads open for testing for these browsers… and frankly speaking… IE7 is starting to transform into the new IE6 if we’re not careful with browser compatibility testing.

  36. 1837

    This made me laugh soooooooo much. Currently we’re banging our heads on a concrete wall with a particular client whose brief is quite frankly impossible. It’s very reassuring to know that the rest of the planet has to deal with the same sort of muppetry. However, I’d much prefer clients to do some proactive learning and eventually understand that the web is not the little brother to print, tv and direct mail.

  37. 1888

    haha!! I love it!! Will be showing this to my bosses tomorrow morning! Great work!

  38. 1939

    JUVENILE writing style, as if written by a 12 yr old.
    didnt get the IE6 foolishness either. IE6 is a known quantity completely for the last 5 yrs, ff, opera and safari on the other hand have a lot of little quirks that just arent documented as well as ie’s have been…meh..
    waste of time this article was.

  39. 1990

    Good Article, brings back some trust to SM, maybe I will continue reading this site afterall.

  40. 2041

    I agree with some posts…

    I agree that IE6 is outdated and design incompetent, it is still the norm. Our clients may even be well web educated, but their customers are not. How do we tackle this IE6 problem, and make our clients happy?

    Where is your data that shows what size a logo should be? Should I really be following your advice or can you back up your assertions with concrete evidence? I have yet to see a “rant article” that does nothing but complain, and not follow up with supporting references that can be applied real world. Data Data Data

    While I agree that our voice should be heard, really we are only satisfying our own desires here. The client is wrong, but I have no evidence that I can produce from a reputable source to affirm my position.

  41. 2092

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  42. 2143

    Great article, thanks for sharing

  43. 2194

    excellent post! just wondering why can’t they use an alert to let the users know how to update their IE6… hmm..

  44. 2245

    Great article. FYI – We have a Fortune 500 client, 18k employees and their “official” company browser is still ie6! They have dozens of apps and portals that are designed for ie6. It’s a huge undertaking for them(and us) to upgrade and will not happen until next year! :(

  45. 2296

    Ačiū, labai įdomus straipsnis!

  46. 2347

    Jens Grochtdreis

    April 26, 2010 9:30 am

    The Superman/Kryptonite image is nice but it is totally wrong. Green Kryptonite doesn’t change Superman into a normal person, it kills him. IE6 is really a pita (pain in the ass) but it doesn’t kill you and me.

  47. 2398

    Hey, SUPERMAN doesn’t know how to use the internet,
    if he does….
    he doesn’t need to fly around

  48. 2449 is available!!! ROTFLMAO!!

  49. 2500

    Haha, nice funny post about serious things :) keep up!

  50. 2551

    I rarely find articles that I read the whole way through. Great post and particularly relevant to project managers.


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