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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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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.


SmashingConf Barcelona 2016

Hold on, Tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? Like SmashingConf Barcelona, on October 25–26, with smart design patterns and front-end techniques.

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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

    That’s exactly what we’re dealing with every day. Funny post!

    • 2

      Thomas Strobl

      April 25, 2010 7:18 am

      plain said, really easy and fluent to read! I enjoyed it very much!

  2. 3

    Hey, this post was very nicely written. I enjoyed it.
    I suggest you make a part 2 of it, because it feels like there is more to be said.


  3. 8

    Nicole Bauer

    April 23, 2010 3:40 am

    I will use that graphic to argue about the logo size next time. It’s a good argument. Haha…
    Great tips, thank you!

    • 9

      I can’t read the normal sized logo – I think I’m the “problems at childhood logo man…” :o/

  4. 10

    Great post!

    I hope developers start to simply stick to web standards and then charge extra for supporting “non-standard” browsers like IE6.

    CSS Browser Selector takes a bit of the pain away:

    • 11

      IE6 support is an extra feature and is treated likewise.

      • 12

        Arnoud ten Hoedt

        April 26, 2010 8:51 pm

        A nice approach for IE6 hell is to sell your client an additional PDA device targeting, fluid, accessibility focussed template, and re-route IE6 to that version.

  5. 13

    Tiziano Pojer

    April 23, 2010 3:46 am

    Really nice post , great tips !

  6. 14

    I loved the logo-size chart.
    I will definitely use it…

  7. 15

    Haha funny :)
    But its the truth so :o

  8. 16


    April 23, 2010 4:08 am

    Great article, I agree that most clients need to be made aware of certain technical issues even before starting the project, like screen resolution, cross-browser testing, etc
    PS – small misspelling in the first graphic ;)

  9. 17

    Good post – except in the first graphic. Good database design is pure engineering; it belongs on the left side. As you can tell, I’m a humorless software engineer.

    Oh, and you might check with your contact at – their server is down.

    • 18

      Word, homefry. I do database design as well and Mr Mac and his stereotypical compatriots are woefully inadequate for these kind of technicalities.

      Anyway, I work with a lot of blue chip and finance corps building their web apps and those guys in suits tend to prefer to deal with other guys in suits. I’m happy to look and sound like Mr PC if it makes my clients comfortable.

  10. 19

    Ben Jamieson

    April 23, 2010 4:37 am

    You missed the vital point that web developers need to know how to spell, and should *never* spell Kryptonite two differing ways… in the SAME graphic!

    : )

  11. 21

    hilarious and irony at the same time… luv it

  12. 22

    Lokesh a.k.a Lucky

    April 23, 2010 4:47 am

    Superman cartoon concept is too good !… love the concept

  13. 23

    The article is just great very nice and the comments to images are brilliant too! as for the K/Cryptonite… Hehe)))…Just give it a break guys…you may also say it did not only make me laugh but proud about myself too ‘cos I’ve noticed that small mistake)))))

  14. 24

    darwin Santos

    April 23, 2010 4:57 am

    Awesome article. The superman part is hilarious, we need a part 2 for this article.

  15. 25

    This is the BEST article I’ve read in a long time. Thank you Aurimas & Smashing!!


  16. 26


    April 23, 2010 5:18 am

    Great article and loving the humour – totally agree with the IE6 effects on our developers!

  17. 27

    Brilliant Read!

  18. 28

    Great and funny article. Most of the times, theses are the kind of things you wish you were told in classes… but only experience can make you a master at “managing clients”! Ah! Life…

  19. 29

    Niels Matthijs

    April 23, 2010 5:50 am

    Don’t agree with that last image. I think it’s really the other way around. Making things work on FF3.6/Safari/Opera/Chrome is easy, but if I can make it look just as nice in IE6 I feel like a regular superman :p

    • 30

      You didn’t get it: The “Superman” is how you feel handling things or let’s say how you enter the client meeting. That is what the (“Superman”) image represents more: self-confidence, security, power and strength.
      And actually most feel same, when the keyword “IE6” is mentioned: weaker…

  20. 31

    Well, do smashing ever do any content check? Just take a look at their company blog -
    This article has been published earlier before and this is a duplicate content!

    Why not just tweet the article if you like it? Rather than buy it?

    PS: The writer don’t even bother to rewrite the article.


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