Many web designers think of design as an outlet for creativity.
Yes, creativity helps immensely in this job.
But there’s many of us who believe that being a designer it goes a bit deeper.
I believe that design should be focused on solving problems and understanding business objectives first and foremost.
How do we determine what problems we are actually solving?
Communication is a huge part of that equation.
Long before a visual designer opens Photoshop, or a web developer cracks open a code editor, they should spend as much time as possible talking to their clients. Here’s why.
Fostering An Environment Of Communication
Humans, by their nature, base their ideas based on things they’ve experienced before.
When we don’t communicate enough, the experiences that other people have had — their motivations, their desires, and their own points of reference — go missing from our mental model of a situation.
In other words, the more you get to know about why a client is doing a web project, the more you learn about the objectives of that project.
Socratic questioning (asking questions until you get to the root motivation) is one method of doing this.
To do this, we must be available to speak with our clients when they’re not rushed, and not caught up in the minutiae of actually working.
By making time to listen, we help create an environment where conversations can flow freely. These conversations have helped me uncover important information about clients projects each and every time.
As a web designer, the ability to listen can be your greatest competitive advantage.
This is one reason why it’s important for web professionals to have an adequate time margin in their projects. Figuring in that time margin gives us the ability to communicate more, to listen more, to discover more.
The Elephant In The Room
Here’s the thing that web people rarely talk about.
Clients want to feel safe and reassured. Silence on our end does not make them feel reassured. When we actually listen to them — that is what makes them feel safe and secure.
And when people feel safe, they start to tell us the truth.
They open up to us when they believe we aren’t going to bite their head off just for talking to us.
When our clients realize they’re not in a diametrically-opposed relationship with us, they feel better about choosing to work with us.
When we listen to people, they realize we are allies, and not working at cross purposes against them.
Fear of the Unknown
You see, web technology is not something that everyone is comfortable or familiar with. And we all have something that is confusing to us. But we know where to find people who are comfortable dealing with those things for us, we can allow them to take some of that anxiety away.
When clients come to a web studio, they are already facing their their fear of something they don’t fully understand. The client fears the web professional will take advantage of them, because there’s no way for them to know any different.
I can relate.
For example — anytime my car breaks, and I need an auto mechanic.
I don’t know anything about cars beyond changing a tire or checking the oil. A mechanic could tell me something is wrong with my car, and it will cost thousands of dollars — and I have no choice but to believe him. I don’t know enough to tell the difference.
As web professionals, this is exactly how our clients come to us.
They need a problem solved, but perhaps they don’t know how to explain it in our terminology. They know the result they want to get, but they don’t know the steps of how to get there.
That’s why they call us. To take that anxiety away and do what we do best.
We have a choice when clients come to us. We can make them feel safe by listening to them, or we can make them feel uneasy by talking in jargon, and jumping ahead to the parts of the project where we feel most comfortable.
It’s so important to listen, though, and keep communicating in the beginning stages of a project. The more we listen, the better questions we ask, and the more we learn about the real goals.
Empathy is a big buzzword in tech circles these days, but not everyone is practicing it yet.
When I say empathy, I mean putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You know, listening to them and acting with their benefit in mind — the same way you would for a friend.
Don’t get it twisted, business is always business. Both clients and consultants are interested in results. But when both sides feel comfortable enough to communicate honestly, and the web consultant listens for the message behind the words, everyone wins.
Something To Think About
I’d like to leave you with a saying we used to have in my old profession, that also ends up being very fitting for web development.
The customer isn’t an interruption of our work, they are the purpose of our work.
As web consultants, let’s take that to heart.