The client can sometimes claim to know what’s best for their website, in some ways this is true but in some cases they claim to have more knowledge on the subject of web design than you! But although they will almost certainly know much more about their customers, their suggestions for a better website can conflict with what is best for a) their visitors and b) an effective design.
Some clients request that everything on the homepage is “above the fold”. This is supposed to be the first thing the user sees when the website has loaded, without having to scroll. Sometimes the client can confuse this with being everything the user can see, with no scrollbars.
Wrongly, the position of the fold tends to be defined by the size of the clients monitor at the time. With so many screens, browsers and devices, it’s impossible to define exactly where the fold is because it is not a fixed point. Your client may believe everything must go in this area, and that we must lose the scrollbars as users won’t use them.
Scrollbars exist, like them or not, and users are actually accustomed to using them. Having less above the fold will encourage the user to scroll, digesting the most important information first and more as they go. All of the most popular websites utilise scrolling effectively, so there is no reason why you should want a website without scrolling.
The fold certainly exists, but it is not as clear cut as your client would like it to be! The design can suffer greatly as a result of this misunderstanding of the idea of the fold. Important elements on the page no longer have priority and spacing is reduced. Spacing helps to separate important elements, making content easier to take in. Make the most important or most interesting information available to the user first, but don’t try to squeeze every piece of information onto the very top of the page.
There is not so much a misconception about this, but usually more a complete lack of a good call to action. A call to action above the fold will help funnel navigation into a single direction, this is your opportunity to get your users to take action.
Use your call to action to link to more information, to the page which sells your product, or to a contact form. A good call to action is most effective when there is only one, and it is a colour which is different to the rest of the page yet doesn’t clash so much that it looks tacky.
Designing a website without content will usually require a quick visit to lipsum.org, but this isn’t ideal and the resulting design can look more like a template than a bespoke design. A client can sometimes insist on shoehorning the content into the design at a later date. You can try and come up with a design and layout akin to a similar website, in the hope that the content will also be similar.
The only guarantee a web designer can make to a client is that although you may be able to design the overall style of the website, the layout and positioning of elements may need to change when the content is provided. This means going back to the initial stages of the design process, designing backwards, and if you’ve already coded the site you’ll need to go back and recode it.
You then have to relay to an unhappy client that this will cost more money or take more time because it’s costing you more time and effort. This is perfectly fine if you and the client are happy to work like this, but it is usually best to insist on content first so you can provide a better design and place the content more naturally on the page.
It should go without saying, but be very careful of clients asking you to copy another idea or design. There is no harm in taking inspiration from a design but never copy anyone else’s work. You can easily be sneakily led into copying another design without even knowing it. The client may suggest changes to your design so that it closely resembles another design, and you may know nothing about it! Remember, if the client is using you as their pencil and paper, they may as well design the website themselves!
Be cautious of anything the client may send you for their website, this can put you in an impossible situation. It is impossible to check every piece of content a client sends you, and as a web or graphic designer you have to place your trust in the client. Always ensure you have terms written, stating the client will indemnify you of any costs as a result of copyright claims, and ensure the client agrees to this.
Flash animations are known for being distracting, annoying, incompatible with many devices and difficult for search engines to pick up. In other words, any information you’re conveying to your visitors in a flash animation may be missed by a search engine, therefor, people searching for your website may not find it!
It is easy for the client to make requests without considering the full facts and implications of such requests. When these issues arise, you should explain to the client that these requests are simply bad practice for any web designer. The final website may fit your clients requests perfectly, but for the rest of the world the website will be inadequate and unprofessional.
It is sometimes down to the designer to argue against things which go against their principles, although compromise is always acceptable of course, but never to the extent where your work suffers as a result.
Take a look at part two, where I talk about the common misconceptions designers face about themselves…