Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The New Generation of Clients

Years ago, companies were not net-savvy and hired anyone off the street to slap together a website. Today, clients are educated and in the market for developers and designers who understand that the web is more than a home for a rotating logo.

Although my memory is hazy from years of brackets and invoices, web design has always been my primary freelance service. I started working with HTML in 1998 and got my first check for a web job in 1999, a URL which actually still exists but is far too embarrassing to release. (Let’s just say that frames, Javascript rollovers and primitive CGI comprised a design that was obnoxious before usability was even a baby buzzword. Let’s just say that I am just as guilty for some of the stuff you are about to read as anyone. Let’s just say I’m not proud. At all.)

Through the years, I have completed many sites. Although the subject matter ranged from consumer e-commerce projects to corporate brochure sites, there were two common threads running through every assignment:

  • Clients were generally uneducated when it came to web technology.
  • Every site was a “concept to completion” project, meaning they hired me for wireframes, architecture, design, production and pushing the “go live” button. Everything.

Over the past 18 months, I have observed the exact opposite. Clients are much more educated and prepared when discussing their website and my work increasingly focuses on templates. Some statistics and examples:

  • Since the beginning of the calendar year, I have taken on eight website projects. Of those, only two were complete “concept to completion” sites. The other six were/are templates, meaning one or two HTML files, the complete CSS and all images.
  • Of those eight projects, six were redesigns.
  • I have one educated client who demanded that I use only CSS for the layout—no tables. He was pleasantly surprised to find that’s the only kind of development I offer.
  • I had another client go into great detail about their search engine optimization wishes in their initial RFP. Again, I consider SEO one of my specialties.
  • A new client with a new website wanted Japanese and Chinese translations and even gave me the correct language definition to place in the beginning of each HTML file.
  • Another client wanted a complete CMS. They understood the danger of a web developer hard-coding images, text and whatnot into a shitstorm of HTML files, and they wanted nothing to do with it. Luckily, Textpattern is about the most flexible CMS out there and the client has been delighted.

I like to think of myself as a businessman who is not averse to working with a savvy client about what is the best for the project, not what is best for my timesheet. If any of these companies had employed a FrontPage-using web designer stuck in table soup, they would have been sorely disappointed.

I find the first statistic the most interesting. 75% of my web work is designing templates—I never even touch their servers. The client understands they need good design. They understand they need someone who can craft a sharp HTML page that is lean, optimized and ready to kick browser ass. However, they also understand that production is a menial task better left to themselves or “someone they know.”

I would hypothesize that most understand all this from experience. 75% of my projects are redesigns. These guys have been around the block already. They know what they really need, not what some frame-wielding, flash-intro jockey convinced them they needed back in 2001.

The way I see it, this trend is only going to accelerate. Every established company with half a brain has a web presence. However, most are scarred by the Dark Ages of web development, and their sites are replete with crappy navigation, text inside images and a designer who wants to charge them $100/hour to make maintenance tweaks. These companies have a money pit on their hands.

Now, like some global light bulb, clients suddenly understand that $10,000 should buy them more than a few HTML pages and some compressed GIFs. They can edit content themselves. They can see their site listed in the top 20 of a Google search. They can stick an accessibility statement to their site and understand its significance.

The future is bright for designers willing to work with educated clients. Six years ago, there was a huge demand for web development—companies were hiring any dope with a web connection and Photoshop to slap anything on the Intarweb as fast as possible. That well of ignorance and venture capital has run dry. Today, companies are taking their time, finding designers who understand the semantic web, designers who understand user experience, designers who are not going to waste time and money. In other words, designers who get it.

commentary + criticism

Chris K

wrote the following on Thursday June 23, 2005

What to pass some of your clients this way? Seriously, what’s the general size/scope of the clients that have responded that way? The majority of my clients are small and/or local businesses with existing sites that were poorly put together. When discussing things like standards, templates, and SIO with them, the clients are generally clueless and don’t realize how poor their existing site is put together. They’re excited about doing something with standards, especially if it means better recognition with search engines, but the clients seem like they’ve just heard that for the first time. I agree that the trend seems to head toward clients wanting more what you’re describing, and I agree that’s a great thing. I see that more from the designer selling it to them, and what you’re experiencing is the rare find, at least for now.


wrote the following on Thursday June 23, 2005

I consider it good business to inform clients about standards, usability, SEO and accessibility. Don’t get me wrong, not all my clients are educated to any point beyond what they would have been five years ago. I have my fair share of projects where the customer has no clue what they want and I have to guide them toward the light side of the force.


wrote the following on Thursday June 23, 2005

i know its a sidenote, but does anyone know of a good single post/url that describes the strengths/ weaknesses of textpattern vs. wordpress? Just looking for a laundry list of what features are missing or better in each one, so I can make an informed decision.


wrote the following on Thursday June 23, 2005

I don’t have a laundry list but you can look at Open Source CMS to try different ones.


wrote the following on Monday June 27, 2005

that’s a very slick site, thanks!

PJ Brunet

wrote the following on Saturday July 2, 2005

People just can’t afford not to be ranked high in Google anymore—and that all factors into (searchable) design like you said…

On the other hand, I think most nerds forget that 95% of their knowledge is incoherent technobabble to the “outside” world. I think we all need to spend more time explaining things in simple terms—that will help spread the word and get us more business. All these first-timers will be back for more and better informed, meanwhile they build up the internet economy. I’m somewhat of a Luddite myself, but without all those WIFI Starbucks laptop people we’re out of a job.