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.
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.