Keeping an Eye on Your Website in Progress

Do you like the idea of letting your web team create your website while you go about your business, sometimes wondering with happy anticipation what it will look like? Do you look forward to the day your site is ready as you might look forward to your birthday, when you finally get to open all those enticing presents?

Or would you rather peek in on a regular basis, possibly hanging over the team’s shoulders and making suggestions?

It’s mostly a matter of personality, it seems to me. On both sides. Some clients like to be a part of the team, in on the whole thing all along, enjoying learning about the process as they go along and treasuring the feeling of being part of the creative work. These clients often proudly talk about how they designed their own sites, and they really love having that input.

Most web workers hate this. Here’s why:

  • It interferes with the creative process. We like to be able to try things out, experiment, test, and then choose the best option. Knowing that the client may pop in at any moment, whether physically or virtually, makes us limit our options so that the site will always look great at a moment’s notice. Many of us also don’t like to show something that we don’t consider ready yet, just out of pride in our workmanship.
  • It slows us down. I have had clients who wanted to to sit with me and discuss every word or paragraph as we went along, collaborating on the writing. It takes four times as long to do this as for me to write it, send it for feedback, and tweak it to please the client. Clients rarely want to pay four times as much for their content for the privilege of helping.
  • It can lead to inferior results. Not because the client messes things up, but because we can’t concentrate properly. “Does he want us to talk to him,” we say to each other, “or does he want us to do our jobs?” It’s also easy, with a very hands-on client, to lose track of which version was the final, or rather the most recent final. Sometimes conversations between the client and the designer and the client and the copywriter leave the two with different understandings of the client’s desires, and you end up with the proverbial horse designed by a committee (that is, a camel).

On the other hand, you may not want to spend weeks in complete suspense. Your web workers don’t want to unveil the site and have you reject it and demand that they start over. How can you keep an eye on things?

  • Approve at the stopping points. It’s completely reasonable to ask for approval of the wireframe, the mock up, the content before implementation, and the completed site before launch. It’s also completely reasonable for your web firm to hold you to those approvals, charging for extra time involved in changes to the architecture after the site is built, for example, or to the content after it’s been implemented. You should understand that “signing off” usually means that changes to things you’ve approved will cost more. Unless you’ve agreed to a limit on changes, though, you should be able to get changes before approving at those stopping points.
  • Ask about a dev site or test site. Most web teams use a live site at some point before launch. This may be called the “dev site” or the “test site.” This is not the same as the mock up. The image at the beginning of this post is the mock up of a site Tom and I are working on. It’s a picture: you can’t click on the links and go to other pages, and the gallery shows just one image, and not one of the images it’ll finally include. Tom told the client what the empty space is for, and the content hasn’t yet been approved. The client looks at this in order to see the design and ask for changes just to the design, ignoring everything else.  A dev site will function like a live site, though it won’t be finished. Your team may not want to let you into the dev site (see the reasons above) until they’ve finished, but you can ask. One of the developers I work with invites her clients into Basecamp as an alternative.
  • Ask for reports or meetings. At the same time that you agree on pricing and a time frame, you can agree on reporting and meetings. If your web professionals say they’re happy for you to drop by at any time and look over their shoulders, that’s great. If they agree to send you a polished report of progress every three weeks till completion, that’s also great. The agreement is key.

True confessions time: one of the things I like about hiring people on oDesk is being able to look over their virtual shoulders without disturbing them. I really enjoy watching artists at work; I’m the one at the fair hanging out and watching people weave things or blow glass. I don’t interfere, though I’ll send an occasional message saying I really love what they’re doing. When I visit local designers I’m working with, I encourage them to show me what they’re doing, too, though I don’t get offended if they’d rather not. So I really understand why clients want to join in or at least watch.

Still, there are good reasons not to do that in every case. Work out a plan ahead of time and both client and workers can be happy.


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