Meeting Business Owner Expectations in the Web Design Process: Closing the Divide

Meeting Business Owner Expectations in the Web Design Process: Closing the Divide

There is a divide—and potentially a great one—inherent to the website development process. Occupying one side of the divide are a small-business owner’s initial objectives and expectations for a proposed website. On the other side, some days or weeks later, stands the completed website. The divide is the gulf that exists between the client’s early vision and the finished product.

Helping to bridge the divide is the web developer, who has knowledge of and experience in designing and developing websites. The developer’s overall objective should be to draw the two sides of the divide together by matching reality to vision. In the end, client and developer should find themselves standing on the same ground as they admire the attractive website that fulfills the client’s expectations and is an effective addition to his or her business. Unfortunately, some web developers seem to have only a vague appreciation of the fact that a divide exists. They may not pay sufficient attention to the potential gulf between expectations and the finished product. As a result, client-developer communication may be poor and at cross purposes, leading to misunderstandings and do-overs: the divide closes slowly. Worse, it may not close at all. In that case, at the end of the process, the client is looking across a gulf at a website that fails to capture what he or she really wanted.

Closing the Divide

As a web developer, I take pride in understanding this divide well, navigating it, and making it disappear. I call this process “Closing the Divide,” and it is something crucial to every website development project. Bringing the two sides of the gulf together begins by asking the client a simple but critical question: “What is it that you would like your website to do for you?” For example, is the website simply to serve as a complex online business card? Or is it expected to provide a more extensive marketing function? Will there be a storefront? What kinds of content do you want the site to contain? Will it need to be updated often and, if so, how frequently? Clarifying the client’s intent and expectations at the beginning brings focus and direction to the project. This, in turn, starts bridging the gulf by bringing client and developer closer to a shared vision of what the website will be.

Once the developer has a clear idea of the client’s objectives and expectations, it is important to discuss the time that will be required to complete the site. The client, perhaps knowing relatively little about what goes into creating a website, may have unrealistic expectations about the time involved. The developer needs to explain the steps required to create a website. These include properly researching, organizing, designing, building, and testing the site, all of which may require considerable communication with the client. None of these steps can be ignored, and each takes more or less time, depending on the complexity of the site. By providing the client with an overview of the entire process and setting up a mutually acceptable schedule, the developer can defuse unreasonable time expectations and reduce the divide.

Best Interests & Best Practices

In learning the client’s expectations, the developer should not simply be a “yes” man or woman. On the contrary, it is important to draw attention to any specification that would clearly work against the client’s main intent. For example, suppose the small-business owner wants a couple of pop-up screens to appear each time a visitor clicks on one of the site’s pages. If so, the developer should explain that this requirement would not only take additional design and development time, it might be considered intrusive by many visitors and drive them away. And that’s not what the business owner wants. Asking “Is it worth it?” and “Is it necessary?” about various features while the project is still in the planning stages, and discussing the viability, effectiveness, and cost of the proposed features will help to insure that the two sides of the gulf come together at the end.

Choosing The Best Web Development Method

Another consideration that is crucial for getting client and developer on the same ground is to determine, early on, the overall method to be used in designing and building the website. In my experience, there are two foundationally efficient methods for developing a site for a client. Their main difference is the degree of input that the client has in designing the specifics of the site.

The 2 Methods

1. The Wire-frame Method: This method of going about the design and development of a website begins with the developer succinctly expressing to the client, in writing, the projected purpose and functionality of the site by using what is referred to as a “wire-frame.” The wire-frame is a visual suggestion of the architecture, user flow, and organization of the site. This method requires that the buyer extend a fair amount of trust to the developer, recognizing his or her ability to design a site that looks and functions the way that was agreed upon in the written wire-frame statement. A major benefit of this method for the designer is that he or she has greater freedom to develop a product without the constraints of some detailed abstract conception or intricate mock-up. A major benefit for the client is that the site is likely to cost considerably less and be completed more quickly than when the second method is used. If the developer is allowed some room for interpretation, he may well deliver a product with an appearance and functionality that are close to the client’s expectations, and at a lower cost and within a smaller window of time. However, leaving room for interpretation is not always the best approach. While it might work well for a budget-restricted client, it may not be the best solution for those who want to be more intimately involved in the creation of their website. In that case, what I call the “mock-up” method may be more appropriate.

2. The Mock-up Method: This method is viable in cases where the client’s budget is less restricted and time to completion is not as pressing. It involves the developer developing intricate mock-ups of the appearance and functionality of every page on the site. Doing this greatly increases the hours needed to complete a project. Some elements of the detailed mock-ups, such as a logo or slogan, may be quite easy to translate onto a website. However, elements such as text boxes or content that is displayed dynamically from a database may require considerable trial and error on the developer’s part before they are reproduced with precision.The time it takes to develop a website to precisely match the mock-up down to every last pixel is the main factor adding to the initial cost of the site. While this method may insure the client’s peace of mind in respect to the design of the site, it is not a method that every small-business owner can afford. The wire-frame and mock-up methods each have their pros and cons. Discussing their advantages and disadvantages with the client is an important factor in closing the gap between expectations and finished product and insuring that client and developer are standing on the same ground at the completion of the project. Whether the most important variables for the client are budget and time, or being intimately involved in the site’s design, having a detailed scope-of-work strategy is essential to moving ahead together.

In Sum

The responsibility for implementing the client’s desires is in the hands of the website developer. His or her main goal should be to make sure that the end product agrees with what the client wants and expects. To fulfill that responsibility, and thereby bridge the gulf between expectation and fulfillment, it is crucial to discuss and clarify intent as early in the planning stages as possible. Client and developer must then reach agreement on (1) what the website is meant to accomplish, (2) how it will accomplish those objectives, (3) in what time frame, and (4) how much the client will be involved in the design. Coming to agreement on these key factors helps insure that at the end of the project, there is no great divide between the client’s expectations and the final product.

By Scott Offord

Web Designer

If you have any thoughts, suggestions or feedback–please don’t hesitate to share it with us. We’d love to hear what you have to say.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Paul Gruber

    Hi Scott,

    The inexperienced customer can’t know what is involved in the process until he goes through it once or twice. For myself it is good to start with somthing simple and then refine it. Thank’s for your patients and direction in the process.


  2. Gary

    Great article! The wireframe does wonders, and also acts as protection from ‘scope creep’, since the whole idea behind it is to show content and navigation.

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