The holidays are over. The presents have all been unwrapped, the eggnog has been drunk. We have pulled the lights down from the house and packed away the ornaments until next year. The Christmas tree lies along the side of the road, waiting for the garbage truck to come and take it away. It’s a sad end to such a happy time of the year.
The Sad Transition
Like the holiday season, I find that Web design engagements often end in a similarly sad way. I spend a substantial amount of time on a project, working hard to create a design that is visually appealing and supportive of the content. I ensure that my pages are marked up semantically and my CSS styles are well organized. I go to great lengths to make sure the new Web site looks great and works well…and then I turn it over to the client to maintain and manage and my sadness begins.
All the work that goes into making good choices for a site is so easily undone when a client takes over control and makes a few bad decisions during routine updates.
The Sad Reality
The reality of the situation is that clients have to take control of their Web sites at some point. It is not realistic or financially viable for them to depend upon me to make every update and change that their site will need. They need to be empowered to make those changes for themselves.
Unfortunately, while it makes sense that clients would need to manage their own sites, the truth is that in most cases they are not Web professionals or designers and they often make poor choices as they update their sites - choices that may ultimately impact their site’s overall design and effectiveness in a negative way.
This needs to change.
Helping Clients Make Better Choices
In the new year, one of my goals is to better manage project handoffs with the goal of helping my clients make better overall choices. I plan to accomplish this in a few ways.
- Create style guides for new sites and actually review them with the client
- By providing a guide to the styles and standards for the site I hope to, first and foremost, make the client aware that such standards exist while also giving them a reference to use as they make changes in the future. But just presenting them the guide is not enough. I also plan to review the document with them so the guide becomes more than just a forgotten user manual for the Web site. I have found that actually having a conversation with clients about ongoing graphic standards goes a long way to helping them consider the impact of their decisions when they make site updates in the future.
- Train clients on more than the nuts and bolts of updating their sites
- Whether clients are using a CMS or managing their site using an editor like Dreamweaver or Contribute, training them on more than just the mechanics of the update process is something that can help make them aware of the impact of their choices. This will help clients to understand the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how’ of maintaining their site.
- Identify which sections of the site will require frequent updating and make them easy to manage
- On most sites, there are a handful of pages or sections that require frequent updates. Ensuring these areas include markup that is easy to manage will help the client maintain their site effectively. An example of this is definition lists. While I absolutely love using definition lists, I have found that clients using Adobe Contribute to maintain their site have trouble with them. Contribute, amazingly, does not recognize this piece of markup, so if I know a client will be using Contribute, I avoid using definition lists on areas of the site that will require frequent updating. Planning the impact of your development decisions upon the eventual upkeep of the site helps set your clients up for a successful transition.
- Touch base more often
- My involvement with clients does not end once the site is launched. I view client engagements as ongoing relationships, but busy schedules often get in the way of touching base with a client to check in and see how they are doing. I hope to remedy this and reach out to clients more often, if for no other reason than to say ‘hello.’ In my experience, being in front a client more often helps them keep the Web site, and the standards we established for that site, in the front of their mind.
Setting Off Into the World
Turning a site’s upkeep over to a client is like sending your children off into the world. You know they will make mistakes, unfortunate decisions and poor choices. There is no way around that, but the instruction and guidance we give them early on will help shape the decisions they make in the future, both good and bad.
Hopefully, if the guidance and direction we give our clients is solid, they will make more good decisions than bad ones and their Web sites will be the better for it.