What Being a Dad Has Taught Me About Web Design
In the 8 years since my son was born, I have truly learned what “on-the-job training” means as I try to do the best job that I can in this completely unfamiliar role known as “dad.”
Along the way, I've come to realize that being a dad is largely about using your experiences and knowledge to help guide your kids so that they make the right decisions in life and become positively contributing members of the community. In a number of ways, this is also how I view my relationship with clients – not as someone who dictates to them what they should do with their website, but in a role that allows me to use my experience to help guide them to become a positively contributing member of the Web community.
For Father’s Day, I thought it would be fun to write a companion piece to the Mother’s Day article I wrote last year. Here are a few web design lessons I have learned from my experiences as “dad.”
Questions and Answers
Kids have questions. Lots and lots of questions. The world around them is new and strange, so their natural reaction is to ask about what they see as they try to make sense of it all. Clients are no different. For many of them, the Web is a new and strange place and they will have questions about it. Part of your role is to answer those questions for them in a way that is appropriate to their needs.
When I answer my kids’ questions, I try to always be truthful with them, but that doesn’t mean I tell them the whole story. Some information is simply outside of their scope of understanding and explaining things to them in full detail will just confuse them further. The same can be said for clients' questions.
When a client asks a question, they are looking to understand the issue in a way relevant to them. Focus on giving them the information they need to grasp the issue and how it applies to their site or their business, rather than the technical understanding you require to deliver the results they are looking for.
Lead By Example
The concept of “do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t work very well in parenting, nor does it make much sense in business. Lessons that I try to impart upon my kids fall upon deaf ears if they then see me breaking those rules myself. This also applies with the best practices that I preach to my clients, but then fail to follow on my own site.
Admittedly, there are some things that are inappropriate for my kids, but acceptable for me as an adult – such as enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or staying up far past my bedtime to watch episodes of Sherlock on my DVR. Similarly, there are times when you may push for a solution for your client, like responsive web design, but have not yet had the time to deploy it on your own site (guilty as charged), but by striving to lead by example whenever possible, you will find your lessons much better received.
I like to talk to my kids - to really just sit down and have a conversation with them. I am always amused by what is on their mind and I find myself closer to them every time we have a chat. You can do this with clients too.
I have previously written about the benefits of having genuine, non-business related conversations with your clients. This type of conversation allows you to connect with them as people and allows them to see you as more than just their “website designer”
Talk to your clients and your kids, you’ll be amazed at the value those conversations bring to your ongoing relationship with each.
Prepare to Make Mistakes
Screwing up is a part of life and a part of parenthood. If you go into being a dad, or building a website, thinking that you will be perfect, then you will be sorely disappointed.
Making mistakes is natural and it can be productive if you learn from those mistakes. When a mistake does happen, either as a parent or as a web designer, assess the situation and do what needs to be done to fix it – and learn from the experience so you are better next time. And when the mistakes do happen, never underestimate the power of genuinely saying “I’m sorry.”
Your kids, and your clients, take their cues from you in so many ways, including how you handle bad situations. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, so how you deal with the storms that will inevitably come is important.
As a parent, keeping a level head when a situation becomes stressful will show your kids that even though you may not be able to control what the world throws at you, you can control how you react to it. As a web professional, keeping that level head in challenging times shows that you are equipped to steer your clients through good times and bad times as a valuable partner to their business.
I often say that the mark of a good partner, and also a good parent, is not how they react when things are going great, but how they handle the situation when times are tough. Stay positive and those who follow you will remain positive too.
Enjoy The Rewards
The web design profession operates as a very future focused industry. We are always looking to what is next in terms of the technologies and software we use. We are also often focused on our future work – the next project we have in the queue or the next client we are meeting with to discuss their needs. Too often we fail to sit back and enjoy the results of our work because we are already looking to the next one.
As a parent, I find myself falling into the same trap at home. It’s sometimes hard to enjoy the moment when you are busy thinking about everything else on your “to do” list.
The last lesson I will share in this article is to learn to enjoy the rewards of a job well done. When a site goes live, sit back and enjoy it before moving on. Do something to commemorate the launch. Throw a party if you can or schedule a lunch with the client to say “thank you” and celebrate that culmination of all that hard work - just find a way to recognize the achievement before you move onto something else.
As a parent, learn to the savor the moment and the special times with your kids. Your “to do” list will never be empty, so misplace it for a spell and enjoy the present. For me, that means putting away the computer and turning off the cell phone this Father’s Day weekend to enjoy a little trip to Cape Cod. My family, a nice beach, and some clamcakes and chowder for dinner – those are my rewards this weekend for my hard work as a designer and a dad - and I assume you, I plan to enjoy them.
Happy Father’s Day.