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19 things worth remembering for designers and developers

I have this growing list of things I try to remind myself of from time to time, but it’s all in my head. So let’s put it down in writing.

  1. Your business is other people’s literal businesses. It’s your responsibility, as the website designer, to make sure your client has some sound business process. If not, it’ll drag you down. You won’t do your best work because you won’t want to. You’ll feel like it’s all for naught.
  2. It’s not the client’s fault they don’t understand some things. One of the most irritating things I get is when someone puts together some layout in a Word document, PowerPoint file, or PDF and expects the website to look and behave exactly the same way. But it’s not their fault they don’t get it. It is their fault, however, when they don’t accept feedback.
  3. Designers don’t have to learn about code any more or less than developers have to learn about design. It would, however, make you a better professional if you understood where your limits are.
  4. You don’t need to ask, but you should ask, “What is your goal here?” You don’t need to ask because the answer is always and should always be some variant of, “Sell more stuff”. However, this is a good question to ask of clients to understand their business plan.
  5. You can’t fix a bad product or service. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving the lawn care company a website with online requests and appointment scheduling if they don’t check their email.
  6. The most important skill for a designer or a developer is writing. I say “writing” and not “communication” because clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. You can’t say that about any other form or communication. After all, that is what websites are for.
  7. The web industry is awful. New clients, particularly those searching without a referral, are probably mortified at how hard it is to find someone to work with.
  8. 90% of new clients will sign with you simply because they just like you.
  9. Most new clients will have already had a bad experience with someone else managing their site. This isn’t true for totally new businesses, of which there are many. But unlike the early 2000’s when we all started from nearly nothing, most clients today have probably worked with someone else and been burned.
  10. Our prices are out of control. The mantra from industry leaders for years was to get people to pay lots of money. I mean lots: $150,000 for a website. This is not how markets work. Prices have to go down. Most of the work for small businesses and nonprofits isn’t that cutting-edge. It’s expensive because you wanted it to be. When the automated systems come, and they will, it’ll be because the entire market was fed up with paying $10,000 here and $25,000 there every other year.
  11. Be honest with clients that you can’t and won’t guarantee anyone a position or rank in search engines. Anyone who does might be able to, but they’ll lose eventually. Nothing is that easily obtained. It requires sustained work, like having the best steak in town.
  12. You are an expense to someone else. Often a significant one. Always be thinking of ways to add value to your clients, even when they don’t want to do anything.
  13. Nobody wants a super creative website. And if they do, their visitors don’t. The number one thing client say to me today: “I want the website to be easy to navigate.” Which makes me think, “They’re visiting a lot of websites that don’t have what they’re looking for or are overly fussy and constantly changing for no clear reason (Facebook, Gmail, etc.). People are beginning to think the web is just plain hard.”
  14. Likewise, try not to fall into the trap of making one of the two kinds of websites everyone else is making today. Avoid fads and tread softly around trends.
  15. Older clients and users are making a huge leap online. Remember that in 40 years when everyone is communicating through virtual holograms and you’re cranky kids won’t respond to their emails.
  16. The purpose of a committee is to gather varied experiences and skills in one room. But just like in middle school, 1 or 2 people are going to end up doing all the work. Figure out who those people are and hope they work well together. If not, move on.
  17. It takes a really selfish, unkind person to think everyone should always have the latest $700 phone and $1500 computer. Because you have the latest dishwasher, car, TV, oven, and toaster, right?
  18. No one ever clicked on one of those “Like” widgets for Facebook on a website. No one trusts them. They’re the 2016 version of weather widgets from 2000.
  19. Don’t kid yourself, all our “inbound marketing” and “email campaigns” is really just everyone else’s “waste of time” and “spam”.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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