Reasons to become an agile web designer. # 2 More enjoyable work

In the last video I argued that selling websites as commodities was outdated because:

  • The “build it and they will come” approach is rarely considered an effective online marketing strategy.
  • Most web designers are using platforms (like WordPress) that need to evolve.

Here, I am looking at how traditional project management can also make work unnecessarily miserable.

If it wasn’t for those meddling clients

Complaints about clients are familiar and age old:

  • Vague requests for changes and too many of them.
  • Not providing usable content on time.
  • Failing to recognise expertise or undoing good work.
  • Requesting unexpected features.
  • Asking for things that are bad for user experience.
  • Expecting too much for the budget etc.

These are often cited as the reasons our peers stop doing client work. They leave designers feeling overworked and undervalued.

Some turn to sales gurus who sell the secret of charging more for the same thing.

Although this helps some, it does not address the wider problem. If the client’s initial investment is not aligned with the returns (as with agile approaches) the designer’s gain comes at a greater risk to the client.

It can also lead to good clients being prematurely written off as “cheap” for needing proof rather than promises.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome

The problem with traditional project management is that it fixes the cost of customer satisfaction on the “end deliverable”.

This is a demanding proposition for even the most simple and objectively understood product.

With modern web design this is compounded as the value is no longer with the site itself, but the design.

Our industry has matured beyond selling hand coding HTML brochure sites to creating “delightful user experiences” that generate leads through an understanding of the users psychologies and by responding to social change.

A website can be subjectively critiqued, but design is mostly invisible.

Putting the focus on the end deliverable diverts the client from appreciating what good designers do.

If the client places complete trust in the designer and leaves them to it. The designer gets a limited insight into the business they are representing and is isolated. The client can’t see how to evolve the work done. It gets undone.

If a less trusting client gets involved they may try to direct the design or elicit the opinions of third parties. We get “design by committee” with the designer demoted to pixel pusher. It is done out of fear because we set an arbitrary deadline where the website is supposedly “done” and their budget gone.

If the client is trusting and engaged it’s likely they will begin to see opportunities that go beyond the original scope.

This is ideal for the agile designer, but is a failure for the traditional designer who now has to choose between doing extra work or negotiating the contract.

The Agile Mindset

It’s hard to dispute that agile is not the way forward for work in the interconnected digital era, but the implementation of agile methodologies can be.

Agile Burnout can be a problem in Scrum where iterative sprints leave staff feeling like they are on a hamster wheel. The problem is “Agile” is big business and companies buy agile tools and processes and forget the power is in the four core values.



Let’s finish up by looking at these:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

This reminds us to think about who we are working with. If we want our clients to take us seriously as UX designers it should probably start with them.

I’m sure I am not the only one to make the mistake of forcing clients to learn project management tools and processes I bought or copied in order to feel “professional”. It did the opposite and created friction.

The same was true of patronising exercises handed out to clients for “discovery” purposes. Assigning business owners homework like children tends not to level up the interaction even if the questions are sound.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Translating this for web design it means get something out that can be field tested.

I have been involved in vanity projects that have gone on for 3+ years behind coming soon pages. Endless opinion based revisions untested against business aims leaves everyone drained.

They could have had a home page with contact form a place earning a place in SERPs, providing some data and potentially earning in just days.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

This is about pooling skills and knowledge and moving forward together rather than setting up “us than them” divisions.

Clients have insights into their business and audience. We have the knowledge to translate that into engaging design, but neither of us know in advance how this will play out.

We can demonstrate our expertise by showing we understand the consideration and by encouraging testing. We can undermine this by claiming to have all the answers.

Responding to change over following a plan

In my last post I used the analogy of a website as front of house staff that have to learn and respond to the customers.

But even before a site is live, UX and SEO considerations appears as projects progress even without formally doing research. It only needs one tester or new knowledge of a competitor to throw out plans. It should be expected and welcomed.

Most of the friction with clients goes when they are investing on the basis of evidence. We can’t overwork if we are timeboxing rather than chasing a moving target.

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