4 Steps to becoming a great client

Recently we had the pleasure of working alongside Manchester City Council to produce one of the most well-received responsive Government websites in the world. The project was, from start to finish, enjoyable, efficient and highly collaborative.

manchester case study perfect council website 2013 round table session on RWD

We learned a lot about what goes in to creating an exemplary website and what it takes, from both parties, to create something really delightful. I want to share some of my thoughts on what it takes from an agency, client and, ultimately, a process to facilitate the crafting of a great user experience.


The Client
Good clients invest money into a project, great clients invest money, time and resources. A great client appreciates the value of our expertise but understands the value of their own. During my talk at Building Perfect Council Websites, I stated that you cannot just throw money at a website and have all your problems solved. Great clients are prepared to dedicate time and effort throughout the process.

The Agency
An agency has to welcome the client into the tea­m. As mentioned above, while an agency's expertise is appreciated by a great client, the agency must also appreciate everything such clients can offer throughout the duration of a project. Being great at your job is one thing, being able to work with others who are great at theirs is another thing entirely. If there is one thing we have taken away from our experience crafting Manchester City Council's website, it is 'Collaboration is King'.

The Process
It is very easy to set a process in stone and follow it for every project. It's definitely efficient and, to a very broad extent, our process is pretty standardised. We meet the client, gather initial requirements, conduct analysis and site reviews, wireframe our ideas up, produce possible visual directions, create mockups and, finally, implement them into our CMS. This is an extraordinarily, almost absurdly broad overview of such steps. The real worth of a process is found in its flexibility. A flexible process that allows us to visit and consult with the client as often as required helps keep momentum, impetus and spirits sky high.

Putting it all together
Considering all the above; here are what we feel to be four key steps to being a better client and crafting a better council website.

manchester process

1. Collaborate

Collaboration should be the core of any great project. Acknowledge the strengths, weaknesses and expertise of the team as a whole. By 'team' I mean everyone involved in the project. Create a collaborative environment by changing the client/vendor relationship into one of true collaboration - for the duration of a project there are no separate camps, a great website is a product of symbiosis not one of secular, almost arbitrary, decision making.

2. Set Goals

Goals are used to define success. Without setting goals we are unable to track the success of a project. With simple, measurable goals we can analyse and adapt a website at any time to see if it meets these goals or what can be done to further improve its performance. A tangible set of goals provides a backdrop for decisions made throughout a project and helps with critiquing ideas and making decisions.

3. Discuss ideas early

There is little on this planet more soul-destroying for a designer than devoting countless hours to one idea or one direction only to find that it doesn't fit or is not deemed acceptable. Often we spend a lot of time polishing our ideas to better present them when, really, what we should be doing is staying true to this collaborative core and presenting our ideas as roughly as possible. A hallmark of our work with Manchester was a willingness on our part to share ideas in their embryonic state and a willingness on the client's part to receive these ideas in such a state. This can be pretty terrifying to a designer at first, but in our experience, 'cigarette packet' ideas which are then discussed usually turn out much better than ideas presented totally polished and in an almost-finished state.

4. Be Forward Thinking

Be mindful that technology will change. Often site goals will change. There is little permanence on the web and, with the ubiquity of content management and immediacy of analytic reporting; updating, tweaking and testing a website can be done in small chunks. A great website is a platform, it represents a combination of best practice and intelligently developed ideas that provide the starting point for something that can be sculpted towards perfection. The delivery of a project is not the end, it is the first step of a new process. 

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There were 7 guiding principles we (the whole team) us­ed for developing manchester.gov.uk

  1. USER NEED: start with data
  2. 
transactions are everything

  3. do less, better

  4. have principles (content strategy, design principles)
  5. 
own the user experience and editoral quality

  6. be inclusive, be accessible

  7. inspect and adapt

More on that in the next post!

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You can find out more information on this project or contact us about a project you may have coming up by requesting info

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