Working as a freelancer or within a studio requires diligence and persistence. The job can get bland after a while begrudgingly performing the same tasks. But when spending time to plan out new projects the cycle may actually become fun again! You start to learn new techniques or find new design styles that you have never seen before.
I recently just finished reading an excellent post on Medium which covers a typical design schedule. The idea behind this post is that many designers would rather dive head-first into a project because of time constraints. And quite honestly, you do have to work within a certain time limit benefitting the customer. But this requirement shouldn’t diverge into skipping the creative process altogether.
Being a Leader
It is important during the early stages to actually write or type up a solid plan for any large project. Obviously you need information from the client, but your client will not always know what they want. After all, these people are not likely designers by trade. So the way they describe a logo or website footer may not come across as clearly as you hope.
Make sure you clarify everything. Even if it takes more than one meeting or phone call. Get all their wants/needs down in a list and then go over it with your own judgements. Spend some time thinking about how you could implement everything they are looking for. Maybe some of it doesn’t really make sense, and you can present them information once you’ve come up with a better solution.
Ultimately you are the professional in the field of design. These clients are paying you for your expertise in the field, and you have to be the leader. Don’t expect anyone else to initiate the meeting or just send out details on a whim.
Another part of this is researching other websites to see how they are doing things. Maybe you need a specific type of contact form, using Ajax and some CAPTCHA text. Look around to various website galleries or search up related websites in the same field as your client. You may be surprised at what you can learn with a bit of time researching in Google.
Once you know what to build it’s time to start building! This could be in the form of various mockups, wireframes, sketches, and other typical design ideas. You know your own creative process better than anyone so just do what will produce results.
Wireframing before designing mockups can help if you don’t know what the layout should be. This means you will understand all the key aspects of the page like navigation, search, etc. But this may not be necessary if you can design a full layout mockup while keeping all the page elements in mind.
As I stated, you really are building for results. It doesn’t matter what some book says or even what I say. It’s about whatever will get you results to show the client. This initial draft may eventually require a redesign or at least some updates to the interface. It is not so uncommon for clients to be nitpicky with their projects. How you handle redesigns is up to you or your agency.
Finalizing the Work
Getting some conception into the hands of your client will give you a much broader perspective on the whole issue. It will also help to clarify the information you gathered from your very first meeting. But eventually creating a final revised copy of the project is crucial. This is why you need to work within time constraints and don’t be afraid to put something together quickly.
Final project designs are handled differently for each person. Most clients will request a copy of the PSD files(assuming that you use Photoshop). But if they are paying for a coded website then you’ll be jumping into this area too. The final product would then be a finished copy of the website, and the client is only really interested to see it up live on their server.
This last step in the process may seem easy but it’s actually pretty important. Once you have a final product then it’s all over, you get paid and the client moves on. So be sure that everything is explained in-advance about how the design works on the screen. Is the layout responsive to smaller mobile devices? Do you have other mockups for how this responsive change would look on a tablet or smartphone?
It is fair to say that this process is more about ensuring quality from the client. You know you can do good work, but it’s about doing good work that the client wants to see. Designing and building your own website project is a much different topic altogether.
However you might still apply some of these techniques in your future project endeavors – whether working alone or within a team. It can be easier working for yourself but always ensure that as a freelancer, you put the client’s needs well above your own.
Although project planning may not be necessary for every job, it can help to outline the tasks at hand. Smaller jobs which may only take a few days can still grow rapidly with just a bit of planning. You shouldn’t feel the need to follow all of these ideas. But I hope to at least get you thinking about possible changes within your work schedule and how these changes could benefit the final product. Also feel free to share your own thoughts or questions in the post discussion area below.