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Your clients don't want to design

Posted in Opinion on June 19, 2020

There are so many DIY tools out there for handling design on websites. From drag and drop builders to style theming controls, I think with the presence of these tools, it makes us all ask the question, "How can I give my clients more control to design their websites?"

My answer: you shouldn't.

Here's why I don't think you should leave your clients to the design of their website.

1. End Result

Each web page should tell a story - no matter how big or small, how complex or simple, a webpage needs to flow naturally to guide the user to their goals. 

Even if given the tools to control layouts, or colours, or font sizes, your clients are probably not experienced or skilled enough in UI or UX design to make web pages that are usable and look good. Your clients probably don't know about consistency, alignment, and spacing. Your clients are not web designers and probably don't understand how to best layout a list of PDFs with icons or resize images to are the correct size. And that's not even mentioning branding! 

They might end up with a page that has content in a grid-like structure with some colours they picked out themselves, but it's unlikely it's going to flow in a natural way that delights the website's users. Having a nicely designed, easy to understand, hyper-usable website isn't just about bragging rights - it's about informing the website's users and helping them achieve their goals.

2. Time & Effort

When a client is left with the task of creating content and designing it, they're going to spend a lot more time doing both. That can be really frustrating for them and they might end up having to ask for your help anyway. When someone sets out to create a new page for their website, they want to just focus on the end goal of having a nice page to show their users - they don't want to spend hours learning and playing around with theming controls or drag and drop.

For content editors, we want the webpage to be easy to update and make them feel like they created something beautiful. With the drag-and-drop layout and color picker tools, there are too many options and most of them are wrong. You don't want the client to choose any font size, or colour, or font family or link style. The design should respect the branding guidelines and they should only have the options that are good for the content they are creating.

3. Limitations

There are some designs that require special logic in templates to handle different scenarios. If you have a block of content that is simply an intro with a heading, text, and a button, that might be simple enough.

But what about a listing of staff? Now we have biographies. If we have 10 staff members, should the biographies display beside each staff photo? Or would they be better to appear in a modal window perhaps? But does the drag and drop builder let you create modal windows? I doubt it.

Take this page, for example: https://www.pass.org/summit/2020/Learn/LearningPathways.aspx. Would a customer know how to be able to create this in a generic web design tool and could they?

This scenario with variable design is more common than you might think. Clients will work their way around issues but they might end up making something that even they don't love - let alone the users.

I think what clients really want is to have a branded, easy to use website that they can simply update their content with minimal effort. It's our jobs as designers and developers to make that possible.

So... how do I create beautiful pages while also giving control to the content editors?

1. Reusable structured content types

Using a module like 2SXC, I create common Content Types with rock solid templates. Clients can choose the different content types to build their pages out. For all clients, I would build things like heroes, staff listing, call to actions, and FAQs. Then depending on their needs, I would create other special content types and templates for items like Benefits, Package Pricing, Sessions, and Learning Pathways. Having a set of modules they can choose from gives them the only options they need. And we can always build more if needed.

It's better to spend 20 minutes building something reusable than letting your client spend an hour struggling.

2. Presentation options

Most modules have presentation options so the content editor can choose backgrounds, heading types, image dimensions, colours, branding element toggles and other design options. But I don't show them things they can't or shouldn't control. This is the fun part for a client where they can have control over the design but it's in a controlled way that still respects the the usability and the branding of the website.

3. Sample page layouts

If my content editors create new pages regularly, like "Landing" pages, I create a sample page with all the content modules setup so they know how they can mix and match their modules. Instead of giving them just a blank page to work with, they can see how I designed a page and then use that as a reference. With the modules I build, the clients can mix and match and the page still looks good and makes sense.

In conclusion

I think there's a natural desire to want to give our clients control. But we must remember that our clients are not web designers and that they have a lot of responsibilities outside of their website. And we have a responsibility to our clients to making websites and webpages that are branded and a dream to use. By taking an approach to designing their website for them, while making it easy for them to create, edit, and maintain, you end up with a better website that we spend less time working on.

This is the first post in my new Opinion column. I hope these posts spark discussion, especially in the DNN community, so that we can progress as developers and designers.

On that note, if there is any way that I can help you design amazing web pages, check out https://wolfxmachina.com/ui-design-and-development-for-programmers

Aaron Lopez

Aaron Lopez

Founder & Lead Developer at Wolf X Machina

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