Get Out from Behind the Curtain

by Sarah B. Nelson

26 Reader Comments

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  1. When I read that you considered yourself an introvert, I was surprised! Extroverts aren’t always the best facilitators though, and this article helped remind me. Also an introvert, I’m responsible for cultivating ideas and sometimes facilitating sessions to help dig a way through ambiguous problems.

    You stressed a good point, that we need to honestly convey our belief in everyone’s ability to solve problems. My team needs to know how valuable their ideas are and a session with potential can descend into a boring, fruitless meeting when there’s lack of respect between everyone.

    Thanks!

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  2. Design sessions are great at solving design problems but using sessions to settle office politics sounds awfully expensive.

    With so many people attending one might fall to
    “A camel is a horse designed by committee” -trap.

    Luckily you gave sound advice how to properly plan and execute work sessions to get real benefits from them.

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  3. It’s articles like that one that keep me coming back to ALA. Thank you.

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  4. Im new to this blog, and i’ll keep coming.

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  5. Sarah I want to thank You for really great article it was great time reading! Now I know the basics so I can plan my first work session. Regards

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  6. Sarah, you nicely emphasize how work sessions can avoid endless review cycles.  I think that’s the biggest benefit of work sessions, especially when working on larger projects where there are many business “owners” involved.  You’ve reminded me to use this approach in an upcoming site restructuring and you presented some great guidelines for work session success.  Thanks for the article.

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  7. Your article is useful, well-founded, inspiring and practical. Thanks a lot!

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  8. The more you can include your client(s) in the process the better. If they have ideas you think are inappropriate to the project, work to turn those ideas into something positive rather than simply dismissing them. You, and the client, will be happier in the end.

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  9. I think it’s best to agree upon the number of review cycles upfront. The better the client delivers the specification of what he wants, the more he can concentrate on the designers work within the reviews.

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  10. @Adam: Lucky guy if your clients allow you to agree upon the number of review cycles upfront. This is not a realistic advice…

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  11. Sarah, thanks for a great article on how to collaborate with clients during a web design process—really practical advice. I think failing to collaborate is a common reason for the dissatisfaction and frustration we see so often. We may think we’re experts in web design, but we’re definitely not experts in our clients’ businesses, so we can’t truly practice user-centered design without their help.

    I also think that including clients in the way you’ve described is one of the best ways of demonstrating what it is web designers do—something that many clients have difficultly with at first. (And I’ll have to find out whether “drafting dots” are available in the UK.)

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  12. I see now why your blog is so popular. That article really covered so many things that can help non professional designers with their websites. Thanks!

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  13. I though tthe internet was supposed to change everything :-) This sounds remarkably like a JAD (joint application development) pioneered by IBM In the 80’s

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  14. Sarah:

    Great article. We tend to tailor our sessions based on the level of effort we see with the overall project. Let’s say, for example, we have experience in the industry and have some pre-determined examples from which we can gain immediate ground. Those clients seem to have a shorter discovery / strategy phase (this is obviously a generalization).

    It doesn’t always work, but your insight can be applied to both internal and external projects / teams.

    Great topic. Thanks for the article.

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  15. Thanks so much for writing this article. This is great for someone just starting out!

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  16. Thank you very much for the great article.

    I think the benefits do outweigh the problems if managed and planned well prior to the sessions.

    Furthermore, I like the idea of putting faces with clients, and sometimes the ideas and conversations that happen during the “breaks” are just as valuable as the main content within the sessions.

    Take care and thanks again.

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  17. Hi Sarah, this article couldn’t have come at a better time.

    I work at an award-winning design agency, and we have recently been suffering from these very problems you describe. We present fantastic (IMHO) designs to our clients, they approve, but then change their minds, and have there own internal “designers” make modifications, and we basically end up with a butchered design to put into production. This is disheartening.

    I understand that this is typically a miscommunication issue. We either are not articulating our design decisions in a way that helps them understand why we chose what we chose, or perhaps they feel that we don’t understand their needs well enough, and our designs are not translating their business goals to the web clearly.

    Whatever the case may be for us, your excellent article made me realize that a stronger relationship is in need on several accounts. Communication is certainly the key, and working sessions sound like a great idea. And as you pointed out, I want to feel like we are playing the role of partner for our clients instead of only vendor.

    Thanks again.

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  18. Great article, I think it is important to involve your client more deeply than just showing them a first-draft when 90% of the decisions have already been made.

    It is especially important to understand when the client knows more than you in a particular area and you should defer to their judgment. This came up recently with a client of mine, that steered me in the direction of some bright bright gaudy colors for a project. This is not what I would I have chose, but they understood more than I did the placement of the advertisement and what it could be competing against visually. In the end, I think their call was better than what mine would have been without their input.

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  19. It’s always the best to get as much information as you can from your clients since they are the expert on what they do – at least we hope so. But, there is good input and bad input. Such as one of my clients insisting on using Comic Sans as his font of choice for his website. I had to spend too much time convincing him that Comic Sans is not a good choice for a Financial Planner. In order to get good input, it really is up to us as designers/developers to interview our clients to find out exactly what they want and communicate what is a good idea and what isn’t.

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  20. Yeah – I agree.  Collaboration is key.  Client input can sometimes seem like a hinderance but it’s always gonna be part of the design process.  I do think as designers we need to stick up for our beliefs but I think we need to communicate the reasons behind them so that we provide the client with all the facts.  If they then choose to ignore them then thats fine.  We tried.

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  21. Yeah – I agree.  Collaboration is key.  Client input can sometimes seem like a hinderance but it’s always gonna be part of the design process.  I do think as designers we need to stick up for our beliefs but I think we need to communicate the reasons behind them so that we provide the client with all the facts.  If they then choose to ignore them then thats fine.  We tried.

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  22. I agree with Lasse’s comment, that it’s potentially a recipe for disaster—herding cats.  But I think you give us an adequate structure for these seemingly structure-less meetings.

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  23. Thanks for the great article. I’m currently collaborating with a client on a new web-based product in worksessions, after several rounds of us doing iterations on our own and making formal design presentations to the client. Our designs were doing what they asked for, but were not gaining traction with the busy and distracted client team. We reduced the size of the team involved and started working in 3-4 hour chunks directly with the client (who is the VP of engineering). In two sessions we have made great progress. The client is fully engaged and having fun. The work is innovative. If we had taken this approach sooner it would have saved the client time and cost.

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  24. This article perfectly provides for a solution to my team’s pain points. We have evolved into this type of workflow, but haven’t been good at creating the best goals. A map can only help you find a destination that has been chosen! This article serves as a nice map to also show the shortest path to creating satisfaction for all.

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  25. Exactly sayin what im trying to do with my project teammates at the moment, like to read what experienced ppl have to say about collabortion and team management. Thank you for that

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  26. How can these sessions work when you have teams in multiple locations? How can you alter this approach for global teams?

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