Design drafts and client feedback

By Patty J. Ayers

client-feedbackIn a sense, this is the heart of a website project. WordPress Freelancer Forms doesn’t include a checklist or work-flow form to guide this process, because I just haven’t managed to figure a truly consistent system. During this stage, every project really is different. I find that I have to be careful, intuitive, and assertive to figure out how to move through the necessary steps in an order that makes sense. I do my best to take into consideration all of the factors involved: what content I have received, what feedback I’ve received from the client, the client’s personality and schedule, the nature of the website I’m building, the budget and time-frame, and more.

Although I can’t quite break it down into steps, I can describe the basics of the way I move through this process. My system is based on me providing drafts – of a graphic, portion of a page, the home page, an interior page, or the entire site, followed by feedback from my client. I use that feedback to create another draft of the same element and get more feedback, until my client is satisfied with that element.

Using WordPress and a theme creates its own distinct type of flow. After installing WordPress and a 3rd-party theme, there will be a whole draft website, probably not looking great, but a whole lot more than a blank canvas. So this process proceeds a bit differently than it would with a designed-from-scratch site.

Often the first “round” will be designing the Header (Masthead). Other rounds serve to design the layout and content of the Home Page; others focus on certain page elements, sidebars, or the look of internal pages. I do this in whatever order makes sense to me, sending the client drafts when I feel it’s the right point to get his feedback.

My contract states some limits on how many rounds are reasonable, but it’s difficult to pin this down. And I have seldom had to point to those limitations, because most clients are fair about this. But having limits in the contract makes it possible to control the occasional client who wants to take 17 rounds to finalize something. It’s a protection for me.

This part of the project needs to be managed actively by you, the web developer. It’s up to you to decide how much of the website you will want to show the client as a first draft, and as subsequent drafts. This will probably be a little different for you than for me, and different for each project.

For me, the rounds of drafts start with smaller items and move towards full-website drafts, something like this:

  • Several drafts of the header and its graphics
  • A number of drafts of the home page, including some drafts of individual components of the home page
  • Drafts of the sidebar(s) and footer
  • A draft or two for each interior page
  • Several full-site drafts

I do try to keep these “rounds” clear and distinct. In other words, I finish a draft and send it to the client with a fairly formal email making it clear that I want them to take time to look it over and compose a written list of suggestions and requests for me to incorporate in the next draft. I do not want them to respond in 10 minutes with a badly-typed note with some half-baked reactions.

I tell the client that I would really appreciate – in fact, expect, although I try to be diplomatic – a single email with a list of the feedback and changes they would like to see. I do not want a series of emails, each one adding something like, “Oh, I forgot – can you also make the red thing bigger and move it over? Thanx!” I want this to be clear-cut – the client looks over the draft and sends me one big email, and then I take the time I need to go carefully through that list item by item, making the changes.

The important thing for me is being in control of the process and managing it. That’s my job, not my client’s, and if I don’t do it, there’s going to be trouble.

So work on developing your own way of navigating this major portion of a website project. Whatever you do, be the one in charge, and communicate well with your client.

A Technical Life-Saver in Customizing WordPress Themes: Firebug

I want to mention one tool which is crucial at this stage of customizing a WordPress theme site: Firebug (https://getfirebug.com/). This amazing software – completely free – integrates with the Firefox browser and allows you to inspect any web page element and gain immediate access to the CSS which determines its display.

There are now versions of Firebug for browsers other than Firefox, called “Firebug Lite”, but I found them to be a lot less useful than the full version in Firefox. For me, this is actually now the reason Firefox is my primary browser for web development work.

Because customizing a WordPress theme involves deciphering someone else’s CSS, it’s absolutely necessary to have the capability of analyzing the HTML and CSS structure of a page and its elements from the front end. In a WordPress site, of course, the page content is being pulled from a database and one or more PHP templates, so you don’t have access to a simple view of what is causing something to display the way it displays – except with Firebug! It’s absolutely essential to my work. If you’re not using it yet, I strongly recommend that you install it and start learning. There’s a learning curve, but there are instructional videos, documentation and forums – and the time and frustration you’ll save will be well worth it.