Better Websites, Happier Clients and Improved Job Satisfaction – Paul Boag at Smashing Conference

In Better Websites, Happier Clients and Improved Job Satisfaction, Paul Boag explains the many challenges and opportunities of client relationships. Here are my notes:

  • It’s difficult to deal with clients. They regularly screw up designs and that causes some people throw their hands up and say “Well I give up!”
  • Client work offers unique challenges: exposure to different industries, fast-paced, exciting. But “excited” isn’t the prevailing mentality amongst web designers
  • Many web designers use client work to do what they want to do.
  • Integrity and honesty should guide our client relationships.
  • Putting clients first leads to: better websites, happier clients, repeat business, and more job satisfaction
  • We fight against what we really are, which is a client service business

Client-centric Principles

  • We provide a service – sending clients away happy is a fundamental part of our job.
  • The client must be involved – the client is essential for creating a successful website
  • It’s about the client, not the user – User centric design exists only to serve client centric design

Why clients first? Sometimes user needs are in possible conflict with the business needs.

Five keys to successful client centric web design

  1. Mutual respect
  2. Good communication
  3. education
  4. collaboration
  5. Structured feedback


  • Respect is mutual. You need to respect your clients, and they need to respect you.
  • Our clients have more knowledge about their business than you do.
  • Not every client will have a direct relationship with the user. However, they typically have a good idea of who their users are
  • Be confident, not arrogant. We’re allowed to challenge the client, but there’s a line.
  • A relationship of peers = have the guts to stand up for what you feel is right instead of groveling during the pitch process
  • Use process and past projects to help gain the client’s respect.
  • Clearly define the roles of the client relationship.

Good Communication

  • Avoid misunderstandings
  • Build a personal relationship – get to a point where you can talk about things other than the project
  • Don’t just use electronic communication. If there are problems, pick up the phone or better yet, visit them in person.
  • Be regular with communication – talk to the client even if you have nothing to say.
  • Be honest


  • Ask questions about business objectives.
  • Start the project with research and analysis. Don’t just pop over to Photoshop.
  • Conduct stakeholder interviews – people feel included in the process. It also allows you get close with the real project decision makers
  • Explain yourself. Learn how to justify your design decisions


  • Work with the client.
  • Don’t let your pride get in the way whenever the client comes up with a good idea. Don’t call them stupid when they say something stupid

Structured Feedback

  • Help architect feedback sessions so it doesn’t just become a matter of opinion.
  • Avoid “well my personal opinion is…” Keep it focused on the business and user goals.