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Guest Post – Dave Miller Back40 Design Part 2

Back40 Design Guest Post

Back40 Design Cartoon by Dave MillerAre you a designer, programmer, or a developer just starting out? This is part 2 of our post (Part 1) on advice for designers and developers who may be interested in freelancing, starting a design business, or working at a design firm (like Back40 Design).

What advice do you have for someone that works directly with clients?

Listen more than you talk.  Keep it as simple as possible and avoid using technical terms that tend to confuse the average person.  Don’t over-promise and under-deliver.  This sounds simple enough, but no matter how badly you want the sell, the most important thing is to make sure that you can truly meet their expectations.  Be sure to have a clear understanding of exactly what they are wanting by asking them to show you examples.  Follow up by creating a fully detailed proposal that clearly states what they are getting.
– Lori Cathey, web account executive

Any advice on managing more than one web project?

Prioritize your schedule:

  1. Determine what projects involve the most effort and break them into discrete milestones which can have definite completion checklists. (Is this feature designed? Do I have this information from the client?)
  2. Establish a ranking order for which project gets top priority, for example: value/cost ratio, first come-first serve, or a contractual deadline. It may be ambiguous at first; keep in mind you may at some point have to explain (to a client) why another project is taking a greater priority than theirs, so it should be a concise and logical reason, not just that you like or dislike a project.
  3. Schedule milestones according to your priority schedule, making sure to keep project contact updated about expected completion times and foreseeable issues.

Maintain perpetual communication: Always keep clients updated to the status of their project and estimated time to completion, some clients will prefer email, some by phone, some by stopping by the office. Schedule time to respond to clients to most effectively use their time, and so they do not feel as if they are waiting for a response from you. Organize emails and phone calls into an organized question/response format. Bulleted and numbered lists, while trite, help make sure the client responds to each question you have individually. Sometimes you may actually have to do this for a client to help condense their requests/issues.
– Jonathan Siler, project manager

Can you give us do ‘dos and don’ts’ for design meetings?


  • Smile and be friendly
  • Be personable
  • Make small talk at the beginning of the meeting to lighten the mood.
  • Be polite. Offer them water or coffee if available.
  • Know who you’re talking to. A Marketing Director will respond differently in the meeting than an IT Director.
  • Take notes. Take lots of notes. It’s always easier to filter out what information isn’t needed than to not have enough when it comes time to design the project.
  • Focus on the goals the client is trying to achieve.
  • Ask what content the client is expecting to use in the design and what functionality is required.
  • Be confident.
  • Have a rough outline of what questions you expect to ask. It shouldn’t be a script, just a guideline so you don’t walk out of the meeting forgetting to have asked an important question.
  • Manage the expectations the client has regarding the design.
  • Take a look at what their competition is doing and how you can help your client differentiate themselves from the crowd.
  • Design for the audience who will be using the site and familiarize yourself with who they are, what their likes and dislikes are, and what kind of site they would expect to use.
  • Understand that a website is another form of marketing.
  • Make sure there is a hierarchy of information in the design. It’s no different that reading headlines in a newspaper.
  • Prior to the meeting, do a little research to familiarize yourself with who the client is and what they do so they know you’ve come prepared.
  • Dress appropriately for who you’re speaking with. A CEO wouldn’t be very impressed if you stroll in looking like you just got out of bed.
  • Write down all notes instead of relying on memory.
  • Try to limit the number of people you’ll be speaking to. This will likely help keep the meeting more on track.
  • Discuss design that has meaning and emotion when at all possible.
  • Have a fundamental knowledge of CSS, HTML, and Javascript. Knowing the building blocks of what you’re designing for will only strengthen your design capabilities.
  • Have patience.
  • Know that really successful design meetings take practice.


  • Focus on every single design detail of the site during the meeting. If goals and content have been established, when it comes time to sit down to design the site, you should have all you need to proceed.
  • Conduct the meeting based on your or the client’s opinion of design. It’s all about the audience.
  • Talk down to the client if they aren’t understanding what you’re saying.
  • Talk over the client’s head using technical jargon.
  • Don’t act like an arrogant artist with the potential of the client ruining your new art piece. Your work is for their company, not an art gallery.
  • Make the client the designer.
  • Let the client run the entire meeting. You’ll never get the information you truly need if they are running the show.
  • Be a robot.

– Craig Teel, senior graphic designer

How can a PHP newbie increase their knowledge quickly?

I think increasing your knowledge quickly is good for business but not too good for personal development. But I do see a good compromise. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing that you can do something well for your employer and personal uses. I would start out by taking the basics like doing tutorials on the MVC framework (codeigniter) and build something simple but useful to your personal life. We need to enjoy what we do, so make something for yourself, keeping in mind the needs and direction of your employer. Increasing personal satisfaction is one of the best tools in bettering yourself and work place.
– Chris Jackson, web programmer

What’s something all new developers need to know?

Solace through knowledge of your craft is the number one thing that a client or employer will want when you are working with them. You can’t expect your clients or even your teammates to just trust that you know best, so train yourself to explain what you do and why you do it and you will be able to resolve any doubt that comes your way. If you get questions about your work and you can’t give a satisfactory answer, that will chip away at your client’s or your employer’s trust in your professionalism So regularly educate yourself, share your knowledge and explore the reasons for why and how things work and you can expect to go far in your career.
– Matt Milburn, senior web developer


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