Whenever I discuss standards and best practices for web design companies in India I am greeted with the same refrain - web design companies are innovative and follow their own paths. The implication is that by applying standards somehow we will loose our creative edge.
But are standards needed? A well known member of the online community in India recently told me he is considering giving the redesign work of his website outside India. He has completely lost faith in the web design community in India. And can you blame him? Today being a web designer in India is not considered respectable at all. Countless cases of bad service, non delivery and outright cheating by web designers in India fueled this bad reputation.
My father has a favorite saying in Gujarati which I shall translate into English - 'One person's mistakes/sins can hinder/obstruct a hundred'. Due to unscrupulous dealings of a few, all web designers are painted with the same brush. There are web designers in India who are doing superb work and are trying tirelessly to build reputations and create a body of great work. To make sure these efforts are not going in vain we need to create a set of standards and best practices which can be followed without harming innovation or creativity.
Here are some best practices I feel can be implemented. Note that these are such that instead of hindering innovation and creativity will actually boost it.
The no.1 complaint about web designers in India today is delay in delivery. We have heard horror stories of how even simple projects have been delayed and a 15 day job takes 2-3 months or more. This is simply unacceptable.
Web designers should build a safety margin into the timeline they quote to the client and then move heaven and earth to deliver within this. Web design is a time consuming job and even the best web designers sometimes fail in this but every effort should be made to limit this. Time management should be web designer's priority no.1
In our experience many times the delays happen at the clients end. This can be mitigated by outlining the client deliverables at the outset and clearly communicating to the client that he/she too has the responsibility to deliver from their end. We have dropped clients who have failed to cooperate and provide material on time. Integrity should be from both sides.
Due to the very competitive nature of our business web designers tend to promise anything and everything to the clients to get the job. Needless to say that the expectations are so high that the fall is inevitable. It is better to under promise the client and delight him by over delivering on it. Set realistic expectations from the outset.
I must admit in the early days I used to do the same with great enthusiasm but over the years I have learnt to curb this tendency, bite my tongue, and give the clients a very realistic and feasible picture. This also builds reputation as you deliver over and over.
I hate it when I hear complaints that web designers have disappeared. The client is frantically trying to call them and they are nowhere to be found. They surface after a long time and have to deal with really miffed clients.
This very much affects delivery of the project as constant communication with the client is very important in web design and development. The client must be included and updated at every step of the process. Regular approvals taken will mean no nasty surprises at the end both for the web developer and the client.
I must confess this is a lesson I learnt from my dear client Dr.Malpani and it took a while to sink in. I will be eternally grateful to him for teaching me this.
Communicate the following clearly and regularly:
A constant complaint we hear over and over is that clients constantly change their minds throwing the project into disarray. This can be mitigated to some extent by documenting each step and taking proper approvals from the clients at every stage.
Make it clear to the client that once he approves on paper (or email) he cannot go back without paying additional dues. Do not get stuck in an endless loop with clients. Enforce a discipline and be prepared to walk away from a client that does not respect your time and efforts.
Use a project management tool to track the various stages of the projects and clearly communicate to the client when one stage is over and another begins.
Its good practice to sign an annual maintenance contract under which you can maintain the website for the client after the main project is over. This can be lucrative for the web designer as well as very beneficial to the client.
Setup an SLA (Service Level Agreement) which covers what's included and what's not in the maintenance contract. Mention the amount of time within which issues will be responded and stick to those.
As online marketing expands there will be plenty of opportunities to start new initiatives if the client is willing. Make sure you are in a good position to request and get more business from the client.
Helping the client keep his website up-to-date and dynamic is a win-win for both sides.
Clients call me up from time to time to seek advice on a new thing they heard about; queries range from simple to complex such as what is cloud computing? Should I start a blog? Which is a good blogging site? Apple Ipads do not support Flash, should be change our Flash site?
You have to know your business. You must be in a position to advise and push the client about new technologies, techniques and models for online business. There is no excuse for your fundamentals not being strong.
Spend time visiting blogs and websites to learn about what's new in this field. Doctor's and lawyers are researching and studying all the time. Why should web designers be different? In fact the pace of change in our industry is a much greater than in any other industry. We have to stay on top of things.
I must admit we have been caught napping a few times and have scrambled to learn something new but that should be the exception, not the rule.
Another lesson I have learnt from the great Dr.Malpani. If you are in an industry then it is your responsibility to educate your current and prospective clients. The more knowledge they have the more easier it is for you to deal with them. It also puts you in a slightly higher pedestal when dealing with clients. Everyone respects an expert.
Keep in mind this is not easy. For many web designers it's easier to chew through a block of concrete then to write a decent article or blog post. It takes practice and time to generate content that will be of use to people. Many times you will end up creating just drivel but you must keep going.
Some simple ways to educate and propagate your expertise:
If you review all the above they are simple no-brainers. But it is shocking how little of it is put into practice. Professional lethargy and inertia needs to be shaken of to get into action. Clients deserve superlative service from our industry and we owe it to them to stand up and deliver. It will take a great deal of time and work to repair the damaged reputation of the Indian web design industry. But we have to start now.