I have been designing websites on and off for around 15 years or so. I don’t consider myself the worlds fore-most expert on the subject, but I like to think I have picked up a few things over the years.
If you are young and thinking of going into the exciting world of web design, please take my advice and don’t. Become an ice-cream salesman or solve world hunger. Do anything really apart from web design.
In an ideal world you would expect to go and see your client, and it will be all jolly and exciting. You listen to what your client wants, you discuss what is technically possible and offer your educated opinion and advice, you define a budget, you agree on the look and feel of the website and you will get a good grasp of your clients business model. It will seem like an exciting new project.
WARNING: Your bubble is about to be burst!
You see, the trouble is that website design is easy, but people are complicated. Most of your clients won’t have any idea about the wibbly wobbly web, nor will they understand what they are doing wrong when they insert a slice of bread into the CD Drive.
What typically happens is that you will go and visit your client, they will demand the impossible on a shoe string budget and then look appalled at what you wish to charge them. Occasionally, they will wish to see some kind of presentation too, with graphs and everything! I’ve never really been clear about what these graphs are meant to show or indeed prove, but I have made up some impressive looking ones over the years and clients really seem to like them.
Your client will pretend he/she understands what you are talking about, and more worryingly so will you.
In the end an agreement will be reached which will make you both slightly unhappy. and work can begin, but not before your client asks you to do them a favour. They will point at the age old PC in the corner of the room, tell you it is broken and ask if you wouldn’t mind having a look. When you are young and naieve, you may well agree to this, assuming that it is five minutes out of your day and it will go a long way towards strengthening your working relationship. If you find yourself reasoning this way, you are an idiot!
This computer will inevitably have a shady copy of windows XP and more porn than its pathetic little hard drive can reasonably be expected to cope with. Now trust me on this, your client will not appreciate you accusing them (no matter how politely) of being a software pirate or a pervert.
An ability to keep a straight face while navigating through your clients porn filled XP box is a key skill requiremed by any good website designer as your client insists he/she has images you must use. Ignoring porn is something that is not taught in college. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing either, especially when it comes to unholy pictures of your client with horses and sheep, but that is another post entirely.
Back on subject: Your client will want a website which is ugly, hard to navigate, or breaks every single rule of Search Engine Optimization. Any suggestions of yours will recieve a polite nod and then will be dismissed or purposely ignored.
Your client WILL NOT provide you with all the information you need about their product / services / business despite repeated requests from you, and then one day they will telephone you demanding to know when their website will be finished.
Be careful of client input, if not you will end up with something that looks like it was created by a FrontPage express wizard. I warn you now, clients of a certain age are overly fond of the <Marquee> tag, black backgrounds with large bold pink or red text and a very visable hit counter. They see it, they want it.
Don’t get too clever with php or asp either. You may achieve something technically brilliant that would have another website developers jaw dropping in disbelief, but your client will simply shrug and ask you to remove this technical marvel, because it doesn’t scroll, or isn’t in large red or pink bold text with lots of exclamation marks after it !!!!!!!!
Your client will demand not only that their website filled up with pointless and ugly bandwidth hungry animation, but they will also demand that it is future proof, so that in a thirty years time they can retire having spent no more money on their website and they will insist that it will still work perfectly in every browser and on every operating system. For example, A client I had a little over ten years ago, who I have not worked with or spoken with since, recently sent me a very angry email complaining that this 10 year old website site doesn’t look quite right on his blackberry’s default browser and insisting I fix it (without charge). This is typical behaviour.
Your client will expect you to deal with setting up their online payment system. They will be very angry with you when you point out that most of these systems take a small percentage after a certain number of transactions. This will be entirely your fault. The fact that these systems, by and large, need the client to help set them up with their bank and whichever Payment Service Provider they wish to use, will not go down well.
When the website is up and running and a compromise has been made, your client will find that His/Her phone will ring a lot more and business will pick up. You see, people like talking to other people when they are thinking of buying things. They like the human contact, the personal touch as it were. They like the assurance that it is OK to spend money they don’t have on a product they don’t need.
The fact that 40% of your clients customers are now finding your clients phone number and contact details through the new website will completely escape your client. He/she will be angry at you, because his/her inbox is not full of new orders every three seconds. You have very little defence against this. I usually make up a another even more impressive graph and email it to them.
Two to three weeks after you have completed the website, your client will call. They will be angry, again. They will demand to know why his/her website has not got the number one spot on Google for some obscure search phrase and they will call you every five minutes about firewalls, antivirus software, windows error messages, broken computers, broken printers. You see, what you failed to understand as a website designer is that when you became their website designer, you also became their full time (24/7) unpaid IT support technician.
Most clients will be reluctant to pay everything upfront for anything; but they will become suddenly very hesitant to pay you once the website is finished. Sadly they will be unavailable, in meetings, away on leave, in hospital, dead or dying. I suggest if you often use your own Content Management System to build websites, that you write a backdoor into it, so that you can shut the site down in these cases. In my experience that promptly induces payment and increases your clients availability (and often their health).
You will feel the need to drink quite a lot during your career as a website designer. I suggest whisky, it’s effects are quick and reasonably long lasting and each hangover is slightly easier to get over than the last one. Don’t worry about drinking, it will help with your creativity; it will numb the pain as, one by one, your clients crush whatever creativity you have left. Do try to avoid hard drugs though, they really are quite expensive and you certainly won’t be earning enough as a website designer to buy them long term.
So this is what is in store for you in your future career. Rude, Angry, Unhelpful, Angry, Computer Illiterate, Angry, Hopeless, Angry people, who will bend any faith you had in humanity to the breaking point.
Drink, the cheaper class C drugs, caffeine and junk food will become your best friends and your support mechanism. On top of all that you will have a Repetitive Strain Injury and a bad back too, because the chair you sit in all day doesn’t have the correct Lumbar Support. Insomnia will no longer be a condition, but a way of life. You will probably be dead by the time you are forty though, so at least the future won’t hold any nasty suprises.
If you feel you can cope with this kind of thing in the long term and maintain any semblance of a normal life, then good on you! But may I ask you a question? Have you ever thought about therapy? Because disliking yourself that much just isn’t healthy.
Take heed, have fun, live long and try to do something you love, or at least like.