The design of a website goes through a life-cycle, a lot like a tadpole. And like a tadpole, that cycle often ends in something that looks a lot like a dead frog. The question is, how does it end up that way? As a designer you always start with such great intentions, such grand vision, but inevitably, almost every single time, you end up signing off something that makes you wonder if you hit your aesthetic peak a little while after you learned to use crayons.
It’s not your fault. You’ve just gone through the five terrible steps that take you to web design hell.
This is the earliest stage in the lifestyle. You can almost smell the possibilities. The client is enthusiastic, they’ve seen your previous work, they like your pitch, they haven’t even haggled on the price! You can tell this is going to be an enjoyable and profitable working relationship.
During this period the client will lay out their needs. You will give the client an idea of what they can expect from you. You will also probably both look at the previous website design and have a good old chuckle about how terrible it looks. What was that previous web designer thinking? Ha! Ha! Ha!
Later, you will look back on that as a portent, but for now you are innocent, like the pure driven snow.
You go away and do what you were hired to do. You establish the layout, choose some excellent fonts, source so good images and generally create what looks like, let’s not have any false modesty here, a bit of a masterpiece.
And you know what else? The client agrees with you! Really, they think you’ve done a fantastic job. This is just what they were looking for and you, you are the visionary that made it happen. Seriously, they love it. Looking at it feels like all the best bits from sex and eating a bacon sandwich rolled into one and jammed into your eyes – in a good way.
And then come four words. Four words that have chilled the heart of every freelance creative since the first cave painter turned to the tribe chief only to be told it could “Use more mammoth.”
The client will say they want to suggest “a few minor changes.”
Run. For the love God RUN!
Because now the client is going to show that they know what they’re talking about. They’ve read a blog about web design. They’ve learned the phrase “conversion rate” and they’re well chuffed with it. They’re going to keep using these phrases they’ve found but don’t quite understand, and then throw in some more phrases that nobody understands.
Let me absolutely clear here. Not one graphic designer, not one of them, anyway, has ever learned the meaning of the phrases “make it ‘pop’ more”, “could it be a bit more edgy?” or “can you jazz it up?” Those phrases have no meaning!
But it’s too late. You should have strangled the client to death while you had the chance, because from here it only gets worse.
The client wants you to talk to the head of their sales team who has a few ideas. And the IT guy. And they have this nephew who’s doing an A-level in Art and he’s ever so good with computers so you should really listen to what he has to say.
And you have to talk each of these people, and nod and smile as they explain that Comic Sans is a great way to make the site look “funkier”, and how animated gifs are really popular right now, and how you really ought to put a live twitter feed on the page because you’ve got have twitter now.
I wish I could say it was time to quit now. But now, you are long are past that point. You are now the walking damned, and you must follow this process through to its final, bitter end.
A small child crosses past your office window and sees you. “Mummy?” she says, pointing. “What’s that?”
The mother looks up, shudders and says “It was human… once.”
You don’t see either of them, because an alert on your phone just told you that the client has sent you some more suggestions. You can remember, in the dim and distant murk of the past, that you used to be a graphic designer. You used to design websites and packaging and magazine layouts. You used to have ideas.
This is no longer the case. You are now merely a meat puppet that the client uses to enact his whims against that poor, helpless Adobe software. Anything good about your design is now lost amidst a haze of flashing gifs, 50 point comic sans text with gradient colour effects and the endless, endless kittens that have somehow become the site’s backdrop.
Still, eventually, somehow, you manage to invoice the client. You politely turn down their offer to credit you on the site. Once the money is safely in your account you flee to find a new, kinder client, someone who will appreciate your vision.
And so the whole, sorry process will begin once again.
Sam Wright is a freelance writer and occasional graphic designer currently working with Brand Republic – Graphic Design Jobs in London, who are fantastic clients that in no way resemble the horror story here.