As a freelance web designer, you are in the danger of turning into The Man in a Shell. I landed a good gig in a company recently, but for many years, I enjoyed working as a freelancer. After working for a professional web design company, I realized that there were a lot of mistakes I was making on a regular basis. Now, I love the fact that I can distribute some of my work, I do not have to worry about the payments and I do not have to do anything more than build good websites. I don’t miss all these chores, but they were never the worst part of being a freelance designer.
If you are not a very communicative sort of a person in the first place, there is a good chance of you turning into a recluse. It is very easy to build a cozy little zone of comfort and enjoy your work without anyone pointing out any mistakes you are making. You may discuss your web designing with a few other designers, but if you do not seek feedback actively, you can go without hearing any criticism of your work for a long time. That can be the worst part of being a freelance designer.
There are many freelance web designers who make it a point to seek client feedback and get reviews of their work from as many sources as they can. If you fall into this category, you are smarter than I ever was. However, if you are a freelancer who keeps clients at an arm’s length, you must read ahead and see why client feedback is crucial to your growth as a professional web designer.
Feedback Teaches you The Art of Looking Sideways
Thoreau writes, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each others eyes for an instant?” When you are working all on your own, you run the risk of extreme “in-the-box” thinking. Even the best practices can become bad, dead habits when you take the thought and alertness out of your creative process. Seeking client feedback that runs counter to your prejudices and biases will help you identify the weak points in your design. Looking through the eyes of your clients – eyes that have a different way of seeing and minds that operate at a different wavelength.
For instance, it is very common, even for expert designers, to create navigation that is incomprehensible to the person who visits the website for the first time. Having worked on the design for weeks, a designer would naturally know his way around the website. The client, his employees or other people visiting the website for the first time may not. Only client feedback will let you know that you need to make things simpler. If you do not ask for feedback or try to find out how the target users are experiencing the website, you may keep on making the same sort of mistakes over and over again.
Feedback Helps you Stay Sharp and Get Sharper
How people interact with websites, what they expect from a web design, and how different design elements affect user behavior – all these factors keep on changing fast as the Internet matures and mobile-first approach gains popularity. The rules that were true a couple of years ago don’t work in the real world of today.
There is a tendency, when you are a successful freelancer, to simply keep on doing what you are doing without giving enough thought to the changing scenario. Sure, you are smart and will learn how to design for mobile, but do you have your finger on the pulse of changing times?
While we can learn a lot from sharing ideas with our peers and reading the best books on design, if we are out of touch with clients, we are out of touch with reality. By inviting client feedback a couple of months after you have delivered the design, you can find out about the problems that the users are facing and see how you can improve your work process.
Most clients use SEO tools and Google Analytics to track user behavior on their websites – you can request the data and see where your design does a great job and where it falls short. This bit of soul searching with the help of the client will help you become a sharper and smarter designer.
Seeking Feedback Helps you Build Relationships
Over the last few months, I came across a handful of clients who wanted us to redesign a website because they were not happy with the work done by some freelancer web designers. And they could not get the same guys to help them out. Now, these businessmen are never going to trust freelancers again. I have seen that small businesses are usually more open to hiring freelancers – they relate to the entrepreneurial spirit in the freelancers, I guess. But established companies – once bitten, twice shy – are scared to trust freelancers.
As a freelancer, such an attitude from businesses may infuriate you, but I see it as a golden opportunity. Companies need freelancers they can trust and depend on – people who are ready to go out of their way to help. All you need to do is show that you care for the work that you have done. By asking for feedback, you not only get information that can help you become a better designer, but also win the admiration of your clients. It is a small gesture that shows the client that you truly care about your design and your work. Seeking feedback can help you build a strong relationship with businesses – and for freelancers this can mean lots of word-of-mouth publicity and more better chance of getting quality work in future.
All right. I know that I have emphasized only the positives of inviting client feedback. There are some negatives too – unduly harsh criticism and a request to do some more work for free to improve the design are two of them. Mostly, such a situation will arise if you have made some serious mistakes, or if the client has failed to communicate or define requirements clearly. At times, rarely, you will run into a client who will torture you if you make the mistake of asking for feedback, simply because he is a sadist. Use your discretion.
Sebastian Atwell is a professional web designer at PerceptiveWebDesign, a Custom Website Development Company. He specializes in creating user-centric website designs. Most of the time, you will find him with friends and colleagues, brain-storming new design methodologies.