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Need Something Changed On Your Website? Treat Me Like a Six-Year-Old (Really)

Published by Chris Coyier

I used to work in pre-press before I got into web design. I worked at three different somewhat large printing shops. Pre-press is the department that is in between clients (designers) files and actually getting those files to press. It might not be obvious, but there is a TON of work that needs to be done to prepare client files to actually be printed and through the bindery. This isn't the time or place to get into all that grisly detail, but once that process is done, typically a final proof is produced to be signed off on by the client. This is to make sure that nothing happened during all the preparation for press that screwed up the piece.

It is not uncommon for there to be changes that come back on proofs. This process of changes needs to be streamlined in a print shop. People are working on many different jobs and it's impossible to keep everything in your head all at once. If you were to send a pre-press tech an email like this:

Hey Chris, on that brochure, can you change that date to March 19th instead of March 21st? Thanks.

That pre-press tech would laugh at you (then cry) then email you back telling you to screw your head back on and send an actual change request. What brochure? What client? What job number? What page? Where on that page? Where is this job right now? Is this the last change? The first? Are you going to pepper me with little changes like this all day or could you have held off an sent them all at once?

So what does this have to do with the web?

It's the same thing for web designers. Most of us maintain several different websites for several different clients. To the client, their website is their whole world, so it makes perfect sense to them when they shoot you an email asking you to change a date quick. But when we open that email, we get the uhmmmmmmm....what feeling.

I would much prefer being treated like a six year old. Not being talked down to, just being VERY VERY clear about what is needed:

  • What page needs changing (URL link!)
  • Does it appear in multiple places?
  • What does it say now?
  • What should it say?
  • When does it need to be done?

It's our job to teach people to treat us this way

Just be nice about it, they'll understand.

Comments

  1. Walter Johnson
    Permalink to comment#

    Dude, I worked flexographic prepress for 6 years before I got into web too and I can confirm that your article is SPOT ON, man.

  2. icetrix
    Permalink to comment#

    True true… I am studying atm in Webdesign and Illustraition. And I often get those e-mails. But one time they meant something else.

    Chris, you really are my hero for all your posts… seriously, you are.

  3. All the way as true as it can be!
    I hate clients who don’t email me with details, but just say “I don’t like that part”..

  4. Permalink to comment#

    can i get those bullet points on a t-shirt?

  5. Scott
    Permalink to comment#

    Amen.

  6. TheDoc
    Permalink to comment#

    I actually sent an email to a client a month or two ago listing exactly how to send me changes. We had so many back and forths with clarifications on what he wanted that I decided it was time to put my foot down.

    I gave him a color coded example of what would be the perfect change request. He doesn’t quite get it perfectly, but knowing what he’s half-talking about makes things go by so much faster!

  7. On of my foreign clients (based in Italy) always sends complete messages. Page X, Text X, change to Text Y. Perhaps they do so because their English is not that great, and they don’t want misunderstandings. They do a great job with each request!

    • I work for Italians too, and I have noticed that also + they are totally paranoid when it comes to web security.

    • I work also for italians… not only the web security is close to paranoid level.
      well at least at the company where i work…

  8. Like answering the phone and the person on the other end saying “hey, it’s me.” WTF? Who the hell is me? haha

    I actually received this exact email from a client just last week:
    “The concept is good, but they are hoping to see more pizzazz.”

    No explanation of what they mean by pizzazz, no additional critique of the concept, nothing, just pizzazz. It’s an embossed leather book, where the hell do you put the pizzazz?

  9. Matthew V
    Permalink to comment#

    I have absolutely the same problem sometimes

  10. A freaking MEN!!!

  11. Hell yes, I have a client who puts all of his little requests in individual e-mails and IN the subject line instead of the body!

  12. Permalink to comment#

    SPOT. ON! We’ve dealt with this in my company!

  13. Joshua
    Permalink to comment#

    I work in pre-press now and do a little web-design on the side. I know what you are talking about!

  14. Ricky Lee
    Permalink to comment#

    I just sent this to all my freelance clients…

    Thank You!

  15. WC
    Permalink to comment#

    Amen brother. And just for the record, this is the same for programmers as well.

  16. Maybe everyone needs to come up with a complete rule set for their industry. I know it is completely true in the many I have been in.

    By the way great job on the search box, is looking much better now.

  17. If only my clients read this, my life would be easier. No matter how many times I ask for details, they never learn. One recent email simply asked me to add the attached pictures to a website; I should have just added them to the front page above the header; that would have gotten my point across.

  18. Jillian
    Permalink to comment#

    I completely relate. I actually work at a company that has such a variety of areas and services, that we run about 10 different websites. I oversee all of them, and I always get emails from the staff with the most vague instructions: “Can you add this to the homepage? Thanks.” Homepage… of what site?! Infuriating. They really do think that their website is the only one that I’ve ever worked on.

  19. I like the emails with the subject line of “website”. So useful to me!

  20. Jon
    Permalink to comment#

    I work at a large financial institution. When dealing with any line of business, any changes for any project have a very strict process that must be followed. There is a ton of red tape where I work, but this is one instance where it is needed.

    Everyone understands this and incorporates it into their change requests without issues. I think it’s more of a lifestyle..this type of stuff is ground into our heads so much, that I find every email that I write and that is written to me to be extremely detailed. Even ones not related to design changes….LOL. It’s Very NIce!!

    Jon

  21. I just started to cry a little. Someone else feels my pain.

  22. Permalink to comment#

    Definitely, I would like to be treated like a six year old too. Sometimes just having my client know what they actually want would be a good thing.

  23. David
    Permalink to comment#

    Amen! This is so true….. I often have to send clarification emails. Now, to train my clients!

    • Mike
      Permalink to comment#

      Heh so true. The mad thing is you’re then treated as a 4 year old this time(again, in their eyes) for clarifying, when really you’re just trying to make the whole process smoother and cover yourself.

  24. Permalink to comment#

    Thank god for Basecamp

  25. Mike
    Permalink to comment#

    Couldn’t agree more Chris.
    Clients should be given access to a ‘Change Content Request’ form on the web site and they complete all the elements(like you’ve listed above) then there’d be less ambiguities.
    This aaaaalways crops up with me where the client will (deliberately?) be mega-obscure about the changes, where they’ve to happen, are they replacing anything etc.

    Great post and great site

  26. I agree!

  27. jack
    Permalink to comment#

    I disagree. Although it is a huge pain in the a$$. I get to put “mind reader” in the skills section of my resume. I also get to say that I speak “corporate”

  28. It is true :) I agree

  29. Cudos!

  30. Permalink to comment#

    Im soooo gonna send this to all my clients.

  31. reactlab
    Permalink to comment#

    I love this post and everyone’s comments. I’m going to print out a few copies and hand them out to some special people I have to work with.

  32. Grafiko
    Permalink to comment#

    Same here :( ! i hate that….

  33. Couldn’t agree with this more. Not that I expect clients to take the advice any time soon, but really – just a URL and a clear explanation of what needs to be changed and how – you’d think it would be simpler.

    Although my favorite remains the client who got angry because there was a misspelling in the Welsh translation of their website (a translation they had supplied) and kept sending me emails to a) find and b) correct Welsh language words and sentences. I don’t speak Welsh.

  34. This is really amusing. Im glad we can all share the pain.

    We recently had a company submit a quote request to us, about ten pages long, sounded as if it had been written by a lawyer. It must have been, because no where in the request did it state any important info on what they actually wanted, only what they didn’t want.

  35. Thavalai
    Permalink to comment#

    Grisly details, I think you meant. Unless pre-press work was a bear

  36. Hey, I totally agree with this.

    I hvae one client that is real pain in the arse, I have one client who emailed me the other day saying “quickly put this on out website will you?”. They didn’y even say which page! And if I put it on the wrong page they’ll be the ones who sit around crying all day.

    Ohh well, life goes on!

  37. I’m going to send a link to this page to ALL of my clients.

  38. Permalink to comment#

    You could treat your clients like six-year-olds? When they contact you and ask for a fix on a page (without giving you any real specifics), you change something then charge ‘em for it. If they ask why you charged that, you reply by saying isn’t that what you meant?

    (Ok, seriously, that would ruin your client-relationship, but it would’ve been funny)

    • Bob
      Permalink to comment#

      Actually, we’ve shifted to this model for a couple of clients. No matter what, they can’t be bothered to provide the details. So… we make the most generic interpretation of what they are requesting and then the revision process starts.

      They are charged for all the back and forth time and they don’t seem to mind?

      Strange, but I think they like it and feel empowered by being so ‘involved’ in the process (although, if they just use the email template we provided, it would have been done so much more quickly) It’s excruciating to go through at times, but it gets you paid.

  39. travisfreeman
    Permalink to comment#

    this is great Chris! Glad someone else said it too. This is a universal issue with change requests.

    do work!

  40. Permalink to comment#

    Good post, Chris. I’ve been in this situation countless times. The worst is when they send you 20 emails in a day requesting 20 minute changes. Send them all at once, and save us both some time.

  41. Ken-e
    Permalink to comment#

    So true Chris

  42. Very true, in fact I just got an email from a client…

    can we have this on the website
    so people can look through the catalog?

    Half the message was in the title (bold part). What exactly does that mean anyways? Do you want it on the home page, as a link, and what the hell is it?!

  43. Alexia
    Permalink to comment#

    Well said, sir. :)

  44. Permalink to comment#

    Right on! I manage the Web team at a newspaper company and our internal request system requires a URL & specific, concise detail. What a time-saver!

  45. dsavi
    Permalink to comment#

    Amen to this! My client doesn’t understand this at all. He’s like, give me a logo. But he somehow thinks I’m supposed to read his mind and come up with a decent logo. The result looked like crap and no, I will not show it to anybody.

  46. Permalink to comment#

    Right on man! Freakin GREAT article.

  47. allcarvedup
    Permalink to comment#

    It’s good to hear that there are some of us out there that understand layout truly and did not grow up just on pixels alone…I still remember using pate-up boards, heh. Ah, the days of pre-press…before acrobat and when fonts REALLY caused issues and all that…oh wait, they still do, and we won’t get started on “webbies” trying to print an image meant to only be used online, in the wrong colorspace, at the wrong resolution…ha ha ha…

    Anyway, great article my friend…and so true.

    And I still get involved in pre-press still…it’s an art, really. i usually design with the thought that elements will be used both on and offline…a little extra work in the beginning, but when I can re-purpose something almost on the fly, yet charge premiums because it is a “rush” I am so glad I did.

    Heck, I use change orders for web projects on EVERY job. Documentation is key, and it is always good to train your clients.

  48. allcarvedup
    Permalink to comment#

    …and to really get to the nuts of this:

    COMMUNICATE…clearly…what do you need, when do you need it, where do you need it…

    I actually give each client a little manual I designed on how they can save a lot of time and money by using the tips I put forth. I get grumbles at first, but always get thanks at the end…heck, I have run into other designers thanking me for “training” clients…heh

  49. Thank you for putting this out there!!
    I totally agree, this is on eof the most frustrating elements of the website design business.

  50. Permalink to comment#

    Are you going to pepper me with little
    changes like this all day or could you
    have held off an sent them all at
    once?

    That was my favorite part – happens to me all the time.

    Unfortunately the onus is on us to educate our stakeholders. They can’t read our minds and they often are in the dark about the specifics of what we do. A little communication can go a long way.

    Great article.

  51. Absolutely! I laughed a lot when I read this. So true. They also reply in multiple threads to the same point, so you can’t even read back throught the correspondance in one place… Great site.

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