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The art of communication

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job but elements of it are certainly more enjoyable than others. Any job has it’s good bits and bad bits to varying degrees but every now and again I work on something that is an utter joy. It’s funny how some websites are a bit of a slog and take a geological epoch to finish (the first half of the project takes eighty percent of the time available. The second half takes the other eighty percent) whereas others just seem to build themselves. Such is the case of a site that I launched a couple of weeks ago for a UK-wide jazz promoter

Sandra Marcy called me in January on a recommendation from Barry Dallman, a Liverpool-based jazz musician, (it’s always reaffirming to get work through word of mouth, so, cheers Barry) about developing a site for her to push her jazz promotions business. Now, I love music and have played in bands since I was a kid but I’m a rocker really. My dad likes jazz and it’s never really been my cup of tea. As a musician I’ve always had the utmost respect for jazzers as technical brilliance is invariably evident and there seems to me to be fewer places to hide musicianshipwise (?!). In a rock band, if the lead guitarist is a bit ropey you can always turn the drums up (cue cheeky nod to Barry!) and often in a pub no one is really listening to you anyway. But I have to say working for Barry and then for Sandra has been an eye-opener, and a good one at that. When you build a website you can’t help but become immersed to a degree in the subject matter – you need to because it’s vital for the site to be a success – so as a result there’s nothing I don’t know about sectional garage doors, veterinary surgery equipment, property lettings in Hampshire and nationwide railway refurbishment. Go on, ask me anything, I bet you a pound I know the answer. So, in the course of working for Sandra I’ve had a bit of jazz on the YouTubeMachine by way of research and became somewhat intrigued by jazz websites.

Anyway, waffling aside, the point of this post is why developing Sandra’s site was so straightforward and enjoyable to design and build and it’s all down to communication. “Why, Richie,” I hear you say, “That’s obvious, isn’t it?” To an extent, yes it is, but it depends what’s being communicated. You can communicate nonsense, The Daily Mail does it every day, but the communication I mean is about being lucid and definite about ideas and and also listening and being open and receptive to other suggestions – it has to be a two-way street. Right from the beginning Sandra was very clear about what she wanted, how her site was to look and the kind of features that needed to be included. We spent quite a while on the phone talking about her site, different ideas, useful features, not so useful features and Ronnie Scott’s. Sandra was also clear about what she didn’t want, which may sound a bit negative, but it really isn’t.  It does help because if I know what clients don’t like, I won’t design something with things they don’t like in it. Often, clients are paying a lot of money so surely it makes sense that they should end up with something they like? Obviously, this needs to be tempered with alternative ideas or suggestions and not just, “I don’t like that, or that, and I don’t want this,” although this does happen sometimes and can be counter productive.

Developing websites can be tricky sometimes and building for businesses with unusual or niche subject matters, like sandblasting or tree surgery, are more difficult because there’s specialised knowledge involved and designers need to be educated. This is fine but means it’s really important that there’s effective communication and a mutual desire on an equal level from both parties to work together to create the best possible end result. Occasionally, a client will want me to do everything – design, build, source images, write the copy, sort out the PayPal, do the logo, create the marketing, etc. – and have little involvement themselves. This is okay, I’m happy to do this, it’s part of the job, but on the whole I would say that these websites are not as successful as the ones where me and the client have worked together towards a common goal. From a certain point of view, as regards their business which we trying to promote, the client is the expert and not me. Collaboration is key and we both want the same thing – a website of which we are both proud to show the world. Besides, it wouldn’t happen in any other profession and you wouldn’t give anyone else providing you with a service that amount of unfettered power. If you were having an extension built, booking a wedding band, having a haircut, buying a car or booking a holiday you’d insist on having some say on how it was going to turn out – people would think it was odd if you didn’t. Sure, you are paying for a web designer’s expertise but because you are paying, it entitles you to have some kind of input. Therefore, it’s helpful if you do to ensure you don’t end up with the website equivalent of a new outside toilet, a death metal band at your wedding, a haircut that leaves you housebound until it’s grown out, a Sinclair C5 or a timeshare in Tikrit because your public or commercial image was left to the web designer. Apart from anything else, something new and wonderful is being created and it’s nice to be a part of its genesis.

Sandra and I have never met in person but thanks to the magic of the interweb and the electric telephone I was educated and learned new things, which is always good. Such was the extent of the enjoyment of building The Social Jazz, like a good book in a way it was a shame to finish the job. And, in the end, it turns out that I do like a bit of jazz after all. Even though the world’s greatest invention after penicillin is the electric guitar I will be exchanging crunching power chords for the mellower jazz sound occasionally during the working day. I have done already whilst working on Sandra’s website and it’s very conducive to productive design and web work – mainly because it stops me air guitaring to Angus Young around the office with my foot on an imaginary monitor. Damn, have I just said that out loud?

Posted in Freelance Design Clients, Liverpool Freelancer

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