When Clients Don’t Provide Content

photo of a woman handshaking with a man

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I saw a topic on the Squarespace Circle Forum titled “How do you work with clients who are lacking content?” Squarespace is a popular website creation website and I use them with several clients. (Note: the forum is open to registered users) Though the posts are focused on web design clients, the question applies to other design situations.

I design courses online and faculty are my “clients” in that instructional design role. An ID designs a course but the content is almost totally provided by faculty.

I’m currently working with faculty at a community college and the biggest problem encountered is getting faculty to provide their course content in a timely fashion.

I also design social media strategies. In that role, I often am the content creator to a degree. I often write posts, add images and repost/retweet relevant content. But that can only be done from the raw content (text and images) from the client.

In all three situations, we design based on the content. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.

So what do users on the forum suggest? Most of their suggestions are aligned with my own practices. Here are some suggestions for working with clients that don’t provide content – or even better, for trying to avoid the no-content situation.

  1. Talk to the client about content and imagery before beginning. Be clear about what is ready to use, what needs to be created and who will create it. I have for some projects created copy, images and media.
  2. Have a timeline with milestones that need to be met by the client (I like weekly ones) in order to trigger your own design work.
  3. Many designers use a questionnaire of some kind. For example, in designing courses, we ask faculty to fill in a worksheet with course goals and objectives (they are not the same thing!) and a syllabus.
  4. You may need to create video how-to’s for the client on how to create content for their site.
  5. Stay in touch. You need to contact them when they are behind on delivering their content. Their prep work determines your ability as a designer  – some hand holding/teaching how to write copy for websites, etc. Email is the least effective way to stay in touch. Phone conversations are better. Web conferencing and screen sharing is better. Face to face meetings are still the best way.
  6. I like having a place for sharing files and collaborative space. Google Drive works, but I prefer Dropbox which has features for collaboration. Both are free for basic cloud space and can be expanded for multiple projects.
  7. You might use temporary filler text and images on a website so that you can continue designing.
  8. The “client” may actually be many individuals such as writers, photographers, graphic designers, media creators, librarians etc.

In some unfortunate cases, a client not providing content will not only delay a project but could end your relationship with the client.

Web Design Versus Web Development

meeting laptops

There are lots of ways to divide up the process of putting together a new website. I wrote elsewhere about some tips to streamline the phases of that process. But another way to divide the process is into the two primary tasks of web design and web development. They sound like they might just be two different ways to say the same thing, but there is a difference and it is an important distinction to make to a client.

Web development refers to building up the architecture of the website. This is when a developer is using code to create a functional site and get everything “technical” working properly.

But development doesn’t occur with the web design. In a larger company, these two tasks may not be done by the same people or even the same departments. The web designers are the people who determine what the website looks like, and how users will interact with it.

Small design firms might combine the tasks and a web designer might also work with some code, but designers focus more on appearance, layout, and usability. They are also often the “front office” that interacts directly with a client.

Web developers are primarily focused on turning an existing design into the proper code. They are often in the “back office” though they may sit in on client meetings in order to approve or disapprove ideas that a client would like to try.