Choosing the Right Team

You need to deliver quality projects to your clients, or they won’t come back for more — and they might even tell their friends to avoid using you for their projects. How can you complete projects your clients will love? Hire the right people to do the job. Romeo Marquez explains what to look for in a designer and a programmer.

Let’s face it, as a business, if we can’t deliver quality projects we’re doomed. And the first step to doing a great job from the get-go is to choose the right people to work with. What to look for in a designer and a programmer will be discussed in this article, keeping in mind that our main goal is to produce the best outcome for our clients’ benefit.

In an earlier article that appeared in Plug-in, I addressed a few habits that a good service provider should always have. Our main goal is to use these good qualities with our clients in order to keep them coming back to us.

It has been said that the best publicity comes from word of mouth. If this is true, it’s up to us whether a client will be enthusiastically recommending us as a great provider—or as the service provider from hell.

We’ve already discussed a little about communication and being positive, and even though there’s still a lot of ground to cover on these two subjects, I now want to talk about ensuring the quality of you project.

{mospagebreak title=Stick to What You Know}

A mistake I made when I started in the web design business was to actually do the designs myself. I majored in computer science, so you can only imagine what my designs were like — I knew as much about design as a dead mouse.

I won’t deny that, to a few people, both designing and programming come naturally. I know a couple of them, and that’s great. As for the rest of us, we really don’t know much about design.

Remember that graphic design is a specialty, so if you think you know about design, yet somehow still manage forget about margins, choosing the right fonts, color theory, art history, then you’d be wise to—uhm—reconsider your opinion. Even among people that majored in graphic design, I still have to dig a little before I find my perfect candidate.

{mospagebreak title=Phase I: Find a Good Designer}

In order to provide a better product to your clients, I recommend finding a good designer to help you out with your projects. This would ensure a project done by an expert on the subject. The outcome should always be better than a project done solely by an excellent programmer.

Don’t worry about hiring a designer full time. If you’re not ready to commit to paying someone’s salary, there’s still something you can do. A lot of designers do freelance work these days. You might find someone willing to work with you on a “per-project” basis. This usually is more expensive because most freelance work tends to have higher rates, but working per project will ensure that you will have the money to pay for that individual project.

When you scout for a designer, make sure you take a look at their portfolio to see their previous work on the specific area you need help with. A lot of designers are good with print work, but are not well versed with web design. Remember that web design requires a different set of skills and guidelines from the ones required for print work. You may not be aware of it, but there are a lot of different styles of web design: vectorial, minimalist, gothic, urban, retro, futurist, clean, sites with a little flash and sites with a lot of flash, etc.

So, choose the designer you like best in accordance with the direction you want to give to the company. This is very important. I’ve seen some flash work by certain web studios that can really make your jaw drop, but those same studios are not capable of making a nice clean static website. Also, keep in mind that not every project will be based on the same requirements, and that you need to be able to deliver good results to as many clients as you can.

Keep in mind that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so although you may consider something beautiful, it won’t matter if your clients are not fully satisfied or if they don’t share your same tastes.

{mospagebreak title=Phase II: Choose Your Programmer}

Once you have selected a designer, it’s time to choose your programmer. This task it is a little easier to do since there’s a much bigger population of good coders than good designers.

When I worked for a large media company, I had to interview and recruit many programmers. There are all kinds: the original coder, the copy-paste coder, the optimizer, the bypass coder, etc. I didn’t always recruit the wisest one of all.

If you need an extra hand and you really need a programmer, make sure he has the most important quality that can be found in a programmer: the ability to learn on his own.

For example, there was a time when a client had asked us for a Slot Machine game for a site they had in mind. The requirements they gave us consisted of a huge list of about eight pages, filled with rules and recommendations. After the meeting, I had a chat with the programmer I had assigned to the project, and even though neither one of us had been involved in a project of this kind, he immediately started doing his homework. One thing I loved about this guy was his ability to research. The following day he came to me with the result of his research and we discussed the many different approaches the project could take regarding the database to use, the language to use, whether there would be any use of Flash, etc. We were able to have that chat based completely on the information he had gathered because of his ability to search  for information on his own.

So the next time you need to hire a new programmer, instead of just reading his CV, ask him about a couple of hypothetical projects and check out his approach towards the solution. This might reveal a lot about the programmer and his ability to solve problems. This will help you to decide whether to hire him or not.

{mospagebreak title=Living in Perfect Harmony}

Communication plays a major role in your customer relationships. There’s also a huge need for internal communication between you and your staff, as well as among the staff members themselves. Most importantly, the designer-programmer relationship has to have excellent communication.  Both the programmer and designer have to be in tune and must know each other’s capabilities and limitations.

On the first project that I worked on with a real designer, we had no idea of how to work together. At the time, the design tools had little to do with the web environment. So naturally, we had to go through a process of understanding each other’s tools and needs. After the first project was designed, we realized that the original layout had brought up a few programming issues. Therefore, through communication, we established a few ground rules regarding what could be good for my programming, which the designer could take into consideration. Likewise, I had to learn a few things in order to keep the programming according to the designer’s original concept.

Even today, where we have design suites that completely interact with each other’s products, there is still a need for the designer and programmer to set their own rules to be used in their working relationship. These rules have been the basis for every project and we are still following them. Whenever I get to work with a new designer I use these rules to accelerate the getting-to-know-each-other process. And it works!

Conclusion

Remember the famous Olympic Dream team? It was a fabulous basketball team with only the best players in the NBA. Needless to say, they won all the games. You too can win all the games. Start by building a team with experts in every area of your company—technical and/or creative.

(This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Plug-in).

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