Every profession has their own lingo and specialized terms. While terms differ from industry to industry, they all have one thing in common—no one outside their field understands what they’re talking about.
For web designers, we have terms like web standards, progressive enhancement, search engine optimization, stylesheets, and mockups. We also have clever little abbreviations like HTML5, CSS, XML, and UX.
When we try to talk to our clients and use these terms, most don’t have a clear understanding of what we’re talking about.
But even beyond these specialized terms, there are concepts we talk about that our clients don’t completely understand.
For instance, a client may wonder why it could take 24-48 hours for their site to transition from one host to another. How do you explain how propagation works?
Let’s look at 4 ways we can help our clients understand us better.
#1 – Stop Trying To Be Smart
Or more accurately, stop trying to sound smart and just say what you mean.
Personally, when I hear someone hurling a mass of techno-talk and important-sounding phrases at me, I instantly trust them less.
It’s one thing to use web design terms when talking to other designers. But limit using the terms we know our clients don’t fully understand. Rather, use simple phrases to avoid buzzwording your clients to death.
This alone cuts out some of the barriers and keeps you from sounding like a pretentious jerk.
But what about deeper concepts we may have to explain? How can we help our clients understand?
#2 – Do You Really Need To Explain?
Our clients are people with differing levels of experience and different backgrounds. Some are very tech-savy and can grasp what we’re talking about most of the time. For these people, you don’t have to explain every principle because they already understand well enough.
On the other hand, there are many who are less familiar with the concepts that we take for granted. For those, we may need to spend more time explaining what is going to be accomplished, the need for it, as well as the benefits.
We can start to get an idea of their level of knowledge just talking to them. Use this in deciding what needs a brief explanation and what does not.
Over-explaining things to your client can be insulting to them, plus it wastes both your time.
Remember too, in order to get a great website, the client doesn’t have to completely understand every aspect of web design any more than you have to know the internal workings of an engine for your mechanic to tune up your car. So pick and choose what you need to explain.
#3 – Illustrate and Illustrate
From here on out, we’ll just assume that an explanation is necessary.
However, sputtering out facts, statistics and even more buzzword-laden jibberish is only gonna make matters worse. Our explanations need to be easy to understand.
This is where illustrations (visual and verbal) come in.
Depending on the subject, drawing a simple diagram may go a long way in helping a client grasp a concept.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and draw away, or use some other visual aids. This approach is especially useful during initial meetings (assuming these meetings take place in person or over video conferencing ;) ).
Another great way to explain things is to compare what they don’t know with something they do. Tell a short story, or use a metaphor or simile to get the point across.
The 2 main ingredients of a good illustration are: relatability and simplicity.
Make It Relatable
Consider your client; who they are, their interests. Consider their geographic location. Make sure the illustration is based on a familiar subject.
If your client is a businessman who spends most of his days in an office, an illustration involving knitting or camping may only make matters worse.
Pick neutral topics. Explanations based on commonly understood subjects can be used no matter the situation and appeal to a wider audience.
Keep It Simple
The most relatable illustration in the world will do your client little good if it’s buried under a pile of unnecessary information, so keep it simple.
Don’t worry about explaining every little detail to them—just help them grasp the basics.
If using a metaphor or simile will accomplish your goal faster, do it.
A good illustration will be relatable and simple enough that you’ll only have to offer a very brief explanation, or none at all.
#4 – Give Em Homework
The reason you’re doing all of this is to help your clients understand what you’re talking about so you can get on with your discussion. Don’t spend so much time explaining one thing that it derails the rest of your meeting.
If your client wants more than just a basic understanding of a subject, offer to send them some links for them to look up later. There are more than enough resources out there that you can point your clients to.
Giving them ‘homework’ benefits them because they can read up on the topic when they have the time. Plus, it frees up your time that could be better spent working on the actual project.
It’s All Related
All these points work together like pieces in a puzzle; making it easier for our clients to understand us.
If we keep industry-speak to a minimum, our clients will have a much easier time understanding us. In turn, we won’t have to explain as many things. This frees up more time to focus on their project and contributes to happier clients.