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Use a project management tool to make your Web design job a lot more productive. Doesn't matter which one you use, but use one.

Use a project management tool for your Web design projects

Many Web design companies start out offering their services left and right and everything is pretty much handled via email. It’s a direct and cheap way of keeping our clients in the loop regarding their project status. Quickly though, clients will ask for changes, revisions, clients get lost and don’t answer and retake the issue weeks later. In the meantime, you may have accidentally deleted the email of things you had pending and you have no way of recovering the info that client deemed as “utmost importance” or probably, months after finishing the Web design project the client asks you how many visitors has the site made since launching the Website and you have to put a monkey face and explain to the client pretty much that you forgot to install Google Analytics or some site statistic software.

There are more recipe’s like the ones I just listed that are just calling out for disaster and the more projects you have running simultaneously, the better the odds are that these things will happen. And to make matters worse, they will happen when you least expect it. This is why it’s best to play it safe with a project management tool for your web design projects.

The core function of project management tools

If you think about it for a second, a Web design project is just an undetermined amount of tasks to be done. The tasks are grouped in phases and the client is revising/modifying them according to the project status. Those tasks are done within a time frame, with some of them needing an exchange of files from one side to the other (for example a logo in vector format, pictures, body copy), etc.

A project management tool is the glue that a bonds task, deadlines, files, reminders, and discussions, all in one. Email isn’t designed to do this though it can. An email is just a tool to communicate between two or more individuals, but never to organize a project. You can certainly do this, but this requires manual labor on your behalf, like filtering emails, setting reminders on them, sorting out files on a folder and setting deadlines on each task you create manually via your email client (if it supports it). Here is when one has to ask, is it my job to design websites or filtering emails and tasks?

A process of any Web design (from scratch or a redesign) has a series of tasks, which are pretty much the following ones:

  • Planning phase and definition of objectives that the site needs to accomplish.
  • Do the research to help the client establish the IA (Information Architecture) of the entire website.
  • Making prototypes (wireframes or sketches), which are revised, changed and then refined in Photoshop.
  • Slicing your PSD (not with the slice tool mind you) to HTML/CSS/jQuery and integrate said static files into the CMS of your choice.
  • Polish those final details before the Web design is completed and site launched.

Obviously there are way more tasks to be made than these but those are the main ones every Web design ought to have.

A project management tool helps us pinpoint those steps and list tasks for every phase the entire project has (for example, host the servers, change DNS servers, create Analytic account, email accounts, define color palette and more).

So which project management tool should I choose?

This is a hard question to answer because there are flavors for everybody. Basically we will list three distinctions you ought to make and follow the criteria that apply to your company or not.

Price/h3>

Simple question: pay or not pay? For us, pay. It’s worth it. We think that having money involved there is a certain compromise on behalf of the company to deliver the goods clients are paying for. This will make them push the envelope for a great product that gets constantly revised, updated and maintained. Both the company that makes the product and us want a long-term relationship. Paying with our hard earned money makes it possible.

Free is nice and all, but there is no compromise or commitment from anybody to maintain it or add new features and someday the people behind it might say goodbye to the project and your company has pretty much its ass in the air when they leave and you have no way of transferring from one side to the other.

The information that goes in those projects is sensible information (from both sides) and we believe safety and easy access to our data is a must. With tool that is paid for, there has to be some guarantee.

We all of this said, our final word on this is that paid-service is something both fair and logical for a good project management tool.

Ok, but how much?

That opens another can of worms. Many charge by amount of ongoing projects and others by users and some (not sure) by a mixture of both. We prefer amount of projects because that’s what rules around here. Users, depending on the Web design project we may have, there can be one customer to deal with or even three or more. So it’s best to have it priced per user (for us that is).

As a tip, always measure how much projects your company usually handles and structure your plan based on this. If you have less projects than what you are paying for, you can always downgrade and if you have more projects than you have running, well that certainly would be a good problem to have, no? 🙂

The interface.

Many clients live by and for email. Our corporate philosophy is very distant from being attached to emails and we are certainly not going to change this for our clients. We like to work on Web design projects, we don’t like to be exchanging emails and CC’ing everybody.

We this out of the way, the user experience and design is key. Why? Because if we are going to “force” our clients out of their natural habitat then we have to use a tool that is beautiful, crystal clear to use and solid. If we are going to take clients out of emailing back and forth to get their Web design going and use an ugly, full of buttons, poorly designed and patch everywhere interface, the client will ask why can’t we stay with emails. And that’s going to be the end of it because how can we say no if the tool itself sucks. The client is right (just on that point :)).

We have dealt with some project management tools and can say a bit about 4 of them which are all pay that are:

  • Basecamp
  • Lighthouse
  • Zoho
  • JIRA

And Basecamp kicks, no trumps, their asses in user interface design. It’s simple to use, simple to view your files, tasks, discussions and notes. Zoho and JIRA have too many options that confuse a client and there is not enough contrast to see your tasks and what the client needs to see. Basecamp goes the opposite direction with this and instead of going with a whole lot of crap both you and your clients don’t need, to a few that you do and are simple and easy to access. This is valid for both client and Web designer.

Basecamp is so clean and easy to use that it’s very admirable. Recently they performed a redesign on their interface and you can tell the effort and attention to detail. Furthermore, their entry point ($20 for 10 projects) is great, even for new Web design companies who like to keep a low budget.

It also has a great feature that the other ones didn’t have (though Lighthouse does) which is that clients that definitely CANNOT live without their emails, they can answer tasks just by replying to the automated responses Basecamp sends.

Conclusion

Use a project management tool to breeze through multiple Web design projects. Your clients and staff will thank you for it and the sooner you do this once you start up is in motion, the better as it will create less need to email everything, because changing from a corporate culture of “everything is done via email” to a project management tool can be hard and people will resist to change. It’s a simple and effective way of avoiding chaos by having too many ongoing tasks at the same time and furthermore, there is some transparency defined regarding what needs to be done by everybody and both your clients and coworkers will be up to date as to what’s going on with any given project.

Drop your bomb